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Sunday Sermon 19th March - Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha


Call to worship

Hymn 204: I am the Church

Time for all

Hymn 197: As we are gathered, Jesus is here

Reading: John 11: 1-3 & 17-37 Elaine


Hymn 20 : Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness


Prayer of Dedication

Hymn 200: Christ is made the sure foundation


Welcome to our reflection for 19th March.

And just before we start just a reminder that if you want to send us prayer requests then use the email address below and we will send it off to our prayer team.

It can be as simple as ‘Hi, could you pray for my wife, she’s going through a rough patch just now.’

And I will send that over to our prayer team who will pray for you and your situation.

Often we use prayer as our last resort, when we think it is too late to do anything else.

That is definitely how Mary and Martha felt about Jesus when he failed to turn up in time to save their brother.

And we’ll hear about that from Elaine as she gives us our reading and prayer for today.


I don’t know how many times I have preached on this passage, or heard this passage be preached on, but I can assure you that it is always headed, ‘The death of Lazarus’ or ‘Raising Lazarus from the dead.’

Whatever the title it has Lazarus front and centre.

Which every woman would find ironic.

Because Lazarus doesn’t do anything.

It is Mary and Martha who are left behind, it is Mary and Martha that are doing all the weeping and all the mourning and all the coping, or not coping.

Yet Lazarus, who is basically just lying about for 99% of the story, becomes the centre of attention.

I am sure that every woman in this church would say, ’isn’t that typical’.

So today I want to just concentrate on Mary and Martha.

And I don’t want to talk about grief and how we cope.

There is a lot of complex stuff in this passage about grief, and not all of it is clear.

Martha seems to cope by being active; she goes out to see Jesus as soon as she hears he is about.

Mary doesn’t. Mary stays in the house.

We are not sure whether Mary’s actions are because of a basic want to withdraw from people in her pain,

or whether she is angry at Jesus because she thinks he should have got there in time to save Lazarus,

or whether she is just overwhelmed by emotions and it is causing her to just freeze.

So I don’t want, at this time, to talk about the grief process, or many grief processes that we can go through..

Instead I want to pre-empt the grief process.

And talk about how we live our lives before we grieve.

And particular I want to talk about the ‘if only’s’.

Because Mary and Martha, for all their differences, have one thing in common in this story; one phrase the both of them share.

They both say to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’

Now we know that is the grief talking.

And we can understand that...

Even though we know realistically that just isn’t true, at some point Lazarus had to die, and it didn’t matter if Jesus was there or not.

Even when Jesus walked the earth there were people who became sick that didn’t get healed, there were people who died that weren’t resurrected.

It is wishful thinking that hoped that Jesus could solve all their problems.

And that is not something that Jesus promises.

If we think that becoming a Christian is a way to protecting us from all the things that can go wrong in our world then very quickly we are going to be disappointed.

What Jesus does promise us is to walk with us as we struggle with the problems that we face.

But again that is a distraction to the point I want to make.

We are talking about the ‘if only’s’.

‘If only you had been there Jesus, then my brother would not have died.’

And this is something very real that we ignore at our peril.

If we are not careful, then there will be a time when we cannot change a situation or a relationship.

There will be a time when we look back and say, ‘If only...’

I have seen it live out in so many lives.

A father that didn’t talk to a son, and then the son suddenly dies.

Friends that fall out over something very trivial, and then the chanced to heal the relationship is gone.

I truly believe that part of our faith is that God gives us the strength to make difficult relationship decisions. But too often we pretend that we have an eternity on this life to sort it out, and we don’t.

And we don’t even need to fall out beforehand to have those kind of regrets.

I was listening to a podcast and there was this woman did what we all do, send the annual Christmas card to old friends and wonder where the year went and promise that they will try really hard to meet up that year,

and then the next time they thought of that friend was when they are doing the next round of Christmas cards.

Well she heard through the grapevine that her friend might have cancer. And she thought about going to see her but then thought it might be awkward going just because she had cancer.

To be honest she felt embarrassed that it took something like a cancer to force her to see her friend.

She didn’t phone because she felt the only reason she was phoning was because her friend had cancer. And to be honest she wouldn’t know what to say that would make things better.

And maybe her friend was sick and tired of only talking about her cancer.

