Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
What Is Better - July 21, 2013 - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Luke 10:38-42
Last week we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. While the point of the parable was to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” the point of the encounter with the expert in the Law was to answer the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The intent of the parable was to show the expert in the Law and us that there is nothing we can do, that there is no way we can possibly save ourselves, because we cannot love God and love others as God would have us to do. Which brings us to our text for this morning. In our text for today, Jesus is visiting Mary and Martha. Our text is a account of which I am sure most of us are well acquainted. My prayer for each of you this morning as we revisit this well known narrative is that you might better understand what is the conflict at the heart of this account, and how each of us is a part of this same conflict today.
All of us, or most all of us, like to entertain others from time to time. We like to invite others over in order to share in food, company, entertainment, and simply for conversation, or as some have put it, for food, fun and fellowship. At the same time, we all understand the importance of being a good host. We want to make sure that everything is just right. We want to take care to make sure the food is good. It has to be prepared just right. The presentation and service of the food have to be just right. We want to make sure the food is the right temperature, that it looks good and that it tastes good.
We want to make sure the atmosphere is right and helps to set the mood for the evening. We want the right music to be playing. We want to make sure the decorations are just right, depending on the type of entertaining we are doing. We want the atmosphere to set the tone for a pleasant evening.
We also want to make sure that all the preparations are just right. We think about our company, the people we have invited over to entertain and what they might like. We want to make sure that we make time for talking, sharing, visiting, perhaps playing games, watching a movie or television, and the like. We do not want our guests to be neglected.
Yes, when we invite others over to entertain them, we always want everything to be just right. Now, think about the pressure of wanting to get everything just right when you know your company is Jesus.
Mary and Martha were sisters. They shared this house and probably shared the chores and duties of making sure everything was just right. Perhaps they shared in getting everything ready in order to have Jesus come and be their guest. Yet, when Jesus arrived we see two different personalities. First there is Mary. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to everything He had to say. We might say that she was making sure that Jesus was entertained, made to feel welcome. We might say that her role was to keep the guest from feeling neglected. At that same time, because this guest is Jesus, as Mary sat and listened we know that she gained from this experience. She grew in her faith. She sat at the feet of the Lord and was given the gifts He has to give.
But the question which comes up in our text when these two sister confront each other is, “Can we say Mary was being a good host?” Hopefully about now you are asking yourself, “Am I like Mary?” But do not answer that question, yet. Before we answer any questions, let us look at Martha’s role.
Martha was concerned about the food, the atmosphere, the rest of the preparations that need to be made. She was concerned that everything would be just right and who could blame her, remember that her guest was none other than Jesus Himself. Interestingly enough (and here I will tip my hand a little) in our text we are told that “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made,” and we even hear Jesus say, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” Martha was troubled and distracted wanting to make sure everything is just right.
Like her sister Mary, Martha wants to make sure that Jesus feels welcome and is not neglected. For Martha, she has a different emphasis and understanding of how to make sure things are just right. Mary is concerned about entertaining and Martha is concerned about food. So, just as we asked about Mary, we ask about Martha, “Can we say Martha was being a good host?” And again, hopefully you are asking yourself, “Am I like Martha?”
And so we have the confrontation. Martha comes to Jesus and explains that there is a lot of work to be done, would He please tell her sister to help? As we listen close to Martha’s words, could it be that she is blaming Jesus for Mary’s not helping. After all, would Mary not be helping if she were not distracted by listening to Jesus? Maybe it is Jesus’ fault that Mary is listening and not helping? And maybe some of the fault is Mary’s. Maybe Mary is just too lazy and that is why she is not helping. Certainly Jesus should side with Martha and straighten this whole mess out.
Yet, Jesus’ answer is in favor of Mary. Jesus even says, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” So, now what? What is Martha to do now? Does she stop getting things ready and listen? Does she run out of the house screaming and throwing a temper tantrum? Actually, we do not know what happens next. Evidently what happens next is not important. What is important has already taken place and has already been said. Or, did we miss it?
