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Thy Presence

Luke 10:38-42

The Rev. Jon Roberts

18 July


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”


Christ in the house of Mary and Martha, Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Bruegel, the Younger, 1628; National Gallery of Ireland

Be thou my vision
O Lord of my heart;
All else be nought to me,
save that thou art --
thou my best thought,
by day or by night,
waking or sleeping,
thy presence my light.[1]

Company is 'comin! We've gone to the store and bought all the provisions for dinner. We put the chicken in the oven. The fish are on the side. We've snapped the green beans and they're in the pot. The broccoli is steaming beside it. The bread is rising, both plain and pumpernickel. We'll offer coffee, tea and water. There will be a salad; mixed greens with three choices of dressing. Set the table, with the Jesus, Peter, James and John sitting here, Peter on the right side of course, with Lazarus, Papa, uncle Lou, Jimmy and Bob, sitting here, here and there. We'll put at this table, Bart, Simon, Andrew and Thomas with David, Rusty, Hank and Cal. Over here we'll put Matthew, Philip, James and Thaddeus with Larry, Roy, Steve and Bill. What about Judas? Well I guess we can let him sit at the children's table.

Oh my goodness, the pies! There is the fig pie to go along with the fig cake. We can't forget that. What would the evening be like without a proper dessert? Now did you get all that Mary? "Mary," where are you? Where in the world did she go too? Poor Martha and Happy Martha are seen together.
The Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon wrote well about her. He said her fault was not that she "served." The condition of a servant suits every Christian well. "I serve" should be the motto of all the princes of the royal family of heaven. Nor was it her fault that she had "much serving." We cannot do too much. Let us do all that we possibly can. Let head and heart and hands be engaged in the Master's service.[2]

It was no fault of hers that she was busy preparing a feast for the Master. Happy Martha to have an opportunity of entertaining so blessed a guest; and happy too, to have the spirit to throw her whole soul so heartily into the engagement. Her fault was that she was "distracted with much serving," so that she forgot Him, and remembered only the service. Is it wrong that her expectations were so great? She wanted Jesus and his disciples to have the very best.[3] With all the itinerant preaching and travels this would be a place of rest; a place where they be nourished. All she wanted was for this night to be a success. But in the midst of chicken or fish, green beans or broccoli, plain or pumpernickel, was she trying to succeed in serving the servant or being a servant to the service?

The American playwright, Tennessee Williams once said, "Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it. Success is shy. It won't come out while you're watching." It surely happens during our work and during our prayer. The condition of the servant suits the Christian well. But in our weakness are we worthy of it? In our blindness how can we know what it looks like? This is hard for the servant. What if we forgot something? Will the evening be a success if we overcook the 'entree, or the dessert comes out mushy? I still hear a preface of the ones who invite me to the table; who spent long hours preparing a meal from a selected recipe they happened to never use before. Almost always they use the same preface, "I'm not sure how it's going to turn out, but if it's not good you don't have to eat it."[4] How can the offering of a person who worked so hard, so patiently and diligently not be good? Admitting we may have missed an ingredient in life, forgot to time a dish just right or dropped a pan is an admission of a servant who is human.

It is human to encounter times when we are weak and blinded. It is also to see that being poor and happy are served together. To commit one's life, especially during the times of weakness and blindness, to Jesus Christ are we most worthy, most successful, to partake of the fountain of all wisdom. It's when we put our best made plans down for God and concentrate on Him, on His plans for our life, do we sip from His cup. Out of shyness, a feeling of unworthiness perhaps, do we rest at His feet, digging deeper for something we can't fill by ourselves. Jesus said you are anxious and troubled about many things. Only one thing is needed. Mary has that one thing. She is to be found at the feet of Jesus. She is not slacking on the job. She sees that the best dish is right before her, and now is the time to dine.

There is nothing greater than to know when to put down all that you are doing when the feast is right before you. No disrespect to the cook, but in this house was the Son of God and He was teaching. When He is handing out such nourishment by His Word we are to stop what we are doing and partake. It is like that when we come to this tabernacle, prefacing our weakness and blindness putting out our hands to receive His body and blood. This banquet should be our vision, where all else is naught. Like it was for Mary, where Jesus is saved for our very best thought; whether waking or sleeping, He is in our presence. He is our light.

[1] Mary Elizabeth Byrne, Be thou my vision, H82 #488
[2] Charles Spurgeon, Evening By Evening, 2005, p.26
[3] Luke 10:38-42
[4] Tennessee Williams, 1911-1983.

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