Sermon for the Eighth Sunday of trinity
17th Jul 2016
Eighth Sunday of Trinity Year C
“The mystery is Christ among you; your hope of glory”. Colossians 1.27
The Gospel shows us the Jesus who is at close proximity to the people who surround him. We are left in no doubt that the presence of Christ is felt spiritually and is lasting. An encounter with him is an encounter with the Creator Father who is present in the outpouring of spiritual grace. And it is in the nature of this presence that it should be hospitable. The poet Auden once said that God is always and everywhere present to us and for us, and so there is no need seek him apart from every waking, waiting, listening moment. We seek him as he is found in the present moment; we seek him just as we are and just as we are found and we do not seek him elsewhere.
I once went shopping with my stepfather, and after several hours we finally arrived home, and I was anxious to get the bags out of the car and get in, but he stopped and said, ‘Look up at that overflow pipe. Look at that bird up there sipping away at the drips of water”. It was mildly irritating to be reminded of this stillness but even so it at reminded me of the possibility of a greater observance of the beautiful and fine detail of the created order in an attitude of openness to the elements. St Paul in writing to the Colossians expresses this as a Christian understanding. It is the close proximity of the person of Christ dwelling within you. And he likens this spiritual presence to a mystery. “And the mystery is Christ among you”… he says, “…your hope of glory”. (Colossians 1.27) The presence of Christ is an indwelling presence, which blesses and gives life.
God is a hospitable God who welcomes us into his presence at all times, and this is being outlined in two of our readings. The first is taken from Genesis Chapter 18 and details the reception of three strange guests at the Oak of Mamre. Abraham goes out to offer them hospitality but strangely addresses them in the singular, calling them Lord. And it is from this encounter that the guests promise that his elderly wife Sarah will give birth to a son. The presence of God is shown as a mysterious guest, offering us a foretaste of the post-resurrection meal at Emmaus. It remains true that the sharing of hospitality, the careful preparation of food and the conversation over the meal table can transcend the sum total of its parts. The presence of God himself, the writer of Genesis reminds us, lies at the heart of gracious hospitality, even though this may have been sentimentalised in the God who is likened to the silent guest at every meal. The Genesis account has famously been transposed into the art of the icon painter, as the Russian Andrei Rublev depicted the three strange guests spoken to as one in his icon of the Holy Trinity. Rublev gives the most powerful significance to the Genesis account, and we are permitted as we gaze upon this icon, to encounter the presence of the God whose love for us his creatures is and will for ever be a hospitable love.
In the Gospel account of Mary and Martha we have what seems like the showing of a sharp division of kinds of hospitality. Of pious Mary who ‘has chosen the better part’ and stays with Jesus and is in his presence, and the apparently distracted and overworked Martha, who is understandably angered by her sister’s apparent laziness. Is Mary pious or lazy; is Martha a put upon worker or simply distracted? In a painting by the Spaniard Velazquez, Mary and the Christ are seen as a reflection through a mirror or(or a serving hatch) from the kitchen. Standing in the foreground and pummelling away at some herbs with huge forearms and fists through a pestle and mortar is the angered Martha, much the most important figure in the picture, dominating the scene as she glowers out at us. In a fine details we see fish and eggs and bits of garlic and a jar of oil on the table. Mary and Christ are seen from a vague distance. And Velasquez is approaching the story from Martha’s point of view. The story and its theological importance still holds good. Even Abraham got up out of the noon-day sun to serve the strange visitors, and he did this before conversing with them. Their significance as holy visitors is allowed only in the context of their being at the table and of their being waited on. Martha remains for me the most interesting figure because she matters too. She cannot sit at Christ’s side even if she would have wanted too, because she has work to do! The disharmony which Martha’s glowering presence sets up is the one which has not allowed us to see that both work and prayer are both apart of the one needful offering. In this Eucharist we “do this in remembrance of Jesus” and the doing element becomes an inseparable part of the worshipping and the adoring element. Both are part of the one offering.
The promise is made to us this morning in the strangers who pass by and in the service of Mary and Martha, that before all else the love of God is for us for ever open to us, ready to meet us where we are and how we are. God is waiting for us to come into his presence that we might find in it the healing which is the mystery of Christ among us; the hope of your glory and my glory and the Church’s glory.