Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sermon for 21 July 2013, Proper 11C

Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Luke 10: 38-42
One Thing
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11C, 21 July 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
For a Lay Reader

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It seems there’s always something that needs to be done. Dishes need to be washed—even loading and unloading the dishwasher can become a chore. The lawn always needs mowed. Bedrooms get messy. Laundry piles up. Children and families need fed. The house needs painting. During the school year, homework and long-term projects pile up. The refrigerator and pantry need restocking. The kids need to be taken where, again? You don’t need a day-planner to realize you have busy schedules. Or is it that our schedules have us, dragging us around from one activity to another?
            We like to think that we do all of these things for a reason. We work hard at home or outside of the home to care for our spouse, our children, our future. We do it out of love. But do we spend time with the ones we love? We do all of these things for them. Do we make time to be with them? The fact that we’re showing our love for them by our service sometimes gets lost in the fact that we’re doing one more thing on a very important list.
            Yes, these things are important. But just how important are they compared to the one thing that is needed? Luke chapter 10 helps to give us important perspective on our busy lives.

38 As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a certain village where a certain woman named Martha opened her home to Him. 
This lesson is connected to the one just before it. We remember the hospitality showed by the Good Samaritan. Martha is showing hospitality to Jesus and His disciples. This is a good thing. Martha is a good person. Hospitality is important.
            What is remarkable here is how unusual it would be for a Jewish woman to welcome a rabbi like Jesus into her home, or for Him to accept. This is only the first of several surprises Jesus has for us today.

39 [Martha] She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. 
For a rabbi to come into a woman’s house and teach her specifically is unheard of, equally remarkable to Martha’s welcome. When it comes to salvation, one’s personal value, and Jesus’ concern, in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, male or female.
Mary was listening. It would be accurate to say that she kept on hearing His message. She began listening, and she continues listening. One can never hear too much of Jesus! Martha was elsewhere.
40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Distracted” is a very kind explanation of what is happening to Martha. What a contrast! Mary kept on hearing. Martha kept on being pulled around, dragged around by much service. Can you identify? It is that she feels obligated? Wants to make a good impression? Show up her sister?
Martha finally had enough. She stood and said to Jesus, “It is a concern to you that my sister has abandoned me to serve you alone, isn’t it?” Her question expects Jesus to answer, “Yes.”  “Jesus, tell her to help me.”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha, Martha. I’m not going to tell Mary here to abandon the most important thing in order to help you. Wouldn’t you rather be sitting at my feet as well? Come to Me, Martha, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Martha is burdened, in need of rest. She is in the midst of tumult. She has been disturbed.  Yes, her labor in hospitality was important. How important was it in the eternal scope of things?
Of one thing there is need. Only one thing is needed. Only one thing is most important, Jesus’ Word, His Gospel. Mary chose the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.
Jesus’ answer to Martha is unexpected. It’s surprising to us, too, if we really think about it. Jesus invites us to put first things first. It is an invitation to not give up service, but to first ask ourselves, “What is the one thing needful?”
What is the one thing needful? God’s Word, especially His Gospel that gives us calm in the midst of a hectic life. It is an island of peace far away from the anxiety-laden mainland. The Gospel is rest for sleepless nights. Christ is life in the midst of a culture of death. His Word creates a reality of hope. His Word re-creates each one of us. His Gospel forgives, gives a fresh start. God’s gift is bigger than expected. It keeps on giving. We need to keep on hearing that. We should keep on listening.
            Instead, we spend most of our time doing, even when it comes to doing things for Immanuel. We like to think that we do all of these things in or around church for a reason. We word hard in service to the Lord. We do it out of love. But do we spend time with the One we love? We do all of these things for Him. Do we make time to be with Him? The fact that we’re showing our love for the Lord by our service sometimes gets lost in the fact that we’re doing one more thing on a very important list.
How many times does your joyful service to the Lord lose its joy because it has just become one more thing to do? We have become so busy, we think, that we have no time for individual or group Bible Study.
All of our service to the Lord is important, cleaning, repairing, visiting, being in LWML, serving as a congregational officer, doing a youth group service project—all that is important. First, let us focus on the one thing needful.
In the next chapter of Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.” Luke 11:28. You cannot obey the Word if you do not hear it first. To be a disciple is to be a learner. Jesus taught us that disciples are made by means of baptizing and teaching. Those of you who have been baptized are continually taught. Confirmation is not a graduation, where you are never expected to be seen again. Far from it! Mary of Bethany helped give us some good perspective. We thank God for her example and her faith.
Mary kept on hearing. Let us keep on hearing. Hearing the Word of God creates and nourishes faith. Romans 10:17. Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ. Faith can starve without sustenance. Faith needs to be fed. Faith yearns to receive what the Lord gives. We keep on hearing. God keeps on giving His Gifts.
Faith believes. Faith trusts. The one who gives and nurtures faith can get us thorough difficult times in our lives. It is the times when we are most harried, most stressed, most at the end of our rope when we need what the Lord gives: forgiveness, peace, hope, and trust in Him.
Faith acts. We believe, upon the basis of the Word, that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Faith is never alone. Faith wants to act, to do, to serve, to love. Living in the freedom of the Gospel, faith rejoices in God’s Gift of salvation and serves Him by serving those around us, family, friends, neighbors.
The Word of God cannot be obeyed if it isn’t heard first. Hearing creates faith. Faith believes, trusts. Faith acts. We can’t get the cart in front of the horse.

Often, the cart is in front of the horse when it comes to worship. Most Christian traditions take the Martha approach to Christian worship. Even the English word, “worship,” reflects this understanding. The most important thing in worship, for them, is what the people do. Worthiness, repute, respect, reverence, etc. is to be paid to God. We pray, we praise, we give offerings, we give thanks. The focus is upon human action. You may hear statements like these. I decided to follow Jesus. We remember Jesus in the sacrament. I’m giving a full tithe today. Look at the good thing I’m doing by being baptized!
In contrast, the Word invites us to worship along the lines of Mary, humbly sitting at Jesus’ feet, continually listening to Him. God’s loving action comes first. We receive, we are acted upon, graciously. The Divine serves us in the Divine Service.
Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the Gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
Saying back to Him what He has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. We rejoice in His Word and our hearing of it, the one thing needful. He gives absolution and peace, He baptizes, He remembers us in the sacrament and gives Christ’s Body and Blood for you for the forgiveness of sins. Secondarily, He welcomes cheerful giving, as well as prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
Keep on hearing the Word. Talk to Pastor about beneficial resources you can use in your personal or family time in the Word. Start small—five, ten, fifteen minutes a day. There is no better quality time with the Lord, your spouse, your children, or your parents. Join us for Sunday School or Adult Bible Class on Sundays now and during the week this fall. Come to adult information class, even as a review! Ask your questions. Usually, someone else has the same question, but just didn’t feel like asking.
Your time with the Lord in His Word is precious to Him, and will become valued time to you, as well. We speak to Him in prayer. He speaks to us in the Word. His Word can also shape and inform our prayers, teaching us to pray as children learn to speak, children sitting at the feet of their loving Heavenly Father.
About the Cover: What quiet serenity surrounds a well-worn Bible! It speaks of time well spent at the feet of the Savior. We can get so distracted by doing things “for the Lord” that we forget to be with the Lord. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The Lord invites us to spend time with Him. This is the one necessary thing, the living Word that alone gives us eternal life.
Only one thing is needed, to sit at Jesus’ feet and keep on listening. This is better, and it will not be taken away from you. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.