9 Pentecost Proper C11                                                              
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 10:38-42 Sermon
July 21, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
364 "How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds"
---  "One Thing Needful" (text at bottom)
350 "Jesus The Very Thought Of Thee"
376 "Rock Of Ages"


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.” 

            This morning, I’m going to jump ahead a few months, and take us to the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  I know that it’s difficult to think of autumn days and November and black Friday in the middle of July, but it’s really not that far away.  In doing this, I’m going to take you to what we would consider a typical household.

            The matriarch of the household is having some major stress problems.  She’s got so much on her plate, and she’s really in a dither about things.  “Oh, I’ve got green bean casserole to make, I’ve got pies to bake, I’ve got a turkey I have to prepare, I have to clean house, I have to go to the store, and I’ve only got a few days to do all of this!” 

            And then she continues, “I know everybody is going to be judging me.  Everything has to be just absolutely perfect.  Nothing can be out of place.  I have to dust the house, vacuum the carpets, clean the bathroom, and then check all of the dishes and silverware for water spots from the dishwasher.  I have to make sure that it all goes without a hitch.”  

            You might be wondering where the rest of the family might be, and why they aren’t pitching in to help with this stuff.  But you see, mom is a control freak.  She has to be right on top of everything to make sure it is all done right.  She feels that if it needs to be done properly, that she’s the one that has to do it.  She can’t ask her husband to vacuum the carpets; he’ll probably forget to go behind the doors and under the furniture.  She can’t ask her children to dust for fear they might get careless and break one of her Hummel figurines.  And she can’t ask anybody to help in the kitchen with the cooking either; she’s the only person who knows how to do it, and anybody else would just be in the way.

            So dad and the kids figure the best thing to do is to just stay out of the way and retreat to a different part of the house.  But that doesn’t work either, because now mom is raising a fuss that she has to do all of this work all by herself, and nobody will help her.  And because mom is all freaked out and stressed to the max, everybody else is put on edge too, and it is nothing but one gigantic mess!

            And just when things couldn’t get much worse, the phone rings, and it’s good old Pastor Dan on the line.  He mentions that there’s a Thanksgiving Eve service with coffee and dessert afterward; would you mind bringing a dessert to church with you?

            Church!!!  You’ve got to be kidding!!  It’s Thanksgiving, and I’ve got so much on my plate, and you want me to come to church on Thanksgiving Eve on top of everything else?  You’ve got to be crazy!  Then Pastor Dan says in a sort of tongue-in-cheek manner, “Well if Thanksgiving Eve is such a bad time, would it be better to have worship on Thanksgiving Day instead?”  The scream on the other end of the phone can be heard for blocks.  How dare anybody suggest that the church should be somehow involved in Thanksgiving?  What a preposterous idea!

            I know people who are just like that, and I would imagine you do as well.  And all you need to do is take one step back and look at the whole situation to see how this happens, even in our own lives. 

            Today in our Gospel reading, Jesus is addressing a topic that is often addressed in the Bible in a variety of ways.  The situation is that Martha is so wound up and stressed out that she’s got all of her priorities twisted around. 

            In looking at this situation, we can start right at Mount Sinai with the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods.”   Luther gives a simple meaning to this when he says, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  That’s short, sweet, and to-the-point.  God is to have first place in our lives, and he shouldn’t have to compete with other more meaningless and less important things or idols of our own that we’ve created.

            When we get into the New Testament, this is almost a continual recurring theme with Jesus.  There was the rich man who had so much that he had to build bigger barns to hold it all; but where was his soul?  There was another rich man who, when Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor, went away sad.  And still another rich man was so wrapped up in himself that he wouldn’t give starving Lazarus even the crumbs that fell from his table.  That’s nothing more than selfishness.

            Then Jesus tells us in John chapter 6 that we aren’t to work for food that spoils, but for the bread which endures to eternal life.  That’s setting our priorities straight.  And just before our Gospel Lesson for this morning, in Luke chapter 8 Jesus tells the parable of the sower.  He begins with the words, “A sower went out to sow his seed.  And as he sowed…some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.” (vs. 4-7) 

            And then Jesus explains it to his disciples:  “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God….And as for what fell amongst the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (vs. 11-14)

            In our Gospel Lesson for today, it would appear that Martha’s judgment was completely clouded over.  In her mind’s eye, she thought that serving Jesus the best meal he ever had was her top priority.  The fact that Mary was spending her time at Jesus’ feet and listening to him wasn’t getting the necessary work done; so she gets angry about it.

            Martha loved Jesus more than anything, and we have to remember that.  Even though her heart was in the right place, her priorities weren’t.  She was very well schooled in Jesus’ teachings too.  None of the references I mentioned a few minutes ago would have been earth shattering or unfamiliar.  She knew that God was the object of her worship and praise.  She knew that he was to take first place in her life, and that she shouldn’t have any other false gods.

            But yet, she missed it here.  For some reason, Martha just didn’t see it happening in her own life, or somehow she thought that those teachings didn’t apply to her.  So Jesus brings it to her squarely face-to-face.  She needed to understand that she was placing far too much importance upon things that, in the grand scheme, weren’t important at all.  The one thing needful that Mary had was being sorely neglected by Martha.

