I don't know about you, but I can get easily distracted. Sometimes I find myself daydreaming and sometimes I find myself starting one job, only to switch to another a few minutes later. Other times, I can just be overwhelmed by so many things that I find myself missing the main thing.
This Summer we were in France, which meant lots of driving in a different country. This is usually not a problem, however on one journey, whilst I was trying to drive on a hot day, take in the local scenery and follow the right road signs, I found myself forgetting the main thing, the thing that really counted; keeping on the right-hand side of the road! Fortunately it was only for a moment and I suspect the oncoming French driver just muttered something under his breath about stupid English drivers as he carried on with his journey.
In his gospel account of Jesus, Luke tells a story of a woman called Martha who invited Jesus to come for a meal. However, it doesn't go as she planned.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 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!'
'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.Luke 10: 38-42
This is not a story against people who are more active or practical in the Christian life, in favour of people who are more academic or thoughtful. Reading it like that means we miss out on what Jesus is teaching here. Here are just a few things that are particularly helpful to us.
Firstly, as the former Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, points out, in the culture of the time, women were not supposed to be sitting at the feet of the rabbi. They were meant to be in a separate room at that moment, certainly not in a position ready to learn from him. However, in this extremely radical, counter-cultural act, that's exactly what Mary does. Jesus is showing us that in the kingdom of God, we are all extended the invitation to know, listen and learn from him. Perhaps you discount yourself from this, for some reason; your background, your gender, your age, your asylum status. Jesus calls you to sit at his feet and listen.
It's also listening and learning for a purpose. Jesus taught people so that they could go out and be his people in their towns and villages. A life with Jesus at the centre means we're sent out for purpose into our streets, our schools, universities, workplaces, clubs etc.
Again, like Mary, none of us are discounted in this. We are all called into this kingdom mission of learning from Jesus and living for him in the places around us.
Thirdly, we see that it is possible in the Christian life to be active and engaged in lots of good things, yet fail to spend time listening to and learning from Jesus. Martha was likely to have had mixed motives. She would have been excited to host Jesus and keen to put on an amazing meal for him. Yet her annoyance at her sister suggests there was something not right. Jesus tells her that her many distractions have ultimately drawn her away from the one thing that is needed, the thing that ultimately gave life, strength and purpose to her - being with him.
We've had the wonderful privilege of having our friend, Michael Akotia, with us from Ghana over the last few weeks. I was stirred by his vision for his recent conference in Ho which he called 'Devoted to Jesus'. He knew that the most important thing his churches could do is to spend time with Jesus, listening to him, speaking with him and learning from him. They were not going to get distracted from this. Then, and only then, would they be ready to be propelled into their towns and villages to proclaim Jesus' joy news.
Jubilee, as in the next few months we launch our next Alpha course, celebrate 20 years as a church and hurtle towards Christmas (all of which I'm really excited about by the way!), let's be those that choose to be with Jesus, wholly devoted to him, strengthened by him and learning from all he has for us.
So here's a question to leave you with. What might that look like in your personal life, at your workplace, in your community group, at your dinner table? As, by God's grace, we live this message out in our daily lives, we'll realise why Jesus said Mary has 'chosen what is better'.
It sounds too good to be true, but this has happened throughout history since the first church in Jerusalem was persecuted. Those scattered believers planted new churches in the places where they settled.
The age old question of whether Christmas gets earlier each year. Perhaps it points to something deeper than we think.