I have a very dear friend whose vocation is to welcome all comers with open hands. She welcomes to her home, to her community and to her cooking. Her table is full and always shared, her heart is kind and generous and it is always offered without strings attached or expectation of return. She is a joy to encounter and she is balm for the weary or troubled soul. In the 30 years I have known her, I have yet to see this waver. Yet she genuinely doesn’t see the gifting she offers to those about her. I have been privileged to meet women and men who behave and live like this in this community and elsewhere; and I come away comforted by their presence in the world. In the midst of their busyness, they are ‘still’, listening deeply to all who come with purpose and with questions; and to those who wash up on their doorsteps unsure of their way, the accidental meeting that is always welcomed.
I have also seen my friend cross and cranky, weary and sad, so I know she’s human! Praise God.
I’m thinking about her and others like her because of an encounter in Luke’s Gospel, 10:38-42, where Jesus visits the house of Mary and Martha. Our church communities are built and held together by Martha, all the Marthas who make sure things get done, the men and women who quietly, diligently, conscientiously work in the background, sorting out repairs and maintenance, filling utes and trailers to remove the rubbish, cleaning and tidying around our parish community, paying the bills, sorting out rosters, sharing God’s food and resources, filling in at the last minute when others can’t make it, visiting the ill and lonely, creating beauty and order in events and occasions, who share their faith and love of God in this labour, and who sit and listen to the experience of distress or shared pain. These are our quiet, remarkable saints who live among us and change our lives, in fact transform them because of their actions, kindness and faith in God’s love for all God’s creatures.
The behaviours Luke describes in this story of Jesus’ visit to friends about busyness and listening are also repeated by Amos and Paul in his letter to the Colossians.
I’ve been reading from the prophet Amos in our Morning and Evening prayers, for those of you who listen in online. Amos lived about 750 BC. One of 12 minor prophets in the Hebrew scriptures, Amos was a magnificent thundering, apocalyptic prophet and makes for terrific reading when you want to feel God’s justice, righteousness and hope ‘roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’ into God’s world (Amos 5:24). Amos’ main teaching themes were social justice, God’s power and judgement. We hear this in Amos 8:1-12 which accompanies the Gospel reading of Luke 10:38-42. In particular, Amos reminds us:
The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. Amos 8:11-12
The consequence of not ‘listening’ to God, is a famine in our minds, hearts and souls which will shake us and leave us wanting, desperately hungry and thirsty, not simply for God’s grace, but also for righteousness, justice, healing, hope and peace in the world.
Jesus is welcomed into the home of Mary and Martha and he reminds us all: we need to listen and not be distracted. The priority for listening to the Word of God is always present. While the story focuses on the example of ensuring the work of the house and hospitality is done in a timely manner, the reality is we choose our distractions which are a multitude, nearly always in preference to listening to God. Our distractions include not only caring for our families at the exclusion of all others, but also focusing on making money, being greedy for more and more wealth and then insuring it, protecting it, holding it very tightly. We focus on growing ambitious careers, on ourselves and our worldly reputations, while ignoring inconvenient social justice issues for those without resources and bypassing stewardship of God’s creation. We usually put ego before God, self before others, while busily creating God in our own image.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us of God’s fullness and completeness made visible and invisible in Christ. Paul reminds us it is only in God does everything make sense and we are able to find peace, stillness and be reconciled to one another and to God:
Christ himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:17-20
As we think about Jesus’ brief conversation with Mary and Martha on behaviours and attitudes, Jesus reminds us repeatedly of the need to listen. To listen to God’s heart beating among the poor and distressed, the vulnerable and broken. To listen to God’s Word among us, calling us into our vocations of caring, working, sharing and being completed as human beings in God and together in our community. To listen to the breathing of the world, which is becoming very asthmatic as we pollute and destroy God’s creation wilfully in our greed and selfishness. Our neighbourliness which I talked about last week is frequently diminished as we are not listening or being shaped by the needs of Christ around us.
In many ways, our churches have adopted our cultural norms, valuing productivity and busyness over reflection, stillness and listening. We need to move away from rushing and doing, towards listening and learning, paying attention to God’s Word. Our confession is in Jesus Christ, God has come near and is addressing Mary, Martha, Peter and John and all Jesus’ disciples; and in the presence of God’s Word, one thing is needed – our attention!
The Lord be with you.