A sermon based on Luke 10:38-42
Sunday, July 17, 2016 – Pentecost 9C
As many of you know, the Guenthers have a good share of out of town guests during the summer months. From the second week in June through the second week in August, not a week goes by that we don't have guests staying the parsonage. We love the fellowship and the fun, but there's a lot to get done between visits. We quickly scrub the toilets, mop the floors, vacuum the entryway, wash the bedding and remake the beds, mow the lawn, and make a few trips to the store to restock the fridge and get more food saver bags! Then the guests arrive and we act like the house is always this clean, the lawn always well-manicured, the fridge always stocked and we're always ready to have some fun.
Let's face it, having company over, for many of us, means we need to spend a lot of time preparing. And all these preparations are often made just for friends or family members! Imagine if someone more prestigious were to visit. How would you prepare if the Governor were to come to stay at your house tomorrow? How would you prepare if Jesus were to come dip net with you? (Granted, he may tell you to dip on the other side of the beach and fill your net with 183 fish, but still… you'd probably want to make sure the sheets on his bed had been washed.)
The fact is, many meals in our homes begin with that familiar prayer, "Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. And let these gifts to us be blessed." And in a certain sense, that's exactly what Mary and Martha, two of Jesus' close friend, prayed. "Come, Lord Jesus," Martha invited. "Be our guest. We'll prepare a meal for you. We'll take care of you. We'll serve you with all of our hearts." But Mary was more eager to be served by Jesus and be blessed by the gift of his Word. Mary prayed, "Let your gifts to us be blessed."
Both were wonderful expressions of these women's faith. One served Jesus with all of her heart. The other listened to him with all of her attention. Both are examples to us. We too want to serve Jesus with all of our hearts. But first, we need to sit at Jesus feet. Listen now, to the familiar account of Jesus' visit to the home of Mary and Martha as it's recorded for us in Luke 10:38-42…
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 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!"
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."
I. Serve Jesus with Your Heart
Poor Martha! She gets such a bad rap from this account. So many have misunderstood Jesus' rebuke of her! What Martha did was a beautiful thing! She opened up here home to Jesus. What work this must have involved. After all, Jesus didn't come alone. Verse 38 reminds us "Jesus and his disciples were on their way…" This wasn't just a small meal, but a party of 13 coming to visit! Imagine the work involved!
Now, consider who was coming! This was no ordinary company! Jesus himself would be staying at Martha's house! You can't just give the Son of God hot dogs for dinner! You can't feed the King of Kings and Lord of Lords mac and cheese! This was an occasion where only the best would do! The best foods! The best setting! It was time to polish the silver, and bring out the china!
We can easily imagine Martha going to market that morning to select only the freshest fruits, the finest grains, the most tender lamb, and the choicest wines. We can envision her running to the neighbors to borrow an extra table and extra mats to accommodate such a large number of guests. We can picture her spending hours in the kitchens (without food processors, microwave ovens, or gas and electric stoves, mind you) as she prepared the most elegant meal for Jesus and his disciples.
And such work—such service—could only have come from a thankful heart. Martha didn't have to open her home to Jesus. Martha wanted to. Love wants to serve. Don't look down on Martha for serving Jesus. Emulate it! Jesus wants his disciples to work as hard as they can out of love for him.
But Jesus did scold Martha, didn't he? And why did he scold her? Not because she wanted to serve Jesus, but for her timing and for her priorities. "First things first, Martha!" he told her. "The time to serve me will come. But first let me serve you. That, dear Martha, is more important by far."
Now, let me ask, which of the two women do you relate more closely with? Mary or with Martha? Do you relate with either? I think that all too often we don't act as nobly as either Mary or Martha. After a long week at work, don't we sometimes think, "Ahhh! Now it's time to relax; to spend some time on me." Now there's nothing wrong with resting, but don't we often use that time selfishly? Serving Jesus is the furthest thing from our minds. "After all," we argue, "I've been serving my boss all week. I don't need to serve others."
Or perhaps we do serve others, but we start to feel resentful about it. Have you ever thought to yourself, "I cook, I serve, I clean up afterwards, I take out the trash and my husband doesn't even say 'thank you,' let alone help me."? Ever thought, "I work all week, slaving away to bring home the paycheck and I don't get any thanks! I'm only nagged to work more once I get home!"? Or, "I do all I can for those kids. I take care of them, teach them, buy them nice clothes and toys, but will they lift a finger to help out and even pick up some of those nice clothes and toys?!"?
If you've ever felt that way, then welcome to Martha's world. Martha felt like she was doing more than her fair share. So she came to Jesus with her complaint, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" You see, while Martha served out of love, her busyness—multitasking at a dizzying pace—sent her reeling out of control. Her sense of what was fair was causing her to lose that sense of selfless love as she served. And it left her distracted, worried, and upset. Martha needed to refocus. She needed to remember why she was serving in the first place. So out of love for her, Jesus refocused her attention.
