8 Pentecost Proper C11                       
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 10:38-42 Sermon                                                  
July 18, 2010

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
157 "Lord Of Our Life And God Of Our Salvation"
385 "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less"
----- "One Thing Needful" (text of hymn following sermon)
195 "On Our Way Rejoicing"



 TEXT (vs. 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."

            One of the church activities that I particularly enjoy is having a church meal--call it a potluck dinner or a community lunch or a covered dish supper, it's all basically the same.  And if you take even a passing glance at me, you can figure just how much I enjoy these meals.

            Our congregation is not much different in this regard than others with which I've been associated.  Everybody brings some sort of food item to be placed on the table, and then people pass along with their plates and help themselves.  And usually, there's more than enough food, so if anybody goes hungry, it's their own fault.

            In our congregation because of our size, we have to do a bit of advance planning so we know who is going to be there, and what everybody is planning to bring.  We wouldn't want a table full of baked beans or macaroni and cheese without anything else to go with it. 

            But there is a lot of fun that goes along with these meals too.  We're able to relax and enjoy ourselves, and enjoy each other's company.  It's one of the neat things about being a member of our immediate Christian family.

            This is all well and good; however I'm going to introduce something else, a hypothetical situation into this picture.  Let's say that worship is over, and here comes a member of the congregation with this beautiful dish they have prepared.  And as they're coming in, they walk up to me and say, "Oh Pastor, I'm sorry I wasn't in church this morning.  I was too busy at home making this tater-tot casserole for our meal to come to worship today."

            Suddenly that changes things, doesn't it?  Even though I can't think of any instances of this actually happening, still there is the potential for it to happen.  And if it did happen, my feelings about potluck meals would suddenly change.  I cannot think of one dish, no matter how good it might be, that is worth trading for worshipping our Lord and keeping in his Word. 

            Now you might be thinking at this point, "Oh Pastor, that's just plain ridiculous.  Nobody would do that."  But you know what?  People make choices that are every bit as ridiculous as that.  And it happens all the time.  So on the basis of our Gospel lesson for today, I believe that we need to seriously consider the question, "Where are your priorities?"  What things do you consider the most important in your life?

            Hold that thought for a moment while I tell you another story, something that happened to my dad when he was a Pastor in Lincoln.

            One young teenage boy had been through confirmation instruction in our church; and in those days for middle-school children, catechism classes went three years, from grades 7 through 9.  He had completed everything, including the examinations.  But when confirmation day came, this teenage boy had already made plans to go camping and fishing with a couple of his buddies.  So instead of attending his own confirmation, he opted to spend that Sunday sitting in a fishing boat.  And no matter what my dad said to him, he refused to change his mind about it.

            And so I ask the question again.  Where are your priorities?  If a person opts to stay home from church and fix a fabulous dish for a potluck, or if a person opts to go camping and fishing instead of being confirmed, then their priorities are all screwed up.  And this brings us to the story in our Gospel lesson for today.

            Jesus is in the town of Bethany, about ten miles to the east of Jerusalem.  It is there that he goes to the home of some of his close friends:  Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus.  Jesus was a frequent guest in their home; however on this occasion, Martha was really going out of her way to make sure everything was absolutely perfect for Jesus.  She wanted him to enjoy this very special meal she was preparing.  That was her priority.

            Mary on the other hand was spending time with Jesus, sitting at his feet and learning from him.  She was spending time in the Word.  This was her priority.

            So as the story goes, Martha is getting very angry.  She's upset with Mary because she's ignoring all of the preparations for the meal; and from her dialogue, she is also a bit perturbed with Jesus for allowing Mary to be with him.  In verse 40 of our Gospel lesson Martha complains:  "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"        

            So what's wrong with Martha asking for a little help when she needed it?  There's nothing wrong with that really.  The problem was with Martha's attitude.  Earlier in verse 40, we read that Martha was "distracted."  If we look at that word in the Greek, it is "pair-ees-pa-toh" which means to be "pulled or dragged away."  She had become distracted and overburdened by the pressure of providing hospitality.  She lost sight of what was really important in this case.  Even though she meant well, her priorities were misplaced.  She was all tied up with things that didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.

