Homily for Ordinary Sunday 16C

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm

I came across a book the other day titled:
“Don’t just do something, stand there!”

It rather put me in mind of our well-known gospel today.
Are you a Mary or a Martha?  A doer or a thinker?  A speaker or a listener?

As we’ve been discovering at our recent Bible studies,
there sometimes rather more going than meets the eye.
Our engagement with Scripture requires us to sit a while sometimes
to get the full richness of the Word.

Jesus’ visit to Bethany is a story about busyness.
And that should not be lost in a world that likes, that needs us to be busy.
Buy, work, chatter, buy, drive, rush, buy is the way of our world.
Don’t stop, the subtext might seem to be,
because if you do, you might notice a certain emptiness to your existence.

We need time to be still,  time to be quiet, time out.
All people need a place in time to get in touch with their spirituality.
And that place is probably not in front of the telly.

We need to give ourselves permission to take time out,
and not to then clutter up that space with noise or distraction.

Think before you reach for that remote control, or that book –
with the exception of your Bible or prayerbook –
or whatever it is that stops you thinking deep, profound, unsettling, godly thoughts.

For this is a story about hospitalityWelcoming a guest, welcoming our Lord.

It‘s difficult when someone else comes into our house, our life, our space
enters our sphere of activity.
We need to make room.  It takes work to welcome a guest, another person,
whether for an afternoon or a lifetime.
We can probably all relate to Martha’s exasperation with her sister,
as she’s working hard to demonstrate
how much she honours her guest, this Jesus.
Who wouldn’t, who hasn’t
felt a bit miffed when someone isn’t pulling their weight when you’re on display?

But let’s look more deeply at the story.
Both Mary and Martha are actually cast in powerful and remarkable roles.

Martha is the host – it’s her home.
There are, in that culture, clearly no men in her family – or none present.
She is the head of her family.
A unusual arrangement for the time,
and it’s not entirely socially seemly for Jesus to accept her invitation.

Mary, pushing the envelope even further,
is portrayed in the role of classic disciple, at the teacher’s feet.
This is profoundly counter-cultural stuff, no question.
Women were simply not supposed to sit at the feet of a Rabbi.
Popular sayings of the time indicate
that it’s better to teach your daughter the oldest profession,
than to teach her Torah, the Law, the word.

One of the reminders we have this Bible Sunday, is that God’s Word
is for all people – it can and will speak to us, if we find time to listen.

Martha, though, in her desire for it all to be perfect,
to be right, to be generous and well-presented,
she is not actually present to the guest she has invited.
More than that, she wants to take Mary away from him too,
to try and keep the pattern the same at her place,
where she is on display, until Jesus gently deflates her self-importance as host.
And that is perhaps the greatest point to grasp:
that God makes us guests, not the other way round.

The story from Genesis, of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality
also has a twist in the tail.

Abraham invites the mysterious strangers, somehow understood to be God,
into his space, and does everything he can for them.
He is the epitome of hospitable service: shade, water, bread, meat, all the extras,
he stands and waits while they eat, ready to attend to their need…

But ultimately it’s not a story about what a good host Abraham was.
This is about the gift, the promise Abraham is given,
about God’s hospitality, God’s generosity, in the gift of a child.
The story is about what happened when Sarah and Abraham discovered that,
delightfully, this encounter was not on their terms or under their expectations.

Paul’s writing to the Colossians, incorporating a hymn of the very earliest Church
speaks about the fullness of God dwelling in Jesus, reconciling & bringing us close.

Today’s Psalm reminds us we are invited ourselves as guests
into the presence of the God who calls us to holiness.
Ultimately, we are invited into God’s generosity, not vice versa.

When we welcome God into our homes, under our tent, when we are attentive
to the guest and do not expect that the visit is on our terms,
then we are open to what God will give to us, and speak to us, and stir in us.

Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, is open to receive what has come to her in Jesus:
the wisdom and generosity, the very hospitality of God.

At the Eucharist, at this Table, Jesus is host.
How do we make space and time to let that ruminate with us?
May we take that thought away with us, to those places where we are Martha
and we are Mary this week.


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