So she decided to leave it a few weeks and then phone up to arrange a visit. It would look more natural that way.

And to her horror the day she phoned to arrange a visit was the day her friend died.

She had left it too late.

If only...

And the grief that she went through, and the guilt, and the shame.

All that had to be worked through.

Or, all that had to be ignored, put in a box at the back of her head and stored away with lots of effort trying not feel emotional recrimination.

Either way it would be exhausting.

She may never know the effect of what she would have felt if she had visited her friend, but she knows the pain she went through because she didn’t.

That moment also had a profound effect on her.

A couple of months later the same thing happened.

She got notice that another friend was diagnosed with cancer.

And no matter how hard or awkward that visit was going to be, there was no way she wasn’t going to make it.

She phoned immediately to say that she had heard the sad news and was there anything that she could do.

She arranged to visit, she continued to keep contact with her and walked her friend through her death.

The pain of grief at losing her friend was still hard.

But there was no ‘if only’s’.

There was no needless recriminations.

There was no months of wishing things could have been done differently.

The greatest curse this generation, our generation, has; is that we have so many distractions.

For the majority of humankinds existence life was far more simple.

People woke up when it was light.

They got dressed, they did the work they needed so that they could survive,

either growing things so that they could eat,

or making things so that they could barter them so that they could eat.

And then they went to bed when it was dark.

They had no great light source and most of them couldn’t read.

So all they could do was think.

That row they had with the wife.

That argument they had with the neighbour.

That rift they had with their children.

It just went round and round and round their head, and the next day they had to face all these people because they all lived together and there was no escaping them.

I suspect that there would be a threshold level of emotional pain that would eventually be reached and then they felt an overwhelming urge to sort it out, because they couldn’t live with that internal pain for much longer.

We have the luxury of many distractions.

Think about this...what would our lives be like if suddenly we lost all capacity to watch television, we lost our mobile phones and our computers.

No more Sudoku’s or crosswords or racing games.

I know of people who have set up their computer as a fight simulation, they will pretend, in real time, to be a pilot flying from London to Honk Kong.

Think about that.

That is 5 minutes getting the plane up in the air,

Hours and hours of having the plane on autopilot and just watching pretend instruments do their thing, then fifteen minutes landing the pretend plane.

What would we do if all that distraction was gone and all we had to do was reflect on the life we were creating for ourselves?

Reflect on the relationships we had with others and what kind of state they were in.

Would it be so uncomfortable for us that we would feel we had to do something about it?

The real danger I believe most people live with, is not that they become evil and do evil things.

The danger that we live with is that we so drift through life that our lives become meaningless.

Trust me, I take funerals of people that have been alive, but have not lived a life.

And even scientists, who have researched this stuff, tell us that the greatest regrets that we have, are not the things that we have done that we wished that we hadn’t.

It is the things that we wished we had done, but didn’t even try to do them.

‘If only...’

They are two words that you don’t want to end up saying.

They are two words that you don’t want to end up living.

But to avoid those words, we need to seriously reflect on what we do with our lives, and then decide and act on what we need to do.

Let us pray

Heavenly Father,

you have called us on the great adventure of living,

and you want us to experience it to the full, always digging deeper,

risking more in the search for what is real and lasting and true.

We are beginning to see that life is a journey, a quest, that we go on,

each at our own pace..and only as far as we want to,

knowing that you are with us as a constant and faithful companion.

You were there in the past...

Those early memories of a hall where we used to go to Sunday School, with its tiny wooden chairs, the piano tinkling and the pennies dropping into the plate,

where we first heard stories of people long ago whose lives were touched and changed by Jesus.

And you were there as we grew and the relationships we had at our workplaces, maybe getting married, maybe watching the next generation grow as nieces and nephews, sons and daughters.

How have we grown?

Have we felt the shiver of excitement as we caught a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves,

something worth living and even dying for.

We remember the questions, the answers that didn’t quite hit the mark, that left us confused or uncomfortable, questions of purpose and meaning, questions of relevance and legacy.

One day all this will pass, one day we will pass.

Our earthly lives finished and the possibility of judgement made.

How did we live our lives?

What judgements would we make of all that we had done, of who we had been?

Lord we pray that we may reflect well on our lives, and so act on those reflections that when the day comes, we may not have the regret of saying to ourselves...’if only.’



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