We live in a world which has more opportunities available to us than we could ever even imagine. There are so many things vying for our time and attention. There is our work which calls for much and even most of our attention. There are clubs which we can join: card clubs, fitness clubs, golf clubs, swimming clubs, self-help clubs, book clubs, more clubs than we could ever be a part. There are sporting events ever calling for our attention, as well as many cultural events. There is our family and our family life calling for our time and attention. Perhaps we have children involved in things at school and after school that calls for our time and attention, time for travel, practice, and actual events. Our spouses call for our attention. Yes, there are many things vying for our time and attention and the list goes on.
And God calls for our attention. Interestingly enough more often than not, we only hear His call once a week, for one hour and this is when we come to Divine Service. Jesus is our guest, not just at Divine Service, but in our homes and in our lives, or is He? If you want to know what is really happening in someone’s home, ask their children. Have you ever asked you children if Jesus is really a guest in your home or in your life?
Last week we had the question, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” This week we ask the question, “What is better?” There is a reason that these questions are asked in this order, because you see, we cannot know which is better until we know that we have eternal life. We cannot have eternal life apart from faith in Jesus. And we cannot have faith in Jesus apart from His Word and Sacraments. It is His Word which tells us that we are sinful human beings and are in need of forgiveness. It is His Word through which the Holy Spirit works to bring us to confess our sins and be given His forgiveness, earned for us by Jesus suffering and death on the cross. It is His Word which tells us, “Your sins are forgiven.”
I believe this narrative also informs our participation in Divine Service, that is that unlike having a worship service on Sunday morning wherein we think we need to do something in service to and for God, in Divine Service we are there to be given to, to listen and respond with psalms, hymns and prayers. God, speaking through our pastor is the one acting, giving and distributing His gifts to us, thus, actually He is the host and we are His guest, and we are the ones who are given the good portion as we listen attentively.
Only after hearing such wonderful words and news of forgiveness and life, then and only then are we able to respond in faith, to give works of service which are also motivated by the Holy Spirit. And this is not works righteousness, but is a response of faith.
Are we a Mary or a Martha? I will not answer that question, you will have to answer it for yourself, however, I will suggest to you that your actions will betray you. What I will say is this, the order of importance is this, that we first hear the Word and are given the Sacraments. It is through these means that our Lord gives, strengthens and keeps in faith. When we absent ourselves from these means, that is when the rest of the world, which is vying for our time, comes in and takes us away from these means, then we are like Martha and we are distracted. But, when we make regular and diligent use of these means, that is when we daily read our Bible, weekly attend Divine Service and Bible class, have personal and family devotions and the like then we are like Mary, then we will have chosen the good portion and it will not be taken away from us. We cannot have it both ways.
The first thing of importance is our faith, which is given to us by God through the very means He gives faith, through His means of grace, through His Word and through Holy Baptism. God gives faith and He strengthens and keeps us in faith, also through the very means He has given, His means of grace, remembering our Baptism and being reminded of our Baptism through the Divine Service, especially through the invocation and benediction. He strengthens faith through His Word, and through the Lord’s Supper. He gives forgiveness earned and paid for by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross and here I would remind you that forgiveness along with faith are the greatest gifts, for without forgiveness there is only eternal spiritual death, but with forgiveness is life and salvation. Indeed, God gives forgiveness also through the very means He has given, through His Word and through the Lord’s Supper, but most especially through confession and absolution. These are the first things that God gives and the most important things. Without the first there can be no second thing of importance. The second thing of importance is doing the good works which God has for us to do. And we do good works, we serve God by serving others as we are motivated by the Holy Spirit working through the Word and Sacraments. We do them so that they are done to His glory. And so we see in the lives of active Christians that God’s gifts are given. God’s gifts are received. God’s gifts are responded to.
My prayer for each one of you is that you might resist the temptations and the pull of the distractions of this world in order to make sure that you are involved in the one thing which is needful, immersing yourself in the Word of God through which He gives you faith, strengthens you in your faith and will keep you in faith until He comes again. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.