Sunday, 21 July 2019

40. Abbey Hill United Reformed Church, Kenilworth

This weekend has been the 50th anniversary of the moment when man first set foot on the moon. It’s been hard to get away from. Most TV stations have been showing documentaries about the Apollo missions and their astronauts and the papers have reprinted their coverage from 1969.

That’s all been fine by me. I’ve been rediscovering the fascination I had for space and the moon landings I had fifty years ago. I recall being woken in the small hours of the morning to gaze at a grainy image I still can’t fully work out, as the first man on the moon came down the ladder. Like many at the time, I was caught up in the saga and, though I could not claim to have grasped the enormity of the task, or the complexities of the politics behind the whole thing, I followed each development keenly.

At school I remember moonscape pictures and cardboard rockets. I even dimly recall a song performed in front of the school radio which counted down ‘5-4-3-2-1’ and ended with us all whooshing like the giant Saturn V on the launchpad. 

We were promised so much from the conquest of the moon. By the time I reached 40, I was told, we’d have people living on the moon and we’d be zooming back and forth with no greater upheaval than hopping on a bus. Mars and the other planets were already being lined up.

Ah well. Big dreams. There is always a practical gap between the dream and the reality and that’s something on my mind this morning.

The United Reformed Church is a bright and open church, small but with a genuine welcome. There’s even a few faces I recognise and I’m glad to see. Like so many churches it has a battle to find younger people, but there’s a decent turnout considering the food festival is already in full swing filling the town with temptations and clogging the streets with diverted traffic.

This morning’s main focus is the story of Martha and Mary, the one a constant and diligent worker, the other reluctant to give up her place at Jesus’s feet and help out with the chores. When the ever-busy Martha appeals to their guest to help get Mary to pull her weight around the house, Jesus replies that Mary, in choosing to listen to his teachings, has chosen the more important path and that she’s to be lauded for that.

There were deep thinkers aplenty in the Apollo missions. Some pondered what would happen when we went out into what previous civilisations had considered the heavens only to find them empty. If we could conquer space, what need would we have of God? It’s interesting to note that almost the opposite happened, particularly among those who went. 
Seeing the Earth from the perspective of its creator made a huge impression on those who saw the view either first hand or through the breathtaking pictures. Apollo 8’s crew were even moved by their trip to the beyond to make a Christmas Day broadcast of the opening verses of Genesis. 

I’ve often idly wondered what would have happened if someone other than fervently Christian America had got there first. Given the growth of the new economic powers in China and India (who launched another rocket just this week), there’s every chance we’ll be seeing the eventual conquest of Mars through a rather different perspective. They certainly have the Marthas to make it happen.

I’ve never found Mary and Martha the easiest story to reconcile. Perhaps it’s because in modern times we’ve educated ourselves NOT to regard all domestic tasks as being Martha’s responsibility, that we feel Mary could and should pitch in a bit. These days we feel it’s not too much to ask everyone to do their bit. We’ve become conditioned to acknowledging and praising the work of behind-the-scenes people in every walk of life. The evidence is there in the church’s own newsletter which invites people to spare an hour from their busy schedules to do their bit by welcoming people to a forthcoming exhibition.

Praising the tireless efforts of those who make things happen is not to deny that the world needs Marys too. We could all benefit from taking time to prioritise the important things in life, but without people doing the spadework, where would those dreamers, those thinkers be?

That may be a slightly skewed reading of the story, but it’s one which springs to mind when I think of the tens if not hundreds of thousands of people it took to complete the project to put those men on the moon and bring them home. 

Like so many significant human achievements, it was based on the hard work and willingness of the many leading to those at the apex of the pyramid being able to hit the target on behalf of all of us. Mary might dream of an everlasting state of praise and understanding, but I have a feeling it’s Martha who’s going to make it happen.