A time to rest Mary and Martha

I actually opted for this evenings sermon slot ‘A Time to Rest’, not because I felt that I had some special advice or pearls of great wisdom or particular insights which would be to your benefit, but rather because I was eager to learn something myself about resting.

I am the world’s worst at relaxing and resting and I wondered whether, in the process of research for this sermon for your ears, I would also discover some valuable life lessons for myself.

A ‘Time to Rest’ is also very appropriate subject for this evening, because the people who usually make the effort to attend a Lent Eucharist are those people who have already taken on so many heavy and demanding responsibilities and ministries within the church, whilst at the same time trying to keep home and family together.

The first book I picked up to study contained a scripture which spoke very powerfully to me. It was this:-

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Jesus and asked,

‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ’you are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.’

Those words ‘distracted’ ‘worried’ ‘upset’ just cut right into me at the time;

Life can get really frazzled, when like Martha, you know there are deadlines to meet, and jobs that must be done, and people you don’t want to let down, and it’s so easy to feel guilty for taking time off for one’s own benefit, the kind of quality time off which will energise us to meet the demands of what we do.

I wonder how many of us this evening can identify with the kind of guilt I’m talk about?

However, in that same book where I found that reference, there was a story which seemed to support those who feel a bit aggrieved on behalf of Martha, who was there making sure Jesus and Mary didn’t go without.

It’s an old story, probably a true story, told by the desert fathers as long ago as the fourth century AD.

A certain brother came to Abbot Silvanus on Mount Sinai, and seeing the hermits at work, he exclaimed,

‘Why do you work for the bread that perishes? Mary has chosen the better part, namely to sit at the feet of the Lord without working.’

Then the abbot said to his disciple Zachary: ‘Give the brother a book and let him read, and put him in an empty cell.’

At the ninth hour the brother who was reading began to look to see if the abbot was not going to call him to dinner, and some hours later he went himself to the abbot and said,

‘Did the brethren not eat today father?’

‘Oh yes certainly, said the abbot, ‘they have just had dinner.’

‘Well’ said the brother, ‘Why did you not call me?’

‘You are a spiritual man, said the elder, ‘you don’t need this food which perishes. We have to work, but you have chosen the better part. You read all day and can get along without food.’

Hearing this, the brother said, ‘Forgive me father’.

And the elder said, ‘Martha is necessary to Mary, for it was because Martha worked that Mary was able to be praised.’

Life can become frazzled, and we need to aim for a BALANCE of work and play. It’s so easy to take on too much, so easy to say ‘Yes instead of ‘No’ and not to allow any time for our batteries to

We need to create a better balance between work and play.

Time given to both is essential, in this world we live in, which is probably for many of us in the West, one of the most prosperous periods in all history, and yet people are not happier.

Ours is arguably the most literate, educated and informed generation of all time.

We know what is right and wrong; what is temporary and permanent; what is worldly and spiritual: what is fleeting and what is eternal. We should be able to distinguish between what is urgent and what is important, but we still hurtle on with great speed.

So why are our lives and relationships such as mess?

(switch on the following taped sounds*)

Labour saving devices, (doorbell sound*) which are gift of modern technology do not relieve us of responsibility,(microwave sound*) ‘Bob your dinner’s ready!’

no they spur us on to fill our lives with even greater heights of ambition and achievement.

Today more and more people are hell-bent on crossing the finishing line, competing to enter the land of wealth and success. (telephone sound*)

Diaries are as congested as our roads and airways (helicopter sounds* and then there’s always that element of fear lurking in the background *helicopter stops) and health suffers as people obsessed with prestige, power, wealth and busy-ness become more and more filled with anxiety and stress, and they cram more and more into their day only to find they begin to suffer from sleep deprivation and anxiety. (alarm clock sound*6)

E mails demand to be answered, faxes and post stream into

‘in’ -trays, mobile phones just ring incessantly, (mobile phone sound*) texts must be responded to immediately. We leave no time for ‘slack’, we are persuaded that everything must be done yesterday!

Quality time has been stolen away. We’ve been robbed!

Everyone is rushing here and there, jumping over all the hoops!

There’s an urgency about everything! (fire engine sound*)

Some would say we have a now a ‘value-less’ society the worse for it. Money and material acquisition have supplanted family and the pursuit of knowledge.

