Mary, the One with Perspective

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Mary, in this story, is a model for us of proper perspective.  She understands what is before her and about her, and she is able to let go of concern over appearances, cultural expectations and social pressure and grab hold of what is truly valuable in her midst.  She puts Christ at the center of her world.

9th Sunday after Pentecost

Colossians 1:15-28

Luke 10:38-42

July 21, 2013

Peder Stenslie

I realize that, for the most part, growth in the Christian faith for me has been a very slow and gradual process.  Christ and the Gospel have fundamentally shaped my life and changed who I am, but they have done so bit by bit, imperceptibly over time… like yeast in bread… as Jesus puts it.  However, there have been experiences and occasional moments of important insight that have played a big role in shaping who I am.

I remember one such moment from when I was about 17 years old.  I was sitting in church.  I don’t remember what was happening in the service, but I looked around at everyone and was suddenly struck by a compelling and unsettling thought.  It went something like this:  If we all really believed in what was being said here about God, our life together and the Kingdom of God, we would be different.

I mean… think about it!  We speak about the deepest truths of life here… about who created us and every thing that is… about who sustains and strengthens us… about why we were created… who we are meant to be… where we are going… about the invitation to life that lasts forever….  And yet we treat the Christian faith like it is a Sunday social club.  We come and make our appearance, go through the motions, sing some songs, chat with friends and neighbors.  Then we leave it all behind.

We leave it… and return, so often it seems, to being petty, shallow, selfish… living for money, popularity, power… molding our thoughts, values, hopes and dreams to the often empty, but very powerful ideals of our peer group, our culture… our world.

It’s very easy for us to put out of our minds the true power of the Gospel to create and transform life… especially in first world cultures like our own that specialize in making utterly meaningless things seem incredibly exciting and valuable.

One reason coming together in worship on a regular basis is important for us is perspective.  We need to be reminded constantly that Christianity isn’t a social club.  It’s not just a set of ethics… or a collection of good habits.  It’s not a happy, friendly attitude about life.  It’s not a set of correct beliefs that make us special.

Christianity is a community of people who gather in faith to serve and be served by the power that created the universe… the one that forms life out of nothing and destroys the grip of sin and death over our lives.  That purpose ought to deeply command our attention and claim our energy for a little more than Sunday morning social gatherings.

Today’s lesson from Colossians is a wonderful example of scripture that establishes important perspective.  It reminds us who Christ is and why he should be the center of our lives.

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

These beautiful, powerful hymn-like words remind us that what draws us together here in this place of worship is the power that has brought forth all life… created all things.  We are encouraged here to open our hearts to the maker and Lord of the entire universe.  We hear and answer the invitation and promise that is “proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”  And we remember why it is important and wise to let this power become the foundation upon which we build our lives.

That lesson about perspective is what today’s Gospel tries to impart.

The story about Mary and Martha can be so confusing for us.  At least for me, Martha seems to be the gracious and responsible servant.  Mary, on the other hand, seems… well… lazy and selfish and irresponsible, letting Martha tend to all the duties of hostess.

But once again, we need to think about perspective.  So here it is….  The Lord of Life… the image of the invisible God… the first-born of all creation… the one in whom all things hold together… he is in your home teaching.  What are you going to do?

In case you’re not sure what the right answer is, I’ll tell you… because I’m actually pretty confident I know this one.  You stop what you’re doing, however important it may once have seemed to you.  You sit down.  You listen… and you learn.  When the Lord of Life is in your home teaching… clearly, that is “the better part” as Jesus calls it.  Only a fool would let themselves be distracted by petty concerns about appearances, proper roles and etiquette.

Mary, in this story, is a model for us of proper perspective.  She understands what is before her and about her, and she is able to let go of concern over appearances, cultural expectations and social pressure and grab hold of what is truly valuable in her midst.  She puts Christ at the center of her world.

That’s our challenge too.  Jesus expects us to have the same perspective as Mary and do the same.

Are we Mary or Martha?  Do we live our lives as Christians in this world and let ourselves be distracted by many things that are meaningless and without value?  Do we foolishly busy ourselves with empty pursuits and chase shallow dreams as we ignore things of true and lasting value that are in our midst?

Or like Mary, do we see clearly the incredible treasures of life, love and the Kingdom of God that are here with us?  And do we arrange our lives accordingly… putting Christ and his gifts and his call at the center of our lives, knowing… trusting that that is the “the better part….” the greater gift… that will never be taken away from us.