9th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 10:38-42 Sermon
July 31, 2004

HYMNS (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
166 "Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power"
(printed insert) "One Thing Needful"
388 "As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams"
192 "Abide With Us, Our Saviour"


TEXT: (v. 41-42) “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Back over 20 years ago, when I was installing fire and security alarm systems for a living, I used to go into a lot of different homes. Of course each different home and family had their own individual idiosyncrasies. I remember a lot of them well.

But there’s one home in particular that I’ll never forget as long as I live. It was the home of Julius and Miriam Liebowitz—a Jewish family who lived in the Piedmont area of Lincoln.

Miriam Liebowitz was a housekeeper the likes of which I had never seen before. Her house was the most immaculate and spotless place I had ever seen in my life. There wasn’t a speck of dust or a single thing out of place anywhere in the house. It was a regular showpiece.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why the house looked the way it did. This woman had to be the most obsessive/compulsive person I had ever met. When we would walk across the floor, she would follow right behind us on her hands and knees wiping up the floor with a bath towel. Of course with any sort of electrical installation, there’s going to be a certain amount of a mess that would be made. But she was always right behind us vacuuming, sweeping, and dusting, making sure that no speck of anything resembling a mess would be there. She about drove us nuts.

She was not only the most obsessive/compulsive person I had ever met, but she was also one of the most miserable people I’ve encountered. And she made sure that everyone else around her was just as miserable as she was. She complained about everything, and she made sure that her husband knew (within our earshot) about how much work we were causing her, and how upsetting all this was. I certainly couldn’t stand to have lived or grown up in that environment.

I’m sure this woman missed out on a lot of the good things in life. She was like a prisoner in her own home—behind bars that she built herself. She was a prisoner to distraction.

As we get into our text for today, we find Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha. These women were extremely loyal followers of Jesus. They, along with their brother Lazarus, were not only loyal followers and disciples of Jesus, but very close friends as well.

The house in which they lived was not far from Jerusalem, probably a couple of miles to the east, in the small village of Bethany. From the sounds of things, this might have been Jesus’ first visit to their home.

These women wanted to make sure everything was perfect for Jesus’ visit. We might think that they knew about his visit well in advance. If so, then Mary and Martha would have been working very hard to make sure things were perfect for his visit. There would have been cleaning, and scrubbing, and dusting going on. The meal had to be planned and the food prepared. Martha was going to see to it that their guest would be well cared for. In her way of thinking, everything had to be top-notch. Nothing could be out of place. The very Son of God was going to be a guest in their home.

So now Jesus arrives at the house. Mary and Martha would have both greeted him. But there were still things which needed to be done, so Martha goes about her business and basically ignores her guest while she fusses about with other things.

It would be my guess that Mary didn’t leave Jesus alone from the moment he arrived. She positions herself with Jesus, and hangs intently on the words he was speaking.

Scripture doesn’t give us the discourse of what those words were, but we can be assured that this was no idle chatter about the weather.

If we look at John 6:68-69, Simon Peter has hit the nail right on the head when he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know you are the Holy One of God.”

Mary knew this only too well. Jesus’ words were far too important for her to miss, more important than a lot of unnecessary fussing about.

This was not what was on Martha’s mind. In her mind, the success of the meal was the important thing. She saw her sister relaxing and enjoying the company of their guest. Martha thought that Mary was just simply being lazy. She thought that Mary was having all the fun, and she was stuck with all the work. There’s even a hint of jealousy here.

So Martha becomes angry. She goes to Jesus and wants him to get after Martha. And it doesn’t sound like she’s too happy with Jesus either. She says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

She not only gets after Mary, but she also scolds Jesus for distracting her from her duties.

It is now that Jesus kind of turns the tables. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

So Mary is the one who receives the divine commendation, while the busy-bee like Martha is taught the lesson. It wasn’t Mary who was distracted, but Martha. She was a prisoner to distraction; a prisoner to the cares and things of this world.

If we go to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the section recorded in Matthew 6:25-34 speaks directly to this situation. Quoting verses 31-34: “So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

What about us? How do we fit into this Mary and Martha picture? Are we Marys or Marthas? Are we more concerned about the things of this world than we are about what our Lord says? Are we so wrapped up in earthly things, that we put them ahead of heavenly things? Are we so distracted by the world that we actually replace the one thing that’s really needed?

I think that’s the case far too many times. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to confess that we have put God on the back burner and sort of left him there far too often. We have let the cares and worries of this world dictate our lives so many times.

When this happens, then Satan is coming in and taking control. Satan is the one who lures us away from the feet of Jesus and makes other things more important. Satan is the distraction.

Just as Jesus spoke to Martha, he speaks to us as well. He lovingly and gently tells us, “Hey, you are worried and upset about many things. Come unto me, and I will give you the one thing you really need.”

Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. We turn in faith to him for the one thing needful, which is the forgiveness we all need. We come from amid the distractions and worries of this life, and receive the words of eternal life. We come, knowing that as the sinners he has forgiven, we now have a place at his feet in his heavenly kingdom.

In the beginning, I gave you the example of a woman I had encountered, Miriam Liebowitz. She is definitely an extreme example of someone who was completely worried and upset and distracted by a lot of meaningless things. And she was one of the most miserable people I’ve ever met.

I can only think about how her life could have been changed if she could have only seen what a prisoner to distraction she was, and instead sought the one thing needful. How much happier she would have been, and how much happier those around her would have been too, if she could have shed the chains that shackled her.

Today as we study Mary and Martha, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Martha was a very lovely person who was devoted to her Lord. She loved Jesus very much; but like so many of us, she let other things get in the way sometimes.

I also don’t want you to go away thinking, “Hey, Pastor Dan says that household chores and other earthly responsibilities aren’t important.” The story about Mary and Martha can’t be used as an excuse to neglect the things in life we have to do. Unfortunately those responsibilities will always be with us while we’re here on earth. We just can’t let those responsibilities consume us and take us away from our place at Jesus’ feet.

And so as we go forward in faithful service, let us proclaim with the hymn writer:
Therefore Jesus, my endeavor
Is to be forever true;
Let no earthly love whatever,
Hinder me from loving you.
Should the world forsake and leave you,
May I ne’er from you depart;
In devotion love and serve you,
Saviour, now I yield my heart.