I’m always amazed when I go down to London, and see for myself the hours that career minded professionals, young and old, put into their work down there, pushing themselves literally over into the abyss as if they had some kind of death wish. But then I realise this is not just a problem confined to London. Many people today simply never switch off from work. They take it with them on the train, they take it to bed, even with them on their holiday breaks.

There are many today who have this impression that the things that are really important in life are possessions and inflated bank accounts.

Quality time is sacrificed on the altar of acquisitions…the right car, the right house, the right area, the right décor, the right school, the right toys and right labels for clothing even…

What have we come to?

So what about a Time to Rest?

How did the Jews view their day of rest?

Someone once said,

‘The concept of the creative pause, sanctified by the divine example, is one of the greatest spiritual and social contributions to civilizations made by the religion of Israel.’

The Sabbath was intended by God to be the crown jewel of the week, but now it has become merely a slight pause, a platform to get ready for the busy week ahead.

To Jews, the six days of work were but a preparation for the one GLORIOUS DAY OF REST.

It was the day to discover, appreciate and treasure time for God, family and self, which we will look at in a moment!

It was the day which celebrated God’s activity in our world.

It was the day which celebrated human freedom from slavery.

I t was, in the book of Genesis, the day that brought rest and refreshment to a toiling world.

Where have we now placed ourselves in the western world? Right back into slavery and toil!

Later when we retire in our old age our deepest regrets may well be that now there is nothing urgent on the go, we cannot pursue what is really important to us because the actual …opportunity …was… squandered!

WE MUST CEASE TRAMPLING ON EVERYTHING WE HOLD DEAR, and consider rededicating ourselves to a clearer understanding of the preciousness of the moment.

If we are to rest in God, ( we must wait upon him, spend time in his presence, seeking his will not ours…and find moments to just BE! …WITH Him, out of our love for him.)

If we are to find rest within our families, we must give them time which is not compromised by outside demands, because of our love for them. We need to give them our very best attention and respect. We must listen, the we’ll grow together in understanding.

We should pray to be able to see our loved ones as the Sabbath itself, precious and holy, to see time as God’s most precious gift!

Never in history have human relationships suffered as much as they do today! No wonder the divorce rate and teenage pregnancies are so high, no wonder children are acutely insecure or distressingly violent and aggressive!

A conversation was heard in a supermarket.

One young woman was saying how hard it was to raise children these days. The older lady said, ‘In my day it was much harder. We had no television then. We actually had to spend time with our children!

How much violent behaviour is a result of neglectful parents today, coupled with a deep desire by children to get noticed and be loved?

If we are to seek rest with and alongside our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we become slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to anger, and share hurts openly and honestly before they fester. Out of love for one another we must forgive if any hurts arise.

The same applies to friends and neighbours.

The gifts we do offer God ought to flow through us rather than from us. Giving God back the best that he has given us, working from our strengths for his glory is where we’ll find rest in service, rather than the slog and the toil.

Learning to delegate, cooperate and respect and recognise each others gifts for a greater functioning of the body of Christ is something we all may still have to learn to do.

If we want to rest within ourselves, we do it by loving ourselves enough to treat our minds, our souls and our bodies to regular and well deserved leisure moments. To find joy in the things we choose to do.

I speak of the kind of leisure moments which refresh, relax and restore us, not the kind which is sheer escapism and fantasy. This can leave us restless, anxious and exhausted and unable to face up to the real world and matters of spirituality.

We may need even will power to develop the right kind of interests and appreciations and vision to see the wonderful possibilities.

But to be in control, rather than be controlled by that which we know saps our time and robs us of ‘quality’ is so much better.

To Jews the beauty of the Sabbath, is that on this day there is nothing that is urgent, nothing pressing, pure enjoyment!

There are moments now, that if not captured, will soon be lost forever.

If we lived our faith correctly, and practised what Jesus taught us then each day could become a SABBATH to us; SEVEN WHOLE DAYS, NOT ONE IN SEVEN.

Writing in the 5th century, a man called John Cassian tells a famous story about the apostle and gospel writer St John.

He was found one day playing with a tame partridge. A narrower and more rigid brother rebuked him for thus wasting his time, and St John answered:

‘The bow that is always bent will soon cease to shoot straight!’

So let us go placidly amongst the noise and haste and remember

what peace there may be in THE SILENCE AND THE CREATIVE PAUSE.