            It's at this point where we need to step back a bit and have a look at what we talked about last week, and see how this all fits together.  Just prior to this story about Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha, we have the story of the Good Samaritan that we talked about last week.  And I believe that these two stories follow one another for a good reason--of course we know that God always has good reasons for what he does!

            At the outset of the Good Samaritan story, the expert in the law recounts the two categories of God's law.  First we are to love God above everything else, and second we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  In the Good Samaritan story, the focus was upon loving our neighbor, and how people get so wrapped up in being "religious" that they completely forget about putting their faith into action when it comes to other people.

            Now in today's story, the focus is on the other part of that.  Today we are focusing upon loving God above everything else, and how people allow themselves to be pulled away by meaningless things.  Today's story with Mary and Martha is about how important our relationship with Jesus really is.

            That's the heart of what we're talking about today.  We know that there are a lot of people out there who are religious; but a being a Christian isn't about being religious.  Being a Christian means that we have an individual and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  That's the difference between Mary and Martha.  Mary was busy building her relationship with her Saviour, and Martha was busy fixing a meal.  What person in their right mind would want to trade Jesus for a meal, regardless of how nice that meal might be?

            Jesus himself gives us some great words of advice.  In John chapter 6 Jesus says in verse 27:  "27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you...."  And then Jesus continues in verse 35: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty...."                   

            Jesus is describing a real relationship with him here, and not just giving lip service to some empty religious ideas.  The things that entice us, or drag us away from him can only work to destroy that relationship we so desperately need.

            Think of it this way.  When a man and a woman meet, they need to spend time together to form a relationship.  They talk together, they get to know each other, they do activities together, and they form a sort of intimate connection with each other.  Things usually progress to the point where both want to spend the rest of their lives together, and so they get married. 

            Common sense tells us that for a relationship to be established, the people involved have to be together.  Can you imagine what would happen if two people tried to establish a relationship where they never spent time together or communicated with each other?  It probably wouldn't happen; or if it did happen to some small degree, then it would be on extremely shaky grounds.

            One of the preludes to divorce is when couples quit communicating and spending time together.  They just continue to drift further and further apart until whatever glimmer of a relationship they might have once had is completely gone. 

            In order to be a Christian, a person absolutely must have this personal relationship with Jesus their Saviour.  Having a relationship with Jesus can't happen by putting on some sort of plastic religious mask.  Nor can it happen by going through a lot of meaningless motions or saying a lot of godly sounding words.  That's not what it's all about.

            A relationship with Jesus begins by being honest with ourselves.  We see ourselves as sinful human beings needing forgiveness and restoration.  We need a Saviour in our lives.  And so we come to Jesus in faith.  We know that by having a relationship with him, we also receive everything he has to offer to us. 

            In our story today, Mary was keenly aware of what she needed.  She knew what having faith in Jesus meant to her.  Certainly Jesus was a friend and a guest in her home. But most importantly she knew him as the true and only begotten Son of God who had come to this earth to save her from her sins.  Mary had her priorities straight, and she was building a relationship with her Lord.  That's why Jesus tells Martha in verses 41-42 of our text for today:  "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."

            In the Ten Commandments, God says that we are to:  "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy."  Dr. Martin Luther explains this when he writes:  "We should fear and love God, and not despise preaching and his Word, but keep it holy and gladly hear and learn it."

            Luther is talking about building and maintaining a relationship with Jesus, and not just going through a bunch of meaningless religious actions.

            In my lifetime, it never fails to amaze me what kind of flimsy obstacles people will erect, and what kind of meaningless things people will allow in their lives that pull them away from their relationship with Jesus.   People will say, "I don't like what so-and-so said to me, so I'm not going back to church while that person is still around."  Or, "If people don't do things my way, then I'm not coming."  

            The one that still amazes me is the huge fight that happened in one church over which color to paint the women's restroom.  Some wanted yellow, others wanted blue.  To end the conflict, the exasperated pastor finally stood up and said, "We're painting it white.  End of discussion."

