Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text this morning is really difficult. It’s not a textual difficulty like we have with some readings where the phrasing is funny or it’s one big, long sentence that lasts five verses. It’s not that it’s a complex topic that’s hard to understand like when we have to deal with the Trinity or how Jesus is both God and Man or predestination. In fact, today’s reading is both easy to read and easy to understand. It’s difficult to put into practice.
I’m sure you’ve heard the analysis before. Mary and Martha host Jesus and His disciples into their home. Mary is impulsive and emotional and Martha is more rational and organized. While Mary chooses to simply sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, Martha gets anxious and distracted by playing the hostess and misses out on what’s truly important. More than that, she tries to pry her sister away from Jesus. So He tells her to be more like her sister and the story moves on. I’ll admit, that’s a very Martha-way of putting things- quick and to the point. Someone like Mary might tell stories all day and we’d get nowhere.
While the details around the edges might get a little sketchy, the general outline isn’t far from the truth. These two women present a pretty clear picture of the life of a believer. So this morning, instead of trying to figure out if you’re a “Mary” or a “Martha,” I want to encourage you to see yourself as a unique mix of the two. And as someone who is like both Mary and Martha, you job is their job as well: listen to Jesus.
I want you to stop for a moment this morning. Forget about your plans for after church. As best you can, ignore the squirming kid in the pew with you. Pretend with me for a moment that cell phones don’t exist; you don’t have or need one. And I know it’s dangerous, but close your eyes. Simply breathe. And listen to the words of Jesus: “You are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”
When was the last time that happened? When was the last time you shut out all distractions and sat at Jesus’ feet? At least partially, that’s what happens on Sunday mornings. You physically leave the rest of your life behind and you come to this strange place to sit at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn. But it’s a rare thing to participate in an entire church service and not get distracted and let your mind wander. It just doesn’t happen. In our world of time, technology, and entertainment, our attention spans plummet and we find newer, better, more important things to do than to listen to Jesus.
You probably heard that the church and parsonage lost power sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning. It didn’t come back on until about 5:30 yesterday evening. It was kind of hectic there for a while, trying to figure out if we’d stay there overnight without power, if we wanted to find someplace with air conditioning, what would happen to the food in our fridge—you know, the normal power-loss questions. But in the midst of it all, Anna and I realized just how dependent and distracted we are by our phones, our TV, and the internet as a whole. Going without for even just a few hours was a blessing. We live in a world that loves to distract itself so that it doesn’t take too close a look at itself. We numb our minds with the next TV show so we don’t have to think. We stuff our schedules so full, we can’t imagine finding time to read the Bible. We tell ourselves that the next meal we eat has to be better than the last and we get so anxious in preparing the meal that we don’t enjoy eating it.
This is not to say that planning, scheduling, organizing, or relaxing are bad things in and of themselves, but they can and do get in the way of Jesus. And there’s the heart of the matter. You and I, “Mary”s or “Martha”s—or a unique blend of the two—we need Jesus. We need to listen to Jesus constantly, to sit at His feet and take in His teaching. One thing, and one thing only is necessary.
I had to think a bit about that last line. Is it really true that only one thing is necessary? Sure, we say that Jesus is the most important and He Himself says that only one thing is necessary, but I hesitate. I hesitate because I know that some of you are still without power this morning. Is Jesus still the only thing necessary? What if I talked with someone coming to one of our Food Trucks? They have a lot of needs! Would I be able to stand firm on Jesus’ words that only one thing is necessary? I’ve bashed cell phones, TV, our schedules, and food so far this morning. Am I still willing to claim that only one thing is necessary?
I am. And here’s why. Our perspective as to what is “necessary” is far too limited to be of any value. That little chunk of metal, glass, and plastic you carry with you will break. Be it in a week or ten years, it’s not the be-all, end-all. It will die and you’ll need a new one. And guess what’s going to happen to that one? The exact same thing. Over and over and over again. Constant communication tends to lead to constant drama and stress and anxiety. And it ends up doing far more harm than good. So you miss a TV show that everyone is talking about, and instead, you grow in your faith, you grow in your knowledge of God, and you grow closer to Him. Maybe you think physical well-being is another necessity. Worst case scenario, here’s what’s going to happen: you don’t take care of your body and you’re going to die. And you’ll be with Jesus forever. At the resurrection, your body will be glorified, made whole and right. Same goes for food and clothing and housing and everything you need for this earthly life.
When any of these things takes precedence over Jesus and His Word, they become idols—false gods that we worship. Only one thing is necessary. It is the good portion. It will not be taken away. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” “Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus words will not pass away.” When everything else falls away, when everything else fails, only Jesus and His Words remain.
This is why Jesus lifts up Mary as the example for us to follow. It’s not because Martha’s too planned and Mary’s so laid back. It’s because Mary listens to Jesus’ words. So, listen to Jesus’ words.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “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.” Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell