The readings on which these sermons are based can be found at
s183g04 Lockleys Sunday 16 18/7/04
"you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing" Luke 10.41
I suspect that this passage has been interpreted in so many divergent ways over the years. The duty of hospitality was of ancient and sacred importance. We see this in the first reading for today. Abraham rushing to get Sarah and then his servant busy to provide hospitality for the three men. It is important to see that Martha was doing what she thought she was obliged to do. She does not recognise that the Lord gives her, as well as Mary, a choice in what she chooses to do and what not to do.
Most of us know only too well the atmosphere of worry and distraction in life. It seems as if there is never enough time. For all our labour saving devices there is still time constraints on us. I remember a long time ago, my elder brother said that "a trailer creates work" and it is true. If you have a trailer, you cut down the tree and remove it yourself. If you don't have a trailer you don't bother. And it is the same with computers. It is a myth that they save anyone time. It is just that more things become possible. There is no extra time to spare.
Over the past year or so I have been taking anti-depressant tablets, and one of the remarkable things about these is that they give me more time. Over the last months and weeks my life has been especially busy. It was good, some weeks ago to go with Timothy to a football match and a bit later to have a Sunday afternoon off; the first time in a long time. My change in personal circumstances has meant that I have become "chief cook and bottle washer" at home and I have no difficulty in admitting that the house is not quite the spotless place it used to be, But for all this busyness I have found I have had time to say my morning and evening office far more regularly and to do a bit of Yoga practice twice a day.
We have a choice of what we do and what we do not do. Jesus did not subvert or criticise Mary's choice, or Martha's for that matter.
What Jesus points out to Martha is that her worry and distraction comes from her perception that she has no choice. So if we put on others tasks that others have no option but to comply, we will make them worried and distracted. They will hardly thank us or think that it is good news.
So compulsion is a recipe for worry and distraction. Choice is a recipe for happiness and being able to concentrate. But the choice has to be real and not pretend. It takes a long time to realise that there are no carrots or sticks.
There can be a worry because we might have things about which we would like to fix, but we do not have the wherewithal to tackle them. So if we do not have a trailer, but we do have a tree that needs to be removed, we are caught. Again, worry comes with a feeling of compulsion.
I have heard it said that feminism has brought some people of the female type extra worry because where there was once prescribed roles and expectations, now they have choices to make. It is said that it was easier when they simply did what was expected; they became wives and mothers. I suspect that the compulsion to succeed in a competitive society is enough to offset any happiness at being able to have different choices.
A little later today we are going to have a vestry meeting about whether we join together in some way with our neighbouring parishes. This is a vestry decision. You are being given a choice and how you choose is entirely up to you. I actually think that God has got a lot more important things about which to be concerned. It is trivializing God to suggest that the particular way we organise ministry is of vital concern to the Almighty.
For me, the precise direction that we take at this meeting is rather less important than our own personal commitment to it. If we decide to carry on as we are reluctantly then we will be in no better position than if we go into a new style of ministry reluctantly. There can be no doubt that while we could make a wrong decision but if our choice is taken away then we are hardly likely to go forward, whichever way, wholeheartedly. This would be a sure recipe for failure. This perception is important in our debate later. We are all volunteers. No one has to "toe the line". We are not constrained by finances. Whichever path we choose we will still need the grace of God and we will still need the efforts of others who do different and complementary things to ourselves. I was amused to be told a while back that one can never make a fortune in music, but one can make a killing. Musicians need appreciative audiences.
It might be easy for me to make this decision, and very easy to blame me if I appear to support one side or the other. I will not take your choice away.
It is precisely the same dynamic if I was to have notices during worship. People may well feel that they are given no choice. My task as a priest is surely to allow everyone a chance for happiness. Individuals may choose to be grumpy and that is their choice. But there is no need for everyone to be grumpy and who on earth would want to be a part of a community where everyone was that way? So I completely subvert my mission if I start using "my authority" to get others to do things.
Martha was doing a good thing just as Mary was doing a good thing, even when they were not doing the same thing and even when they were not helping one another. Everyone who is part of this congregation is doing a good thing, even when we are not all doing the same thing and even when we are not helping each other. Indeed of course, by doing complementary things they were helping one another, though perhaps they didn't see it.
There is of course an easy answer to all this; that everyone agrees with me and supports my ministry :-)!
There are different ministries and they are all important. None is more important than others, none is more urgent than others, none is more compulsory than others.
When Jesus says: "there is need of only one thing"; sadly he doesn't specify what this one thing is. Traditional catholic theology points to the devotion of Mary as the one thing, yet then they would have all gone without dinner. We might think that we can pray to the Lord for extra hours in a day, but I don't think that this is likely to be answered.
Yet extra time is available as my own recent experience testifies. And it revolves around allowing ourselves, and others, choice. As we allow ourselves, and others, choice we diminish the worry and distractedness and in their place we find happiness and the ability to concentrate. I make lists of things to do each day. Sometimes I do all the things on the list, sometimes I don't. There is nothing so important that it won't wait until tomorrow. Making a list means that I can prioritise the items. Sometimes I do the simple things I can before tackling the harder things that are more of a challenge, because at least that's one off the list.
There are, I suspect, a multitude of ways to diminish worry and distractedness. May I suggest that if you are worried and distracted, it is worthwhile doing a number of things to counter them rather than rely on just one remedy. But one thing is needful, and for me that is choice and not compulsion.
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