On Sunday July 21st our minister Trevor Dixon led our worship. We began worship with the rousing hymn, ‘The God of Abraham praise.’ Trevor led the opening prayers before reading the gospel from Luke in the Message version of the Bible and to my surprise it brought the story of Martha and Mary to life; (I am not normally keen on that version of the Bible). Trevor had 2 pictures which revealed the contrast between the 2 women, namely an Ear for Mary the listener and a Hand for Martha who was the doer and server. Which role is the most important one Trevor asked, being a listener or a server? Mary would not see any of the work being done, as all she wanted to do was to listen to Jesus’ words, whereas Martha was so busy that she welcomed Jesus but then returned to her work in the kitchen. Trevor described one occasion when he was a local preacher preaching in a country chapel and had been invited for tea. He was welcomed and the tea brought to him but they left him on his own to eat it! Again Trevor posed the question about who was the more important, Mary, the listener or Martha the doer? We were all asked what we thought and I thought it was Mary, the listener others thought it was Martha. Martha was important as things need to be done after all Jesus spent time doing, teaching and healing, but listening critically is also important as Jesus prayed and listened to God. Trevor suggested that they are both equally important; work needs to be done but we need to take time to listen critically and learn and rest in God’s presence.
We then sang a hymn I had not sung before but I loved the words: ‘There is no moment in my life, No action which God does not see, No thought he does not know.’ It is so comforting to know God is always with us. Then we had the reading of Genesis 18v1 onwards and that described when the Lord appeared to Abraham and he saw 3 men arriving. In true hospitality Abraham ran to meet the men and bowed to the ground in respect and offered them refreshment, meat, milk and food. Having been fed one of the men announced that his wife Sarah would have a son by the next year, whilst she listened in the tent.
The next reading was from Colossians 1v15 onwards and described the supremacy of Christ and that Christ in us is the hope of glory. We then sang a favourite song of mine, ‘I am a new creation, no more in condemnation, here in the grace of God I stand’; I had not sung it for years. As it was unfamiliar to some of us we sang it through a few times and Trevor led the singing with the choir. We also sang the longer version of ‘Spirit of the Living God’.
Trevor described his job as a workplace chaplain in Essex and he had his own account on a doctor’s computer and could email replies to those in need. As he was typing a reply he stopped as he realised it would be more important to contact the person at that time, so he rang and spoke to her and they met later that day to discuss the problem. Emails can be read at leisure but on this occasion a more immediate personal response was needed. Trevor bemoaned the fact that people nowadays often send emails to each other even when they were in the same room, when a written note or even speaking to that person might be more appropriate. Is it a communication revolution or are we worse at communication now? We no longer see someone as mad when they appear to be talking to themselves in the middle of the road, as they are invariably on their mobile phones. However they are cut off from life going on around them as they chat on their phones.
When Trevor is at the Methodist Conference he has a walkie talkie to other people on car park duty and on one occasion they were talking as they approached each other, so they switched off their phones and spoke.
Trevor admitted that he had a problem of not being able to remember names, even forgetting names as he spoke with people. He feels embarrassed by this; he even forgets the names of his own children. Actually I find that I get confused with names, always calling my daughters by the wrong names especially when I am with family and amusingly my younger sister Fran and my elder sister Janet can also do the same, when we are together! Trevor admitted that sometimes we live in our own world travel in our own pods (cars) in pairs or singly cut off. We avoid conversation as we have our headphones on and sometimes interaction is minimal.
When he was in London whilst on a 10 day course and travelling by the tube, he met the same people walking through at the same time and Trevor took to saying ‘Good Morning’ and some ignored him, others responded and others did not even hear. He hoped he might have lightened their day a little. Trevor challenged us as he asked us, if we behave like this in the church being in groups and not interacting with new members or visitors? It is natural to go to meetings in other churches and choose to sit with our friends from our church without making the effort to integrate with those from other churches. If we do stay in our holy huddles, Trevor commented that it is no wonder that there is so much loneliness.
Abraham came from a different world where hospitality was offered to 3 strange men. How would we react? Would we feel suspicion and fear and certainly not invite them in for refreshment? After all Abraham had no idea who they were. Jesus said that Mary chose the better way when she listened to him, the teacher. Martha for all her hard work ignored Jesus. It is important when meeting people to take them seriously, making them feel that the person you are with is the most important person in the world. Interestingly there is one person in my experience who embodied that quality. At my niece Christine’s wedding I had the privilege of meeting the late Bishop of Liverpool, David Shepherd and when he spoke to me and listened to me I felt as though I was the only person in that crowded room and that no one else mattered and it was so special that I have never forgotten that. Sometimes Trevor said that we can be late for an appointment and only half listen to the person, some people like John Sadler a previous minister would continually look at his watch and I felt I must be a nuisance. Only one thing is needful is to pay attention to the guest.
My sister Janet, whose late husband Robert was a vicar, is brilliant at this as she concentrated on the conversations she was having with each person as she circulated at the garden party. I am not sure whether I possess that gift but I must work on it. It is the call of God to be hospitable and welcome strangers. If we turn aside from someone we turn aside from God. Paul placed Jesus in his cosmic setting supreme in all creation; Jesus was the fullness of God. All things are held together in Christ in harmony restoring relationships. The poet John Donne said ‘No man is an island entire unto himself’ which is so true; we human beings are responsible for each other. Creativity is a process of bringing people together in relationship, which is the heart of life of God. If in the communication revolution brings us closer to each other it can be good, but not if we build walls. Let us not forget that we depend on each other for relationship.
We then sang ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’. Following the prayers of intercession we concluded as we sang, ‘There’s a spirit in the air.’ It was both a challenging and thoughtful act of worship.