Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 8 2016

Genesis 18.1-10a
Colossians 1.15-28
Luke 10.38-42

I’m sure we all have times when we sympathise with Martha more than Mary, times when we are distracted by many tasks.
Today’s gospel reading is a scene of hospitality. Jesus and his disciples have arrived at Martha’s house and are offered hospitality, as the custom was. And Martha is running round doing all the work. Mary, instead, sits at the Lord’s feet and listens to his words. Which of them is offering the better hospitality?
And of course, we know, because Jesus tells us that she has chosen the better part, it’s Mary. The one who sits as Jesus’ feet and listens. She recognises that Jesus is no ordinary guest, but is a teacher, a Rabbi, a prophet, who has come to speak the word of God to his people. And the best way to welcome a Prophet is to listen to him. To pay attention. There is nothing more important than what God wants to say to his people. So Mary is offering Jesus the hospitality of her attention, of receiving what he has come to give, his words, his teaching.
Whereas Martha in all her frantic busyness has missed the main point, the one big thing that was more important than any amount of cooking and serving. “you are worried and distracted by many things” says Jesus. In the Greek it means more like “you are putting yourself in an uproar”.
The problem is not that Martha is busy, but that she is distracted. She is so occupied with the tasks of pots and pans and dishes that she is failing to offer the most necessary hospitality, that of her attention.
And, therefore, she is missing out. To meet the Lord, and to be attentive to his word, opens new possibilities, things that perhaps we had never even dreamed of. That too is going on in this gospel reading.
Mary, we are told, “sat at [the] feet” of Jesus. This means something specific: Mary has taken the role of a disciple. To “sit at the feet” of a Rabbi is to be his disciple, a student enrolled in his school to learn his teaching. St Paul, for example, “sat at the feet” of the Rabbi Gamaliel. But for a woman to do this is unprecedented. A woman disciple – who would have thought of such a thing! But Jesus has thought of it, and Mary, being attentive to him, is able to receive the new thing that he wants to give.
More than that, a disciple is one who learns the teaching of the Rabbi in order to pass it on. You might even become a Rabbi yourself one day, with your own school of disciples, but in any event you learned his teachings, his interpretations, in order to pass them on. Mary is being trained to teach others in the school of Jesus.
It’s quite possible that one reason why Martha is so distracted is that she sees her sister doing this unheard of and outlandish thing. She is in an uproar because her sister has crossed the invisible boundary into the space reserved to men, and claimed her place there.
And perhaps she is even jealous of her. Why should Mary have the special place, when Martha doesn’t? But Jesus tells her that there is no need for rivalry, she too can take her place as a disciple: “one thing only is necessary”, all you have to do is choose it.
Being disciples of course is what we are all about. We are ambassadors for Christ, we are to bring his word, his teaching, to others. But we can’t do that unless we are attentive to him ourselves. We can be busy, that’s alright – and in a parish church there are few times when we are not! But we must not become so distracted by the tasks of discipleship that we fail to be disciples. The pots and pans and dishes are necessary, but they must not distract us from the most necessary hospitality of giving Jesus our attention.
On Thursday Bishop Rob presented the results of the nine month listening programme in our episcopal area, and outlined the way forward for the future. It is exciting and there will be a lot to do. For the next year, the area is going to focus on discipleship and being ambassadors. After that there will be a year encouraging vocations, and then from 2018 to 2019 the focus will be on reaching into new places. Undergirding all of this will be a new engagement with children and young people.
And in all of it we will be encouraged to explore new partnerships and collaborations with other Christians, remembering that there is no place for rivalry and Jesus calls all sorts of unexpected people to sit at his feet as his disciples.
In all of these ways we will be looking outwards to the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. But we are not to be so distracted by the tasks of discipleship that we fail to notice that Jesus is already there, in the world with which we seek to engage. Jesus was already present in Martha’s house, but she was so distracted that she hadn’t really noticed him, whereas Mary had.
As Paul proclaims in that wonderful reading from Colossians this morning, Christ is ultimate reality filling the universe, all things were created through him and for him, in him all things hold together. “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.”
At the risk of sounding a bit like Theresa May, “all things” means “all things”. It doesn't mean "some things". Sometimes Christians seem to have too small a vision of Christ. London is a global city, every nation, every culture and every religion is here. Living in this city at this time presents us with fantastic opportunities and great challenges. For this global city no narrow vision will do. Our attention must be on the Christ who fills all things and reconciles all things.
If we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ in this city, then we need to be attentive to what he is doing and where he is leading us. With our brother and sister disciples of other Christian traditions, of course. But also with our neighbours of other faiths, and with all people of good will.
It is an article of the Catholic Faith, rooted in Scripture, that God gives to all people the grace necessary for salvation. Each individual needs to co-operate with that grace, faith is needed for it to bear fruit, but it is given universally. At the same time, we recognize that most people in the world are not Christians, and are not likely to become Christians.
Sometimes Christians can seem a little slow to work through the implications of these two truths. But perhaps in our global and diverse city we can begin to see new depths in the vision of Colossians, the universal Christ who reconciles the whole world, which exists in him and for him. Our task in that vision is not to turn everyone into copies of ourselves, but to point away from ourselves to Christ and his presence in the world, and the salvation he offers to all.

London is a great city of global culture. It needs to be also a city of hospitality. And for Christians that means that in this city we need to give to Christ the hospitality of our attention. In him all things hold together and come to their fulfillment. In him the unexpected new things will come to be, surprising us, catching us up in his vision which is broader than anything we could have imagined. This is the mystery hidden throughout the ages but now made known: “Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim.”

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