He said, "Mary has chosen what is better"—literally in the Greek, "Mary has chosen the better portion"—a word to describe a serving of food. In other words, "Martha, you have some good food, but your preparation of this meal is causing you to miss out on the better, spiritual meal that I've prepared for you. You've invited me to be your guest, but I'm here to be the host. You want to serve me, but I'm here to serve you. Come, sit at my feet. Eat the bread of life. Drink the living water. Don't be distracted, worried, or upset any more. But be at peace."
And dear friends, when we don't feel like serving, when we feel it's a burden to serve our Savior, when we feel it's below us to serve others, when we feel like we're getting an unfair load of work, when our to-do lists are so full they leave us feeling distracted, worried and upset, we're losing our focus. We're forgetting why we serve others in the first place. We need to refocus. We need to sit at Jesus' feet and be served by him—fed by him—again…
II. But First Sit at Jesus' Feet
Again, Martha was right to serve Jesus, but her timing was off. Before she served she needed to join her sister at Jesus' feet. Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better activity that afternoon. "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."
It seems that Mary had been helping Martha prior to Jesus' arrival. That's why Martha said "she left me!" But now that Jesus had arrived, she had more important things to do. Now it was time to stop serving and to sit. Now it was time to listen to Jesus.
And Mary, Jesus said, got it right! Both were good. But one was better. Listening to Jesus was better than serving Jesus for a couple of reasons. First, it was better because that was the whole reason that Jesus came to earth! He said in Matthew 20:28, "…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Many churches today focus on serving in the community and around the world. Service to others is a good and wonderful thing. But not when it's done for the wrong reasons and not when it replaces listening. When someone becomes so focused on serving others that they're no longer being served the gospel by Jesus they miss the point.
Second, listening is better than serving because listening is a prerequisite to serving. We cannot serve Jesus the way he wants us to—with the right heart and the right attitude—if we don't serve out of gratitude and love. And the way we learn to love Jesus and serve him in thanksgiving is by listening to what he's first done for us.
Mary deserved hell for all the times she'd fought with her sister. Martha deserved hell for her worry that didn't trust that God would take care of her in every situation. You and I deserve hell for letting our to-do lists grow so full that we push "Spend time with Jesus" right off the list. We deserve hell for growing weary of serving because we've forgotten how he served us.
And how did Jesus serve us? He humbled himself to the lowest place for us. You know, there's something pretty amazing in this account of Mary and Martha. It's the fact that Jesus even entered the home of a sinner, that a holy and sinless God would enter their presence! But that's why Jesus came. He humbled himself to become human like us, so he could live among us, so he could die for us, suffering hell on the cross to remove every sin! His whole life was a life of service for us! No wonder Mary wanted to keep listening! And when we hear this message, we can't help but respond with the sincerest thanks to Jesus and serve him with all of our hearts!
Finally, listening to Jesus is better than serving Jesus because it would last a lot longer. The results of Martha's service wouldn't last. Her elaborate dinner would be gone in a few hours' time. The next day, the dirty dishes would be all she'd have to show for her service. But the results of Mary's listening would change her, make her ready for heaven, and have an eternal impact.
Isn't most of our service to God like Mary's? We spend a few hours cleaning the church for Sunday morning and dirty again before the service begins. Spend an hour weeding the flower beds and the weeds grow back the next day. Don't get me wrong, these acts of service are important to our ministry at Grace. They help us to carry out our mission. But, they're temporary. And they're a means to an end. That end? To share the gospel and help people to listen.
Though it might not always seem like it, listening to Jesus in his Word has an eternal impact. Thought you may not remember what the sermon was about three weeks ago any more than you remember what you had for dinner three weeks ago, yet, just as that dinner nourished your body to keep going another day, the spiritual food we get sitting at Jesus' feet strengthens our faith and brings us one day closer to heaven. That's why Jesus says, "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Not now. Not ever. Not in eternity.
In today's fast-paced, action-oriented society listening is quickly becoming a lost art. I'm sure at least some of you, like me, have found yourself in the middle of a conversation when someone asked you a question and you realized you had no idea what they'd been talking about. You heard them, but you weren't really listening. With emails and text messages and smart phones, listening is becoming a lost art. And what a shame!
But it's a far greater shame when we've lost the art of listening, not to friends, or co-workers, or kids, or spouse, but when we've stopped listening to Jesus. We often become so active with life, where we're expected to get more and more done in the same 24 hours, with our long to-do lists that we get behind on, with errands to run, and people to see, we get so busy in doing good, that we often lose the art of listening to Jesus.
So what's the solution? Re-prioritize. If you can't find the time to listen to Jesus, make the time to listen to Jesus. Give up an hour of shopping after church to come to Bible Class after worship. You won't miss the shopping for the spiritual nutrients you get instead. Or give up just one TV show to spend at Jesus feet as you read your Bible's study notes. You won't miss it for the spiritual feast Jesus has prepared for you in his Word! Or just give up 15 minutes of sleep in the morning to get up early to read a few chapters of your Bible. You won't mind when you see there how much he longs to serve you. Or, at the very least, sacrifice two minutes a day to read a devotion from Meditations to start your day with Jesus.