Let us be silent, let us be still

Mary Copping, 17 July 2016

Colossians 1: 15–28; Luke 10: 38–42

A prayer by the priest and writer Jim Cotter: ‘Let us be silent, let us be still, empty, in the presence, saying nothing, asking nothing, being silent, being still’.

Our gospel reading gives us the familiar story of Martha and Mary welcoming Jesus to their home, as the good friends they were. When Jesus was here upon earth, he was poor and relied on friends to take him in and support him. Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus were Christ’s particular friends and he visited them frequently.

At the time of this visit, Jesus was nearing Jerusalem and people were out to get him. It was dangerous to entertain him, yet Martha didn’t care about the danger; she did it for Jesus. Although there were many who rejected him and wouldn’t entertain him, she welcomed him. As Martha rushed around, her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to his words. Rather than assuming the role expected of women in her culture and serving, she took her place at the feet of Jesus. She assumed the posture of a student learning at the feet of a rabbi – a role traditionally reserved for men.

Each time I read this narration I feel sorry for Martha, who is almost castigated for busily cooking and preparing for Jesus while Mary does nothing but look at her Lord. And yet, perhaps there is a balance here, of listening to Jesus and serving. Jesus commends service to neighbour in many instances. Perhaps Martha wouldn’t have been so worried and distracted if she’d first given Jesus attention, stilled her soul, and then gone into the day in peace and quiet, more able to discern God’s will for her during that day.

Jesus said, ‘Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’. Martha is described as distracted; the word translated in the Greek, periespato, has the connotation of being pulled or dragged in different directions. Are we pulled or dragged in different directions, not having spent that time connecting with God, being in tune to his purposes for us, listening to him before we go into our busy world?

In the current situation, as Stephen preached so powerfully on last week, we are in a state of flux, of insecurity, of factions between people, of complete disruption. How are we to respond, as Christians, to this situation? Are we feeling pulled in different directions, feeling worried and distracted by many things? These seem to be common threads of life in our fast-paced world. And yet, as Jesus says in Luke 12: 25, ‘Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?’ We know that worrying does no good, and that much of what we worry about is not so important in the larger scheme of things, and yet we cannot seem to quell our anxious thoughts.

Of course, much of our busyness and distraction stems from the best of intentions. We want to do good for our families and friends, we want to serve our neighbours and, yes, we want to serve the Lord. Yet if all our activities leave us with no time to be still in the Lord’s presence and hear God’s word, we’re likely to end up anxious and troubled. We’re likely to end up with a kind of service that is devoid of love and joy and resentful of others.

Both listening and doing, receiving God’s word and serving others, are vital to the Christian life. Trying to serve without being nourished by God is like expecting good fruit to grow from a tree that has been uprooted.

Trying to serve without being nourished by God is like expecting good fruit to grow from a tree that has been uprooted.

What sort of God are we looking to, hearing from? In our reading from the letter to the Colossians Paul sets out what sort of God we serve, seen in Jesus Christ. This letter was written to counter the groups who were saying that Jesus was not God, but a created being. Paul asserts great theological truths that Christ, in his human nature, is the visible sign of the invisible God. He is no meek and mild God but one by whom all things were created, all things being made by his power and by his power they are upheld.

This God is still working in our world; he hasn’t wound up the world like a clock and left us to our own devices. As Christians our faith is in a God who can and does make a difference, through us, through others – like a golden thread working in the world as we listen to him, as we pray for ourselves and others. As we pray for the government, for advisors, for leaders in all areas of public life. As we bring to God the tragic events of this world, especially the terrible things that happened in Nice this week. It’s so important for us to spend that time with God, listening to him for our own lives and being led by him to pray for others. So vital and so good to have the groups in our churches praying for aspects of our life together and aspects of life in the world.

A friend told me of something she heard many years ago at a PCC meeting (not one at this church). The chairman prayed, ‘All praise to God, almighty father, creator of all; with you all things are possible. Praise God for your saving grace and power. Amen.’ ‘Gentlemen, ladies, the situation is hopeless.’

Is that what we’re thinking as we look to Jesus, as we hear from him? Is he telling us all is lost in our country, our world? Some words from Isaiah: ‘To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.’

Let us be the oaks God plants for his glory. Let us listen to God through Jesus, look to him as Mary did for peace, hope, love and reassurance, and then go out in faith to meet the world, be the peacemakers, bridge-builders that God wants us to be. Be those who don’t despair but have faith in God and all that he is going to do in the situations we find ourselves in. Of course, on the surface, all may seem lost – yet there is always hope. Wherever God is, there is hope. Think of a forest fire, everything looking totally desolate, yet eventually from the ashes comes new growth, gradually, but inevitably – and signs of new growth, new life have begun already in our country.

What is God saying to each of us in our situation? Can we each spend that time with God, as Mary with Jesus, soaking in his presence, his love, his forgiveness, his hope, so that we can then take these out to all those around us? Bring to him in silence the needs of this country, the needs of the world, knowing in faith that he hears the silent cries of our hearts and works in ways we often cannot see or understand.

Let us be silent, let us be still, empty, in the presence, saying nothing, asking nothing, being silent, being still.