The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s183g98 Somerton Park Sunday 16 19/7/98

"Please tell her to help me" Luke 10.40

We often talk about the Bible as being "sacred scripture", inspired by God himself, some would want to say infallible. All Anglicans look to the Bible as normative for the faith; though it should be said that no form of "confession of faith" or subscription to the sufficiency of scripture has ever been required of lay people within our Church. Submission to the thirty nine articles has only been required of ordained persons, university lecturers and others involved in teaching positions.

When one considers the question of how the Bible is inspired, I have already hinted that there is some divergences of opinion about this matter. Some believe it to be literal, word for word, the utterances of God himself. Others, just as conscientious students of the Bible as any literalist, see the influence of individual authors shining through the various writings. There are various internal discrepancies which point to, at least some, human error. I hope that I have been here in this parish long enough for you to be assured that each and every sermon I preach, I preach from the Biblical text for the day. This has been my practice for the last twenty years, and I have no plans whatsoever to change.

However it was as I considered the gospel story for today compared with the gospel story for last week that I have come to see a little more clearly how I perceive the Bible to be inspired. As such it may be of help to some of you.

For the first time I have realised that the parable of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is immediately followed by the story of Martha and Mary. I find this conjunction is very interesting and instructive.

The parable of the Good Samaritan extols the virtue of rolling up one's sleeves and getting stuck into the work that needs to be done, however dirty that might be. The Samaritan had to clean and dress the wounds of the man, lift him onto his donkey and walk alongside to the inn. Even when he got there, he continued his care; only leaving him the following day after ensuring the continuing care of the innkeeper by paying him some money, and assuring him of further reimbursement if necessary. This "boots and all" attitude is contrasted with the perhaps necessary "holy" attitude of the priest and the Levite. Their task was sacrificial and contemplative, looking to the revealed word of God in sacred scripture and performing the rituals for the people contained within its pages.

But the whole thing is immediately turned around in the very next verses of the gospel; and it is precisely because they are put right next to each other, that bids us appreciate the differences.

In the story of Martha and Mary, Martha is the "boots and all" worker, up to her elbows in coleslaw and dishes, useless men only getting in her way, and coming and going and never being specific as whether they were staying for a meal or not. It is she who is the "Good Samaritan", but it seems she is not commended for her activity.

Mary on the other hand is the listener, the one sitting at the feet of Jesus, hearing the word of God. She is not helping anyone, just basking in the graciousness of what Jesus was saying. She, unlike the priest and the Levite of the parable, is commended!

So often in this life we are invited to join in this or that band wagon.

But Holy Scripture is different. When a statement is made, often right there and then, immediately, a differing and complementary view is put. One other example of this is the parable of the treasure hidden in a field, which is immediately followed by the parable of the pearl of great price. These are quite different parables, and each illuminate the other. Again we have four gospel accounts of Jesus - by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - put one alongside the other, and the similarities and the differences illuminate each. One on its own, is simply not sufficient to give the complete picture of Jesus.

There is, then, this ability to be incomplete, which I believe is at the heart of inspiration. God gives us room to choose or not to choose; to contribute as we are able, not just as others would have us do. Martha wanted Mary to help her with her ministry; but she failed to see that Mary had a ministry of her own.

Life is not black and white, and the Christian faith is not a bandwagon to get on. Life is about love, accepting that God loves us - loving ourselves when so often we let ourselves down - and loving others who so often have the gall to make the same mistakes as we ourselves do.

There is one prayer that I've never heard uttered in Church, but I am sure rivals the Lord's Prayer in the frequency of it being said, if only in the secrets of our hearts. It is the prayer of Martha: "Please tell her to help me" - "Please tell them to help us" - help us keep the Church going - it is absolutely universal. Church people have got into the mind set that the Church is on its last legs. There is often a subconscious panic setting in. Will the Church survive into the 21st century?

And the answer is given in the parables: "Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things ..." Jesus doesn't answer Martha's prayer and get Mary to help Martha in the housework. And if our openness to others is only that they will help us do, neither will that prayer be answered. It is when we are open to others and are prepared to accept the ministries of others because they complement (not duplicate) our own, that this prayer will be answered and the Church will flourish.

Quite frequently one hears Anglicans and members of the other mainline Christian denominations lament that the Assemblies of God and the Christian Revivalists seem to have great crowds attending, whereas we seem to struggle along all the way. I have no doubt what so ever that this has nothing to do with the style of music, the dynamism of the preaching, the quality of the faith of those who go there, or to a supposed particularly powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. It is all about being new, and being able to invite people to contribute as they are able - carpenters, bricklayers, as well as readers and the other ministries.

By and large the mainline Churches have their buildings built, their ministries all sorted out, and a legacy which is to be appreciated and revered, certainly not abandoned or complemented. It is interesting to me that already the first flush of enthusiasm of 15 or 20 years ago within the charismatic circles has died, and they face exactly the same issue as we do. I have been told that the evolution of the charismatic groups after starting very open to all, tend later to begin to become more legalistic. Often this manifests itself by becoming anti - women. How true this is I am not sure.

Of course these words of mine are far far wider than this parish.

But the principles remain the same, God is essentially open to the contribution we have to make, and will not listen to those who would want Him to constrain us only to conform to duplicating their own ministry.

There is nothing wrong with the ministry of Martha. The total ministry needs people who get down to the practical necessities of life with gusto, the Good Samaritan shows us that. Hospitality was a particularly sacred duty; it is no less today, though it is often not recognised as such.

The essence of Jesus rebuke, if rebuke it was, was only because Martha wanted Jesus to rebuke Mary, to get her to stop "doing nothing" and do something.

We have complementary ministries, and that is a great joy. We all have a unique contribution to make, something that no one else can possibly do. May we see that in each other and rejoice to see it. May we encourage one another to see all ministries as valuable and appreciated, yet each dependent on one another.


Links to other sites on the Web:

About the author and links.

To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.

To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.

Back to a sermon for next Sunday.