On Sunday July 17th I led worship at Pannal Chapel. As the call to worship we said psalm 15 responsively. We sang ‘With gladness we worship, rejoice as we sing.’ I led the opening prayers and the Lord’s Prayer. The first reading was Luke 10.38-42. We sang ‘Abba Father, let me be,’ before I gave the children’s talk, even though the children were not present as they had an outdoor activities day. I read a poem about a Martha type person and asked them questions about the poem to see if they had been listening. I encouraged them to take time to stop and listen not just be busy all the time; in fact I was talking to myself as I am more of a Martha person than Mary. We then sang ‘When we walk with the Lord’, before the dramatised reading based on Genesis 18.1-15. I read Colossians 1.15-28 and we sang ‘O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ before I preached.
I told the congregation about how my father, Rev. Norman Goodacre, an Anglican priest and my mother Ruth were always entertaining guests to dinner parties. My mother produced the lovely meals and my father’s contribution was laying the table. Any visitors who came at other times could always have one of my mum’s homemade biscuits with a drink. We became accustomed to dinner parties as we grew up. On Saturday July 9th my beloved and I were invited to a ‘CommuniTea’ organised by the Oatlands Community. We had to help ourselves to sandwiches and cakes and some helpful young people kept refilling our tea or coffee. It was good to get to know some other people in our area and donations were taken for the homeless. The new President of Conference of the Methodist Church Dr Roger Walton described how he was welcomed into homes of many Syrian refugees, which were basic, but felt to him as though he was treading on holy ground.
Abraham was eager to welcome his three visitors and hurried off to prepare a special meal for them. The Lord had come with his two companions to announce the forthcoming birth of a son to Abraham. Martha was a single woman householder, who would have been marginalised in society at that time. Martha was hospitable like Abraham and thrilled to welcome Jesus again to her home and she was determined to make it a special feast. She focussed on fussing round Jesus and did not realise he had come to rest with his friends and did not need a banquet.
Sarah had laughed sceptically to hear, although old and past child-bearing age, that she was to have a son by the following year. She was distracted and did not initially believe as Abraham did. Martha was busy producing a massive feast and was distracted by Mary’s lack of help. She felt annoyed as it was expected that women serve at that time. She felt that Mary had no right to sit and listen and leave her to do all the work. Jesus knew what faced him in Jerusalem and he needed quiet, an oasis of calm away from the demanding crowds. That was what Mary gave him and Martha in her kindness did her best to destroy. Jesus rebuked Martha and commended Mary’s single-minded devotion.
Paul’s words to the Colossians emphasised the supreme Lordship of Jesus Christ and his complete claim on our lives. Jesus had come to reconcile us to God. In Christ God was reconciling the whole of creation to himself. We as Christians are called to respond with total dedication to serve our Lord, not holding anything back, nor allowing anything to distract us. Abraham and Mary held nothing back and welcomed and accepted all that was offered to them. Martha and Sarah had to learn that complete devotion and acceptance.
Are we prepared to make a wholehearted commitment to Jesus or are we too easily distracted by life? I admit that being more of a Martha than a Mary, but I am learning to take time to stop and be quiet before God, helped by my prayer times with my prayer partner Brian. I would have probably felt resentful about Mary’s lack of help and I would have felt hurt when Jesus rebuked me. However I can see how such a time of quiet welcome and rest was much more what Jesus needed at that time as he approached the final challenges of his ministry. We need to learn to serve others, accepting and valuing those whose gifts are different from ours without resentment and recognise that we are all needed to make the body of Christ complete.
We sang, ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’ before I led the prayers of intercessions. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day.’ Margaret a member of the congregation, who used to share a flat with my older sister Janet when she was teaching in the North East; she remembered coming to dinner parties at our home in Harrogate!