            I know it sounds petty and silly and stupid.  But that's the way Satan likes to do things.  He likes nothing better than to get in the middle of a group of Christians and stir the pot.  Because when people start allowing themselves to be distracted and dragged away by the little things, their relationship with Jesus is shoved into the background and ignored.  And Satan just sits back and laughs.

            So what in your life threatens to distract you from your relationship with Jesus?  You might not have missed church because you were preparing a special dish for a potluck, and you probably didn't miss your confirmation because you wanted to go camping with your buddies.  But just like myself, I can assure you that there are things in your life that threaten to stand in your way in your relationship with Jesus.  And when we allow this to happen, then we put the saving grace we have in our Saviour in jeopardy.  Jesus reminds us in Matthew chapter 6 verse 21:  "21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  That's a well-placed warning we all need to remember.

            People tend to get hung up on the craziest things when it comes to the Church and keeping in the Word.  People can get in such a lather about something that someone else said or did, and taking things personally, and a whole lot of other things that really don't matter. 

            That's why in the Christian Church we focus so much upon keeping in the Word.  That's where we meet our Saviour, and that is what will keep our faith strong.  In Luke chapter 11 verse 28 Jesus says,  "Blessed...are those who hear the word of God and keep it."

            We know that if we want to find Christ's true Church, we have to look for what the Lutheran Confessions call the "Marks of the Church."  There are two of them--Word and Sacrament.  The most important thing is to find where God's Word, the Holy Scriptures are taught in their truth and purity.  The Bible is without error or contradiction; and if someone teaches otherwise, then our relationship with Jesus is in trouble.  When the pure Word of God is challenged, then the foundation of our faith is seriously weakened.

            And then the Sacraments, namely Baptism and the Lord's Supper also need to be administered according to God's command in the Bible.  Word and Sacrament are inseparably connected.  When we keep in contact with God through Word and Sacrament, then our relationship with Jesus our Saviour is on rock-solid ground, and will be strengthened and nurtured.

            When the day comes when we stand before Jesus, we aren't going to be judged according to what fabulous meal we cooked, or how clean our house was, or how our hair was fixed, or what somebody else said or did to us.  In a similar sense, we can't come to God and get into heaven by how many times we jump-started our neighbor's car, or how often we helped move our neighbor's piano, or how good of a parent we have been, or any of the other nice things we've done.  Those things just won't pass muster.

            The all-important thing is our relationship with Jesus our Saviour.  It's only through faith in him that our sins are forgiven.  It's only through faith in him that we will see heaven for all of eternity.  Certainly we will do good deeds and love our neighbor as a result of that relationship, but those good works can never be allowed to replace that relationship.  And so, we can use Mary's example as we continue to build our relationship with Jesus, and not be distracted by unimportant cares and worries like Martha. 

            Therefore, may we always be reminded of the important relationship we have with Jesus.  God tells us in Deuteronomy chapter 4 verse 9:  "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them."

(a hymn based on Luke 10:38-42)

Metre: 87,87.D
Suggested tune:  O du liebe meiner liebe
SBH 69, LBW 93, TLH145, LSB 423, LW 90

1.  One thing needful, this one treasure
Teach me Saviour to esteem;
Other things may promise pleasure,
But are never what they seem.
Earthly burdens vex and chafe us,
Giving no true happiness;
This one treasure you provide us,
Gives us joy, our lives to bless.

2.  Do you seek this one thing needful,
Leave all cares that hindering prove;
Turn to Jesus and be heedful,
Fix your heart on things above.
Jesus, God and man united,
Is the worthiest lot and best;
With God's fullness be delighted,
Him our comfort and our rest.

3.  Then with Mary's full surrender,
I would offer you my heart;
At your feet my tribute render,
As my chosen better part.
Mary's love and strong emotion
For her Saviour and her Lord;
Sought to serve him with devotion,
Worship him in one accord.

4.  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.

5.  Henceforth you alone, my Saviour,
Shall be all-in-all to me.
Search my heart and my behavior,
Cast out all hyprocrisy.
Keep me from all paths unholy,
And all sin which does allure;
Throughout life, keep my heart lowly,
Focused on your Gospel pure.

--Rev. Daniel K. Schroeder