The following reflection was shared by the Rev. Amanda Currie at an ecumenical noon hour service hosted by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Saskatoon during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2004.
Hospitality is one of the things that many Christian churches pride themselves on. Presbyterians, at least, joke all the time that we can’t get together without having something to eat. Here at St. Andrew’s, the kitchen is one of the busiest places because whenever we get together we share food…. Tea, coffee, cookies or squares, little sandwiches, pots of soup, or pizza. Whatever the occasion, there’s some appropriate food or drink to go along with it.
And there are some among us in our congregation, (and in yours, I’m sure) for whom the ministry of hospitality is their greatest gift to the community. They welcome the visitors and the newcomers. They pour the tea, and make sure there are enough cookies. And they take care of the endless, behind the scenes, tasks that keep the church kitchen clean, stocked, and ready for company.
Today’s reading from Luke is sometimes difficult for those of us whose gift is hospitality… Those of us who slide out before the end of worship to put on the coffee… Those of us who lose our place in the prayer because we’re thinking about whether or not there will be enough sandwiches, or whether we remembered to put out the cream and sugar.
The Gospel stories make it clear that hospitality is an important gift. Jesus relied on the kindness of strangers and new-found friends in his travelling ministry. He trusted that there would be somewhere to lie down at night and something to eat in the morning. And many kind women and men provided that for him and his followers.
But today we are reminded of the woman who didn’t jump up to help her sister serve their guest, and instead, sat at his feet and listened to what he was saying.
When Christians gather together, as we do during this week of prayer for Christian Unity, it is very good for us to share food and fellowship. It is good for us to welcome each other and to serve one another. But we musn’t let our many tasks worry and distract us from the most important thing. God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. In his life and his teaching, in his death and his resurrection, we have seen and heard and known the will of God.
As Moses told the Israelites, the commandments of God are not so far away. We don’t have to go up to heaven to hear from God. We don’t have to cross to the other side of the sea, because the Word is very near to us. God has come to us in Jesus, the living Word.
This week, we are invited, not only to welcome and serve one another. We are asked, not only to share each other’s traditions and to proclaim together our common faith in Jesus. We are called, not only to pray for unity and peace. We are reminded today that Mary chose the better part when she sat down at Jesus’ feet and listened to what he was saying.
What might we hear, if we were to sit down together and listen to the Word?
I have always found that I understand more from the Scriptures when I don’t try to interpret them on my own. When I’m preparing to preach, I always start by reading the texts and making notes of my own thoughts and insights. But I can’t stop there.
If it were left completely up to me, my congregation would likely get bored after a few weeks. My own limited experience, my own favourite images of God, my own particular concerns… could easily dominate my preaching. So I am learning to read the texts with the help of others.
Sometimes my fellow interpreters have written books – commentaries and reflections that help me to listen to God’s Word in community with others who have studied and treasured it as I have. Other times, I have had the added bonus of getting together with other interpreters in person to listen to the Word together… with other staff in my own church, with a worship team at the seminary where I studied, and when I’ve been very lucky, with an ecumenical study group.
The Word is very near to us… in the pages of the Scriptures that we hold dear and in the lived experience of the Christians of my traditions all around us. It is in their mouths, and in their hearts, if we are willing to look and to listen.
Remember, the Word became flesh and lived among us, and now the Word lives on, not only in the pages of a book, but in the Body of Christ – – the whole Christian Church.
In the midst of a world in which so many people do not know of God’s love for them… In the midst of a world that seems full of poverty, and oppression, and despair… In the midst of a world where our tasks as Christians seem so endless that we are driven to worry and distraction… Jesus’ good word to us today is that there is need of only one thing.
When we sit at Jesus’ feet and listen together to what our Lord is saying, we have chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from us. Thanks be to God.