Sermon for Sunday 17 July 2022
“Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
What is a non-place? It’s a curious word isn’t it. It was invented by the French anthropologist Marc Augé. He uses it to describe a specific sort of location – something has come to exist in our post-modern world.
A non-place is a spot where human beings come and go. But we do it so transiently that we remain completely anonymous – as if no one notices us.
A non-place is a location where humans collide with each other in huge numbers, yet where no true connections, and no lasting relationships are made.
A non-place is a crossroads where everything we physically need in terms of food, drink, shelter is all there, yet what we really need as humans – friendship, love, respect, identity, culture – all that is wiped out.
The classic non-places Augé points to are airports, railways stations, shopping malls, hotel rooms, motorway service stations, supermarkets. They give us the physical things we need in life, but too much time spent in those places can leave you bewildered, alienated, lonely, and feeling uprooted.
I wonder whether some of those ideas that Augé has come up with might be a useful lens through which to look at our gospel reading this morning.
The story we’ve just heard seems very simple on the surface. Martha is the busy fuss-pot who allows the nuts and bolts of life’s practicalities to take over. They prevent her from listening to Jesus. Mary, by contrast recognises that listening to her guest is more important. Jesus teaches us that it is Mary who choses the better way.
What if this story is not just about how we should act as individuals, but also about the sorts of community we should be trying to create? What if Martha and Mary also represent two sorts of community? What if this story tells us something about what sort of parish community we should aim to be?
What I mean is this. What if Martha represents the sort of thing that Marc Augé was going on about when he talks of non-places?
Martha is rightly concerned with making sure the externals of everything that Jesus needs are catered for: food drink, accommodation. Yet she overlooks that something more is needed for true human flourishing. She’s like the motorway service station or the airport that gives you a square meal, but which leaves you feeling pretty bewildered and lost and exhausted. She’s like the hotel or the B&B that gives you a comfy bed, but which can never be a home or a place where you put down roots.
But what is the opposite of what Martha represents? Humans need places where they can grow in their true identity, where real encounter and community can thrive. I think that might be more what Mary represents, because she quite simply wants to remain close to Christ.
For our parish to be a place of true community, it needs to be a place that stays close to Christ. For it is in him that our identity is to be found. If we root ourselves in his love, we will find the energy and the inspiration that make true human flourishing possible.
For it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that teaches us that all humans are of infinite worth; that there is more to human existence than a mortgage and a large car; that in the life of Jesus Christ, God shows us we are loved beyond our wildest dreams. And it’s through being close to Christ that we are then prompted to do the kinds of things that show God’s love in the world.
For the crucial thing about human flourishing is to be near and be with the one for whom we were made. That’s the thing that distinguishes a Christian Community from any of the secular groups, parties and fellowships that make up the society in which we live.
We seek not to represent an opinion, or promote an idea, or undertake a particular activity, but rather, we seek nothing less than to be drawn ever closer to the one in whom all meaning, and all love, and all life exists.
So let’s try to follow the example of Mary in remaining close to Jesus. For it is only in Christ and in him alone that we can build the sort of parish community where genuine human flourishing is possible – a community where all are valued and cherished; where deep, loving relationships are nourished; where the living God is worshipped; and where the hope of eternal life with him is lived out each and every day.
Fr Peter Anthony