Monday, 18 July 2016

Listen carefully.

Let me start with the gospel reading this morning – a lovely little cameo that is the story of Mary and Martha.
I remember that my first wife Alex always felt sorry for Martha because she never got any credit for all her hard work she did in looking after her guest and I can see her point and perhaps women more generally can empathise with Martha, but that is not the thrust of this story.
If we treat this story as a parable, then in general a parable only has one central point and the circumstances of the story are there as window dressing to make the story and therefore the central point more memorable
So the point of this beautiful little cameo is that Mary “listened to his teaching” while Martha was anxious and troubled and distracted from listening. That Mary was “sitting at Jesus’ feet” is also instructive. That is the position of a disciple, a learner. This was the “greater part” Jesus says Mary has chosen, not that she was lazy or neglectful of her share of the household chores.
The greater part is not to be distracted by our anxieties or side issues that are ultimately unimportant. Learn to discern the difference between form and substance.
 An application to HST might be - Are some of us so engrossed by piffling side issues and non important things that we are just too distracted to actually listen to what Jesus is trying to teach us?
Do we miss out on hearing the essential saving grace of Christ. Is he drowned out because we are distracted by what books we use, what robes are worn, the form of a service, what coffee we drink? Or are we more captivated by the loving and saving message and teaching of Jesus. Are we Mary or Martha?
But why should we listen to Jesus anyway? Who is this guy? Why should we be captivated, sit at his feet and listen
Paul spells out the reason in a few lines that are unsurpassed in their magnitude and beauty.
It starts with an enigmatic phrase “He is the image of the invisible God”. Now someone that is invisible can’t have an image and yet we somehow know what Paul means, and he goes on to describe Jesus in terms that are unmistakably divine terms and carries on to describe Jesus as “the firstborn from the dead” and the climax to all the promises in the Bible that talk of a new creation or a re-creation and that where Jesus goes we will follow. 
He rose from the dead, the firstborn from the dead and because he was like us in his humanity this opens the door to our own resurrection on the last day. And just us, but as the Biblical tradition underlines, all creation will be redeemed.
In order to triple underline the fact that Jesus is an eternal part of the divine being the lectionary compilers have seen fit to add the story of the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah from the book of Genesis.
What is mysterious about this story is that “THE LORD” appeared to Abraham and then in the very next line the Lord (singular) becomes three men and the story continues switching between  the Lord and the three men meaning the same thing throughout the story.
This provided the Christian doctrine of God as three in one with rich pickings and indeed the most famous icon from the Orthodox world is the three visitors by Russian Orthodox icon painter Andrei Rublev.
This beautiful icon depicts the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit sitting around a table with what is a Eucharistic chalice full of wine and they are differentiated from each other by clever utilisation of colours which are themselves full of meaning. Jesus’ eyes are fixed on the Father, and his hand  in a gesture of blessing over the cup and the Holy Spirit’s eyes are fixed on the chalice emphasising the Spirit’s essential role in animating and making manifest the will and action of God in the world in a masterpiece.
The teaching of the Spirit of Jesus today is almost self-explanatory.
Don’t be distracted by anything from learning from and listening to the word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ.
For He is God and He holds your past, present and future in his hands.