            This past week, I had the opportunity to give a very short impromptu devotion to a group of pastors.  Since I was studying our Gospel lesson for today, I used it as a basis for the words I shared with them.  I told them the story about the woman I talked about at the opening.  But then I made it a lot more personal, especially to myself.

            Think of Christmas and Easter.  These are the two busiest times in the year for pastors.  The schedule can be so stressful and hectic, that the meaning behind the seasons gets choked out by all the preparations and other things connected with the various services and church activities. 

            Pastors can get so wrapped up in the Christmas season that they fail to appreciate the meaning of “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” and “God and sinners reconciled.”   And when it comes to Easter, that’s by far the most hectic time of all, especially if you throw a sunrise service into the mix.  Somehow, the beauty and joyful mood of “He is not here; he is risen, just as he said” has taken a back seat to the stress and anxiety level associated with all of the extra work involved.  These are the two major examples of many others that turn the pastor’s focus away from where it’s supposed to be.

            I’ve shared this with you because I’ve been very guilty of letting other unimportant things crowd out what’s really important.  And I can with all assurance say that this has happened to you as well.  It happens with everybody.

            I’ve had parents come to me complaining about the homework I give to my confirmation students.  I hear the stories like, “Oh, little Jonny or Susie have so much on their plate!  They have school homework, involvement with school activities and sports, and so many other things! They don’t have time for confirmation homework; they have more important things to do.”     

            My response to that is to ask how much TV they watched yesterday, or how much time they spent playing video games, or texting their friends.  Confirmation class meets only once a week; and the amount of homework I give can be easily done in an hour.  When parents are setting this kind of example, is it little wonder that priorities are getting turned upside-down?

            When we see people’s priorities get turned around, it can make us frustrated and angry.  We want to lash out.  And when we see it in ourselves, we get stressed out even more.  It’s like a big unending circle.

            One important lesson we learn here is how Jesus handled the whole situation.  How did Jesus approach her?  How did he talk to her?  As a frustrated human being, Jesus might have said, “Martha, how dense can you be?  Haven’t you been paying attention at all?  Haven’t you learned anything from what I’ve been teaching you?”   

            But Jesus is true God also, and his answer reflects that.  Proverbs chapter 15 verse 1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Said the wrong way, a reprimand could have really hurt her.  But Jesus uses all the power of a soft word.  Instead of scolding her, he comforts her; and by doing so, he gets his point across very well.

            In verses 41-42 Jesus says, “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.”

            Jesus preached the law in a way that was most effective.  Martha was able to quickly see what had been going on.  And now, using the example of Mary, we see how the comfort of the Gospel is the most important thing.

            We do this when we come to Jesus in faith.  Through faith we accept him as our Saviour. It’s like Simon Peter says in John chapter 6 verse 68: “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  That’s why it is so important that we place ourselves at the feet of our Saviour, because it’s through faith in him and him alone that we are saved from sin, and we are forgiven for all those times when our priorities have gotten messed up.

            When we come to worship, we are coming to sit at the feet of Jesus.  We come as sinners wanting forgiveness.  We come as weary souls needing strength.  We come as tired souls needing rest.  We come as distracted sinners wanting to hear the precious words of the Gospel again and again.  And when we come, what do we find?  Our hymn of the day today, “Jesus The Very Thought Of Thee” is one that lets us know that despite what has happened in our lives, we have a Saviour that is kind, and good, and loving.  The thought of Jesus is always sweet to all of us who know him as our Lord and Saviour.

            At the beginning, I talked about the lady who was so stressed out over the trivial things at Thanksgiving, that coming and spending time at her Saviour’s feet was out of the question.  As tempting as it might have been to take this Mary and Martha story and beat her over the head with it, I never did.  I didn’t do it, because that’s not what Jesus did to Martha.  He kindly showed her that the most important thing was the words that would lead to eternal life.

            There is one thing however that we all need to remember.  We all have stressful situations in our lives.  We do have a lot on our plates, some more than others.  However we also need to remember that we can be our own worst enemies in this whole mess.  Sometimes the reason people have a lot on their plate is because they have chosen to go through the buffet line of life and load their plate with almost everything they can.  Sometimes the reason people are stressed is because they let people walk all over them.  Sometimes the reason people feel a sense of frustration is because they are always trying to please everybody else.  And so often a poor self-image is the underlying reason for attempting self-righteous excellence.  It can be a never ending battle.  And so often we are in a bad or stressful situation because we have placed ourselves there.

            So today, Jesus comforts us when he tells us the words he told Martha, which are in effect:  “My child, you are anxious and upset about many things.  Why don’t you do what Mary did, and come to me.  I have a better way for you, the way of forgiveness and restoration.  I love you and I want to give you the words of eternal life.  Come unto me, and live.”


                 ONE THING NEEDFUL
                (tune: "O du Liebe" TLH 145, or any meter )  

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 hypocrisy.
                Keep me from all paths unholy,
                And all sin which does allure;
                Throughout life, keep my heart lowly,
                Focused on your Gospel pure.     Amen.