Connect with God to be filled and restored

Mary Copping, 17 July 2022

Genesis 18: 1–10a; Colossians 1: 15–28; Luke 10: 38–42

What a wonderful shared lunch we had last week at St Paul’s, with so many people attending! Everyone helped to prepare, with the moving of tables and chairs, preparing everything in the kitchen, setting out the children’s activities, bringing lovingly prepared food – a really good team effort, with wonderful results.

I wonder how people would have reacted if I’d said, well, while you’re all very busy, I’m just going into the chapel to sit quietly with Jesus and pray. What?!

Martha and Mary were two sisters who often offered hospitality to Jesus and the people travelling with him. They had a brother, Lazarus, and the three were dear friends of Jesus. From all accounts they seemed to be very natural and relaxed with him. Jesus might have sometimes overwhelmed people with his presence, and yet he was able to relax and enjoy their company – important for Jesus. What a blessing that family must have been to him in their generous and loving hospitality.

The story of Mary and Martha is very well known, but it’s quite an unusual event for those days. First of all, it was Martha welcoming Jesus into her home, which tells a lot. Ordinarily, it would be a man who welcomes a man into his home, not a woman. The gospel goes against many of the traditional values of the time, and this situation was definitely against those traditions. Martha was obviously a strong and courageous woman.

The gospel goes against many of the traditional values of the time.

Martha was annoyed with Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet – perhaps not only because she wasn’t helping, but also maybe because Mary was behaving like a man. In those days houses were usually divided into male areas and female areas. The public room would be where the men would meet; the kitchen belonged to the women; the children played outside. And sitting at the feet of a teacher was not for a woman, it was for a man to do.

So many traditions broken in this household! And yet Jesus welcomed Martha and Mary’s hospitality and affirmed Mary for doing what she did: she was doing the better thing.

I do often feel for Martha. She was doing her best to prepare for Jesus, and Mary seemed to be doing nothing. And yet Mary was doing the better thing in listening to Jesus first, spending time in his presence, treasuring every word, not wasting time, but being filled and restored. Then she may, hopefully, have offered to help Martha.

As with us. We can rush out into the day, with no thought about God, no time for quiet, far too busy to worry about that. And yet, when we’re able to acknowledge God, be quiet in his presence, connect with him before we rush headlong into the day, we’re able to have much more awareness of his presence, and the day often seems to go more smoothly, with good conversations with people along the way. And this quietness could just be sitting focusing for a few minutes on God, giving thanks to him for his blessings; there’s always something to thank God for. Or going for a walk, looking at the beauty of nature, thanking God for his creation. I think in lockdown many of us reconnected with nature, had time to walk, time to observe, time to be still. Perhaps we can try to retrieve some of that stillness and that awareness of God’s beauty.

This world sometimes seems very dark, especially at this time, and desperately needs the light and love of Christ. We have been given the very precious gift of faith. We are people who can and do bring light to this dark world, but often only if we have connected with God first.

In the third century, men and women felt called to go out into the deserts of Egypt, to be close to God, to connect with him again and try to discover a different way of being a Christian in the world. However, many people came to them for spiritual guidance, for help and instruction, so that within a few years there were many people in the desert. But from there many prayerful communities sprang up.

There’s a story that a brother came to visit Abba Sylvanus at a community at Mount Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard, he said to Abba Sylvanus, ‘Do not work for food that perishes, for Mary has chosen the good part’. So then the man called a disciple: ‘Zachary, give this man a book and put him in an empty cell’. When it was 3 o’clock, the brother kept looking out of the door to see if someone would call him for a meal. But nobody did. So he went to see Abba, and he said, ‘Abba, didn’t the bothers eat today?’ The old man said, ‘Of course we did’. ‘Then why didn’t you call me?’ Abba replied, ‘You’re a spiritual person; you don’t need that kind of food. But since we’re earthly, we need to eat, and that’s why we work. Indeed, you have chosen the good part, reading all day long and not wanting to eat earthly food.’ When the brother heard this he repented and said, ‘Forgive me, Abba’. Then the old man said to him, ‘Mary certainly needed Martha, and it is really by Martha’s help that Mary is praised’.

So for us, we’re not called to the desert, but we as Christians are called to be connected to God, to acknowledge his presence and listen for his still, small voice, and then go out with him into the world. God loves us so much and he wants to spend that time with us.

It’s so good to be able to meet together here in this church, to spend time with God and with each other and have times of quiet. From here and from our times with God through the week we take his light out into this dark world and do the work that he calls us to do.

And Martha? Perhaps if she’d spent a bit of time with Jesus first, she may not have been so stressed. And me, praying in the chapel while you all worked! Again, of course, ours was to pray beforehand, invite God into the preparations and the hard work, and then enjoy his presence in the midst of us as we talked and shared food together – and we did.

Some words from St Augustine: ‘You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’. Amen.