Prayers of Approach
God of welcome, as we come to you we are welcomed to be with you – as we always are. In this moment, in this time be real to us, be known to us, let us hear your Word, know its truth and follow its leading.
God Almighty, Father and Mother, Son and Spirit, you are the Word of life. You are the Word of truth. You are the Word of love. You are the Word of hospitality. You are the one above and beyond all else. Yours is the Word to be heard and listened to. Yours is the voice in eternity. You are the Alpha and the Omega. You are the beginning and the end. You are our God.
Lord Jesus Christ, we come to you, burdened by our insecurities and responsibilities. Sometimes we are not valued for what we are, but for what other people want to make us. But we know you love us for what and who we are, and this sets us free to be our fullest selves, disciples, following your way, and learning from you. May we listen and learn together today. Amen.
Hymn Lord Jesus Christ you have come to us (R&S 373)
Readings: Genesis 18:1-10a
In both the Old Testament and Gospel stories, the norms of society are at odds with the situations depicted. Is either about gender norms? The Gospel shows an exceptional situation. In an all-female household, the mandatory role of providing hospitality for a guest is pitted against the urgent need to hear Jesus’ words. In the other story, Abraham and Sarah conventionally share the obligations of hospitality, but although Sarah was not part of the open-air conversation she stands behind Abraham in the tent and listens. Are these stories about gender rebellion, or more widely about freedom for anyone to take a stand, to choose, and to offer what they have to God, whether a fine meal or a keen mind to listen?
Hymn Seek ye first the kingdom of God (R&S 512)
Jesus visits the home of Martha and her sister Mary where Mary finds time to sit and listen to Jesus, while Martha is too busy with her chores. Martha grumbles about the lack of help from her sister, but Jesus suggests that, right now, listening to what he has to say is the most important thing to be done.
The story of Mary and Martha has sometimes been used to enrol Jesus on the side of those working for the emancipation of women from domestic roles, or by those who see domestic hospitality as a lesser form of discipleship or mission. But is either of these really the point?
In Abraham and Jesus’ times and in eastern society generally hospitality was and is vitally important. A stranger or guest must be received graciously and their needs ministered to. As the wife of a relatively wealthy man it would be Sarah’s job to supervise the servants as they prepared the meal while her husband Abraham would entertain and converse with their guests. As they waited they would be served drinks and delicacies such as fruit, often figs and dates, dipped in honey, and small cakes. Sarah took this as an opportunity to stand behind Abraham and listen to the conversation, something a woman would not usually be able to do.
Jesus’ situation is even more unusual. He visits the home of two sisters, independent women, where Martha is the householder, an almost unheard of position in the society of the day since widows or unmarried sisters or daughters would have been the responsibility of their closest male relative. And for a man who is not a close relative to visit them could be seen as scandalous – but at least they could chaperon each other. The rules of hospitality still apply however and Jesus’ needs must be met. But without a man who is going to converse with and entertain Jesus while a meal is prepared? It is not a job for a woman but Mary takes it upon herself to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen while Martha does all the work.
Martha naturally sees it as an unfair division of labour and complains. ‘Don’t you care?’ is her challenge to Jesus. His response is probably very far from what Martha expected. He doesn’t tell Mary to help but his words (and we can imagine his tone of voice) ‘Martha, Martha…’ show that Jesus does care deeply but Martha has allowed herself to be distracted by the competing demands of hospitality. His concern is that she doesn’t overwork herself but listens and pays attention to Jesus as a person rather than as a guest who must be served.
The TV programme Come Dine With Me features a group of people competing with each other to be the best host or hostess at a dinner party. It is quite a tricky task to get right and often someone is criticised for producing wonderful food but not spending enough time with their guests. This was the problem that Martha faced. Is it also a problem we face in our churches too? Do we spend so much time arranging the flowers, drawing up the rotas, giving out the notices and arranging for some one to do the readings etc that we forget to sit and listen to what Jesus is saying to us.
Martha was not really doing the wrong thing, her service is not wrong, the problem is her distraction. By trying to do too much she could not see what was most important. A past moderator of General Assembly said in his Moderatorial address that churches shouldn’t try to do everything, we should specialise – ‘Do one thing and do it well.’
How should we respond to Jesus?
Hymn Brother, sister let me serve you (R&S 474)
Prayers of Intercession
We pray for individuals and communities who offer a ministry of hospitality: God of Mary and of Martha, hear our prayer.
For those whose discipleship is in serving, like Martha’s, for those who follow the way of Mary: God of Mary and of Martha, hear our prayer.
For our churches, that they may be places of welcome and of nourishment: God of Mary and of Martha, hear our prayer.
For our homes, that they be places where food is shared and conversations are enjoyed: God of Mary and of Martha, hear our prayer.
For those who have no food to share, no home to feel safe in, no one to talk to: God of Mary and of Martha, hear our prayer.
For those who find no pleasure in their work; and those denied the opportunity to rest: God of Mary and of Martha, hear our prayer.
For those who have shown us the way of service and drawn us into the life of prayer: God of Mary and of Martha, hear our prayer.
For those whose tasks are all done and who sit at your feet in your kingdom. God of Mary and of Martha, hear our prayer. Amen.
Hymn I want to walk with Jesus Christ (R&S 367)
May God meet us in our tasks and in our stillness. May we know a balance of busyness and rest. And may we bless and be blessed with the gifts of hospitality and friendship wherever we go. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Prayers and other material (adapted) © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.