I hope you’re enjoying this summer adventure as we read through the Gospel of Luke. Everything is this 10th chapter of Luke is unique to Luke. In other words, none of the other Gospel writers include what he includes here: the sending of the 70; the parable of the Good Samaritan; and today’s reading – Jesus and his disciples in the home of his friends Mary and Martha.
The story is short and sweet – but it packs a wallop. When our story opens Jesus is teaching and Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus – paying attention – listening to his every word. By the way – this was not unusual. Rabbis in Jesus day would sit, and the rabbi’s students would sit at their rabbi’s feet. What was unusual was for a woman to be included among those students. Sorry ladies – it’s just the way it was back then.
So we find Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet – soaking up everything he has to say – and Martha – Martha is working like crazy. How do we read it here? It says, “Martha was distracted,” – that’s important to note – “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”
Martha appears to be overworked and overtired – she gets annoyed at her sister Mary – but instead of letting Mary know how she feels – Martha goes to Jesus and says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” I think some of you have been there before, and you understand exactly what’s bugging Martha, am I right?
“Martha, Martha,” says Jesus. “Chill out. You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is really important right now and Mary has chosen it.”
When I have preached on this text in the past, I have focused in like a laser on just two words that Jesus uses here. And those two words are, “One thing.” So today we’re going to revisit the “One thing” that Jesus is talking about here. Because, folks – I know – I know that you know that there is more than one thing—in fact there are many things that are important in life. But I want to suggest to you that there is one thing – one thing – that is of ultimate importance – and that is to sit at the feet of Jesus – and to learn from him.
Now – after hearing Jesus speak to Martha this way, we tend to think somewhat less of Martha than we ought to. Let’s be clear. Martha was not in the wrong in going about her duties. And quite frankly – let’s understand that Jesus knows that as well.
“Max Lucado is right on target when he writes: ‘Every church needs a Martha. Change that. Every church needs a hundred Marthas. Sleeves rolled up and ready, they keep the pace for the church. Because of Marthas the church budgets get balanced church buildings get repaired and cleaned babies get bounced on loving knees in the nursery. You don't appreciate Marthas until a Martha is missing and all the Marys of the church start scrambling to find the keys to lock doors, turn off the lights and turn off the fans. Yes, the Marthas are the Energizer Bunnies of the church. They keep going and going and going.’”
But let me suggest to you – especially if you associate with Martha today – let me suggest to you that you need a time out. You need a time to recharge before you burn out.
By the way – one of the downsides of taking a story like this and reading it as a standalone episode is to miss the story’s placement in what either comes before or after it. There are scholars who suggest that Luke places this story of Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha immediately after the story of the Good Samaritan for a purpose.
If you were here last week, you’ll remember that the Good Samaritan story shows us what it means to love our neighbor – no matter who that person is – relative, friend or stranger – and to show acts of kindness and mercy. The Good Samaritan parable is the loving the neighbor part of the love God, love your neighbor commandment.
So for nearly 2,000 years Christians have been doing just that. We at Zion have been busy doing just that. Feeding the hungry; responding to disasters; working with the homeless; supporting the free medical care clinic at Resurrection Lutheran in Buffalo; sending mission teams to Haiti, and next year to Belize.
And that’s good. Those are all good things that we are being led to do. And I for one want to thank all of you for your participation in and partnerships in these ministries. And the wonderful thing is – these acts of kindness and mercy – whatever it is we do – are the very things that we as disciples of Jesus Christ are called to do – and doing those things in his name.
BUT – as important as it is for us to serve as ministers to others – there is still that one thing that Jesus is talking about here that we dare not ignore.
And that one thing is to take time to sit at the feet of Jesus. I hope that you are at least somewhat familiar with the six marks of discipleship. We print them every week in our Mission Minutes, on our website, and in our monthly newsletters.
Three of the six marks of discipleship have to do with this one thing that Jesus is talking about. Let’s call it sitting at the feet of Jesus. We’re talking about weekly worship. Now I know that you can’t always be here every week. I know that. But still – we are called to worship the Lord as we are able weekly. So we’re talking about weekly worship. We’re talking about daily prayer. We’re talking about daily Bible reading – or Bible study with a small group of others. Because when we engage in worship and prayer and Bible reading – we are in effect sitting at the feet of Jesus.
Martha was a fine person – a wonderful homemaker – a marvelous host. But, in her busyness, just as in ours, she ran the risk of missing what was most important in life – sitting at the feet of Jesus. The Bible says that she was distracted.
Folks – I must confess to being distracted sometimes. And I think that maybe – just maybe – oh heck – all of us are – probably more often than we care to admit. Sometimes I am – we are – distracted by things that – well – things that really aren’t important. But – as we can see here with Martha – sometimes it’s even the good things that we do that are a distraction. I am convinced that God wants us to do good, responsible things – things that show mercy and care for the neighbor. It’s just that even when – perhaps even especially when – we are involved in doing things for others – those are the times when we need to remember to spend time with God. We can’t let that which is good get in the way of that which is essential.
Arthur Windhorn puts it this way. “Have you ever been in a hurry and buttoned up a long overcoat with lots of buttons and when you were done, found out that the coat was uneven? What went wrong? I'll tell you what went wrong. When you don't get the first button in the right hole, all the rest are out of sequence too, right?! That's a parable about life. Jesus said it this way in the Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33) If the Lord is not the high priority in your life, then, like the overcoat, so many other things in life will be out of whack as well.”
So let’s focus on the “one thing.” The “one thing” is Jesus himself, the one whom Martha had welcomed into her home. Martha, fixated on fixing stuff, forgot that the most central act of hospitality is to focus on the invited guest. Of course, we know that this focus needs to be a lifetime attachment, not just a one-time meal.
Here’s the difference between these two sisters. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, but Mary welcomed Jesus into her heart.
So getting back to the Good Samaritan parable and Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha – these two back to back readings focus on both parts of the Great Commandment. The Good Samaritan parable focuses on the “love your neighbor as yourself,” part, and this story about Mary and Martha focus us on that part of the Great Commandment that says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.
That last part? That’s the “one thing” – the one thing – that must take priority over all other things. Just take the time. Just make the time – to sit at the feet of Jesus. Let me share with you a story.
I came across an urban legend – which means the story I’m about to tell you is not true. But still, it’s a good story and hi-lights what I’m saying. “In 1990 a woman entered a Haagen-Dazs in the Kansas City Plaza for an ice-cream cone. While she was ordering another customer entered the store. She placed her order, turned and found herself staring face to face with Paul Newman. He was in town filming Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. His blue eyes made her knees buckle. She finished paying and quickly walked out of the store with her heart still pounding. Gaining her composure she suddenly realized she didn't have her cone; she turned to go back in. At the door she met Paul Newman who was coming out. He said to her, "Are you looking for your ice-cream cone?" Unable to utter a word she nodded yes. "You put it in your purse with your change."
When was the last time the presence of God made you forget what was going on around you? Made you forget the dishes? Made you forget the ball game? Made you forget the bank account? Made you forget where...you put your ice cream cone?
When was the last time – other than right now – you focused on the “One thing?” – and you sat at the feet of Jesus? Amen