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Mary’s Sabbath (short sermon)

July 18, 2010

Luke 10: 38-42        Col 1: 15ff

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing.

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things

Anyone here struggle to rest? Anyone constantly busy?

Anyone married to someone who is constantly busy?

Why is it that we struggle to stop our busy-ness and rest?

The writer to the Hebrews talks of the Israelites entering the promise land, as a ‘rest’ and kind of symbol of resting in God. He says in Chapter 4 verse 9. Looking not just to the past but to the present:

So then a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God… So let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest

Notice the paradox… “make every effort” to (work) to enter that rest. This ‘rest’ is something that doesn’t just happen through inactivity.

I am drawn back to the image of Mary and Martha. And when I look again I see not a worker (on the one hand) and a sitter (on the other). I see a distracted person and an attentive person.

Martha, it says, ‘was distracted in her many tasks’. And with that distraction comes dissatisfaction. Augustine famously said ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’. In the dissatisfaction of distracted restlessness, Martha complains: “Lord, don’t you care that she has left me to do all the work.”

The first thing we see in this passage is a contrast between Martha’s work and Mary’s rest. But if we look deeper we see a contrast between Martha’s distraction and Mary’s rest. As we know so well in the modern world, its not just work that can be a distraction. Leisure too can be a distraction. For Martha it was work. But I want to suggest that for us it can just as easily be leisure, sport, hobbies, travel… nearly anything can be a distraction.

Mary, we read, ‘sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying’. She was entranced, she was engrossed, and in that moment she was at rest, not just physically but spiritually. Hers was a disciplined attention to Jesus. But in that discipline she found rest.

Jesus says to Martha in her constant distraction, moving from one thing to the next in a circle of activity ‘there is need of only one thing’. Do you ever feel like life is a circle of busy-ness going nowhere? That busy-ness is just cover for the emptiness of life, a kind of distraction to avoid deeper reflection on your life? Is it that, lacking ‘one thing’ that matters above all else, you end up filling life with lots of things which are really a way of avoiding the pain, or even avoiding the one thing that might threaten and challenge your comfort zone?

Perhaps our failure to rest is a failure of faith – a blindness, a despair, an inability to believe that there is one thing that matters amidst all the things we do. And that thing is the thing that God is doing before we do anything.

The Bible calls it peacemaking… Paul says to the Colossians in terms that are so loaded in meaning, that the thing that God is doing, the great mystery of life and history…. is ‘reconciling all things to God’ and again he describes it as ‘making peace through the blood of his cross’… God, present in history in the life of Christ, present in our personal lives in the Holy Spirit, is making peace in history through the blood of his cross. Do we believe that? Are we entranced by it, captivated by it, engrossed in it? Does it fill us with joy and purpose? Or is it something we keep at arms length by distractions?

Do we know (in our hearts) that the weight of history is not on our shoulders? Or… have we, perhaps, lost sight of the direction of history, of the story that’s hidden behind all the shine and glitter of triumphant technology and constant distractions?

The gospel is the life-changing discovery that the future of the world doesn’t depend on us… but we depend on it. We can become active, contributing to the future, when we rest. When we rest in God’s life, when like Mary we become engrossed in the possibilities that Jesus opens up for the world, when our imagination is lit up by these possibilities, when our actions draw life from attentiveness and rest, rest in God’s life, then we will be set free from the burden of going nowhere in ever tightening circles of distraction.

Thanks be to God.

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