Luke 10:38-42 (8th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
July 18, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson recorded in Luke 10:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed 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 up 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, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
There are many fairy tales in which someone is granted three wishes. These fictional stories challenge our imaginations: “What would I choose?” In Psalm 27, King David gives his one and only wish, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”
(Psalm 27:4) David wanted above all things to be in the Lord’s forgiving, gracious presence. What’s your one thing? In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that the thing for us, above all things, is to listen to Him and receive His life-giving service. Some would try to convince us that there is a time when we can move beyond being forgiven and receiving our Lord’s service. But just as a branch must always receive nourishment from the vine or die, so listening to Jesus, receiving His service, is the one thing above all things.
Martha’s many things brought worry. Her many things were in and of themselves good things: welcoming Jesus, providing hospitality, and serving a meal. Jesus in sending the 72 taught that they were to go where they were welcomed and listen to. Martha is welcoming Jesus. But even good things choke off the work of God’s Word. Martha’s wrong priorities caused her to be self-righteous toward her sister and to miss the very presence of Jesus.
What are some of your “many things” that bring your worry? Remember, the things that cause us concern are not all bad things, but when they consume us and get in the way of hearing God’s Word, then we have problems. Perhaps you are worried about your financial situation, concerned about affording college for your children. Maybe you spend a lot of time pleasing people like Martha was doing. It could be you worry about what others think about you. You know your life’s situation. What are your “many things?” On average, 40% of the things we worry about will never happen. 30% of our concerns are things that are in the past that can’t be changed. Untrue criticism by others accounts for 12% of our concerns; 10% about health (which gets worse under the stress of worry). Only 8% of our worry is actually focused on real problems that will be faced—real problems that should be faced with God’s Word at our side.
During summers in college, a young man worked at a golf course. A tractor driver there had left his church. He was upset because when he took over the Sunday school and got it going well—with new equipment, greater attendance, and excited teachers—all he ever heard from the members was, “Come with us to church.” He thought they should have helped him or at least been thankful for what he did, but instead they wanted him to sit around and hear God’s Word. He was missing the whole point. So was Martha and, at times, so do we. In our many worries, Martha, you and I forget who the real Servant is. Martha thought she was the host and Jesus was the guest. But that’s not the case at all. Jesus is the One who serves as He saves. Earlier in Luke 10 Jesus warned the joyful 72 returning from their successful mission not to rejoice in their seaming success, but in the most important thing—that their names were written in heaven—they were saved by Jesus’ saving work. When we are concerned about how others aren’t thankful or helpful enough, when we’re grumbling and complaining, dragging ourselves around, these are signs that we’re probably not letting Jesus serve us first.
On the other side of the coin, however, sits Mary. Mary’s one thing brought eternal blessings. To the world Mary may look lazy. But passively sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening is the best thing. The Old Testament commandment to rest on the Sabbath was given by God in order that his people would remember who is the first servant: God, who gives people His Word of forgiveness and life. Remember Luther’s explanation to the Third Commandment? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Jesus clearly tells us that Mary had chosen the good portion. He beautifully promised, “It will not be taken away from her.”
The one thing necessary for you and me is always Jesus the Servant. Jesus is here to serve you and me in His sacred Word, Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28) Jesus served us on the cross by becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus served us by dying our death and suffering our punishment in order to win our perfect forgiveness and eternal life with God forever. And Jesus continues to serve us today through His Word and Sacrament.
Our Lutheran Service Book (the hymnal) follows the Eastern and German tradition of calling the Communion service the “Divine Service.” The point is that worship is first and foremost God’s service to us. Going to church isn’t doing God a favor. We go to receive the fruit of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection—forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. Sure, we respond to His grace and forgiveness by confessing and praising His name and serving our neighbor, but first things first. We passively sit at Jesus’ feet and listen. We let Him wash us in Holy Baptism, making us children of the heavenly Father, heirs of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. In Holy Absolution and through the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness, we let Christ take our sins away and give us His perfect righteousness. As we kneel before the table He has set before us, we let Jesus put His holy body and precious blood into our mouths for forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our faith.
What a blessed way to begin a week! To be here, sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His Word, receiving His holy body and precious blood, receiving His forgiveness and the eternal life Christ won for you. What a blessing it is to be able to come into God’s house at His invitation and have Him serve us with the blessings of Christ in Word and Sacrament! What a privilege we have to start our week in Jesus’ presence, with Jesus’ forgiveness and love. When you come to this Divine Service, know that you, like Mary, have chosen the good portion. It will never be taken away from you. Amen.