Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our Circuit and with the congregation at Baildon Methodist Church, and led by Rev Nick Blundell.
Click on the blue links to follow them for Bible readings and associated links
Call to worship – Colossians 1:25-27
Paul writes: I have become the church’s servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
For our opening hymn we use Graham Kendrick’s song Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is in you
Though we are weak, his grace is everything we need –
we’re made of clay, but this treasure is within;
he turns our weaknesses into his opportunities,
so that the glory goes to him.
Hymn – Mission Praise 572 – Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is in you
Let us pray:
Living God, you have set the treasure of your gospel in our hearts, making possible by faith accomplishments beyond our human strength. As we share together today, open our minds afresh to your purposes that we might reflect your love in all we do and say. Amen.
Reading: Genesis 18:1-15 (New International Version – UK)
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said.
10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
By the great trees of Mamre (sacred trees in some translations) Abraham and Sarah have settled. They have travelled long and far at God’s prompting (so long and far that even today Abraham is remembered by Jewish families at Passover as ‘a wandering Aramean’.) But now they find themselves by those great trees settled at Hebron, south west of Salem (later Jerusalem), on the crest of the Judean hill country.
Being settled gives them responsibilities for providing hospitality for travelers on the road. It’s in this context that this encounter takes place. Abraham, and less directly Sarah, provide respite and refreshment to the three men who, in some enigmatic way, represent the Lord – ‘The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.’ Let’s notice the sacredness of the place, the readiness of Abraham to receive the three, his urgency in responding. Let’s also realise that, although the storyteller speeds us through things, all this kneading and baking of bread, selecting and preparing the roast, all this would take time. Although there is urgency, there is no rush, and the welcome is genuine and the hospitality splendid.
In response to such welcome and hospitality the Lord repeats the promise that Sarah, although old in years, will bear Abraham a son. Sarah, overhearing (or is it eavesdropping) such a promise, laughs. It seems such a ridiculous notion. The Lord hears both Sarah’s laughter, and her flustered denial, yet will keep the promise.
We may not live by spectacular trees, nor receive apparently ridiculous promises, but we will be aware of days when the offering of hospitality leads to sometimes surprising blessings. In God’s economy so often to give is also to receive!
Holy God, visit us in our settled-ness and disturb us with your promises. Challenge our selfishness with your generosity. Help us to laugh at our small-mindedness as we glimpse something of your purpose and possibility. Amen.
Hymn – Singing the Faith 20 – Be still, for the presence of the Lord
Reading: Luke 10:38-42
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Let’s notice Jesus receiving hospitality here. We don’t know if there were sacred trees nearby, nor what was on the menu, but we do know that he wasn’t visiting a wandering Aramean, but rather two sisters. In doing so he was breaking taboos and standing against the custom of the day (as he did when he visited the homes of an un-named Pharisee or Zacchaeus the tax collector). The sisters were Martha, the householder, and Mary. Both are important, to us, as they were to Jesus.
Martha opens her home. There is work involved in this, preparation of food, readiness of accommodation, management of the occasion. There is always a costliness in offering genuine hospitality, and Martha is paying that cost.
Mary opens her mind. She apparently ignores the tasks which her sister is caught up with, and concentrates on listening to the visitor. She sits at his feet. She offers what we might call the hospitality of attention.
Both sisters play their part in the story, Martha’s costly hospitality a requirement for Mary’s hospitality of attention to be possible. Martha’s generosity sets the scene, Mary’s focus plays it out. And Martha’s distraction, and frustration with her sister, or with Jesus, becomes the hinge on which the story hangs. I doubt whether Luke would have recorded the occasion at all if Martha and Mary had together prepared the meal and then together listened to Jesus!
It’s Martha’s question that gives the scene its energy. ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work…?’ And Jesus’ answer that offers a punchline that leaves us wondering, questioning, even protesting. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I think we Methodists naturally feel for Martha. You’ll remember the old joke about the Christian friends who come to the pearly gate and find St Peter requiring a symbol of their Christian life. The Baptist offers a well-thumbed bible. The Anglican a prayerbook. The Catholic their rosary beads. And the Methodist a casserole!
Jesus doesn’t dismiss Martha’s hospitality. I’m sure he appreciated it and expressed gratitude for it. But he does both challenge and reassure her about her anxieties, and leaves no doubt about the importance of the hospitality of attention that Mary has offered him.
The story challenges us too. Both in the kind of hospitality we offer our neighbours, and in the priorities we choose in our Christian living. The hospitality of attention means listening as fully and carefully as we can to the stranger. Seeking to recognise the gifts the stranger both needs and brings, and to gently facilitate the giving and receiving of such gifts. In such sharing the stranger becomes the neighbour, and perhaps the neighbour becomes the friend.
I’m sure Jesus didn’t tell Martha to stop making casseroles. But his answer to her question will have made her think about when she makes them and why, and for whom. How much of the practical stuff we do is the necessary work of the kingdom, enabling godly things to happen, and how much is peripheral, non-essential, missing out on that hospitality of attention which sees us sitting at the feet of Jesus?
We sing or listen to Michael Forster’s hymn Let love be real with the refrain:
As God loves us, so let us love each other:
with no demands, just open hands and space to grow.
Hymn – Singing the Faith 615 – Let love be real, in giving and receiving
Praying for others, and ourselves:
Holy God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Trinity in Unity, we praise you for who you are, and all you make possible for us. You have drawn close to us, visiting us in the everyday and the extraordinary, sitting down to eat with us, making yourself known.
We thank you for the blessings that come in knowing you, for the giving and receiving of gifts that marks the generous economy of your kingdom.
We pray for our sisters and brothers in faith within our church and circuit. For the Marthas and the Marys, the Martins and the Malcolms, all those who carry responsibility, offer hospitality, enable worship, contribute to our shared life.
We pray for those finding life difficult at present, those who are anxious or over-burdened, those who are unwell or downhearted, those who are grieving or far from home, and those who are feeling unappreciated or taken for granted.
We pray for those looking to us for hospitality and welcome, including those who are refugees or seeking asylum, those whose personal circumstance brings them to our door, those who are struggling financially or spiritually.
We pray for those living with family discord or tension, or carrying the heavy responsibility of caring for others.
We pray for those living in places of conflict, where violence and need has become everyday reality.
We pray quietly for those people and places we find on our hearts.
We pray for ourselves, that we might both experience and exercise the hospitality of attention, being noticed by and noticing God present in our neighbours day by day.
In Jesus’ name we offer our prayers. Amen.
We bring our prayers together, as we pray, with all God’s people, the Lord’s Prayer.
You might like to sing, or reflect on the words of Marty Haugen’s Let us build a house where love can dwell
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
Hymn – Singing the Faith 409 – Let us build a house where love can dwell
We go in peace, in the power of the Spirit, to live and work to God’s praise and glory. Amen.
We bless one another, and all those we have brought to mind this day, as we share the Grace:
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, now and always. Amen.