Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11C)
July 21, 2019
Text: Luke 10:38-42
Many things are necessary in this earthly life, things that are good and God-pleasing. But these things become evil when they keep us from Jesus and hinder us from hearing and learning God’s Word. For example, jobs are necessary, good, and God-pleasing. If people didn’t have jobs, the world wouldn’t work. There would be no one to provide necessary goods and services for others. No one would have any money, food, clothing, or shelter. You couldn’t provide for yourself and for your family. If you’ve ever been unemployed, you know the feeling of anxiety that brings. I think we can all agree that jobs are a good thing. St. Paul agrees, when he writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (1 Thess. 3:10; ESV). It is important to hear that word, “willing.” There are people who can’t work, for any number of reasons, and we should help them. But it is good to work. A job is a gift from God, a means of His provision for you and for your neighbor. Nevertheless, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). When your job keeps you from sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing His preaching, that otherwise good gift of God has become a tool of the devil. In fact, it has become an idol for you, because you have feared, loved, or trusted your job more than you fear, love, and trust in the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are, of course, people who have to work on Sunday mornings: Police officers, doctors, positions where we always need someone on duty. And of course, there are those whose employers don’t recognize God’s command to give their workers time and opportunity to attend Divine Service. If your job prevents you from ever coming to Church on Sunday mornings, it’s very important to talk to your pastor about other opportunities to sit at Jesus’ feet and receive His gifts.
It works this way with other things as well. Relationships among people, family, friends, community, are good gifts of God. They are necessary and God-pleasing. God said from the very beginning that “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God created us to be in relationship. But when those relationships hinder us from hearing Jesus Christ and receiving His gifts, what is otherwise good has become evil. It even works this way with work in the Church. For example, as a pastor, there are so many times I’m so concerned to get a sermon on paper that I fail to listen to the Lord Jesus and what He has to say to me in a particular text. God forgive me. I’ve forgotten the one thing needful. It happens among Church members, too. There are so many things that need to get done here at Church. They are necessary, good, God-pleasing things. Sometimes, though, we get so busy doing those things that we forget to stop and sit down at Jesus’ feet and listen as He speaks directly and intimately to us in His Word. Or our mind is on other things that need to be done at home, or once again, at work, or whatever it happens to be. And we forget that the reason for this assembly, the reason we come to Church in the first place, the reason this place called Augustana Lutheran Church exists, is to hear Jesus and His Word, by which He forgives all our sins, and gives us eternal life.
Martha is distracted with much serving (Luke 10:40). Jesus is her honored guest. This calls for a feast. She has invited all her friends. And in this, of course, she is a model to us. We ought to invite all our friends to the Feast where Jesus is present, here, in the Divine Service. But she is anxious and troubled about many things (v. 41). There is all the food preparation, the table to set, the house to be tidied, the guests to be attended, and all the things that go along with hosting a meal, being hospitable. Martha is a good worker. She has experience in this. But by all rights, she should also have help. Where is Mary, her sister? Why, she’s just sitting there, making Martha do all the work. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. And Jesus, don’t you care? Tell her to help me (v. 40).
Now, Martha has a point, don’t you think? There is serving to be done, and someone has to do it. Many hands make for light work. It is necessary, good, and God-pleasing when Christians help and serve. But there is something infinitely more important, and Martha has forgotten. One thing is necessary (v. 42). Mary has chosen the good portion, the one thing needful, and it will never be taken away from her. Mary is sitting at the feet of the Lord Jesus, hearing His Word, being forgiven her sins, receiving the eternal life that only the Lord Jesus can give.
Everything that Martha was doing was good. But in hindering her from sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing His Word, it became evil. It is good for Mary to help her sister Martha in serving the guests. But not in place of hearing Jesus’ Word. Mary gets the order right. Hear God’s Word and receive the gifts of the Lord Jesus. Then go serve on the basis of that Word and in the new life given by God through that Word. You can serve and do all sorts of necessary things apart from God’s Word, but they will never be good and God-pleasing. In fact, they will be evil, sinful in God’s sight, and damaging to your soul. On the other hand, gladly hear preaching and God’s Word, and on the basis of that Word, go and do those same necessary things, and now they are good and God-pleasing, bathed in the blood of Christ, truly good works that glorify God by serving our neighbor. What makes the difference is faith in Christ, which is given by His Word. That which is done in faith pleases God, not because of the work, but because of the faith. Jesus gives all the benefits of His suffering, death, and resurrection by His Word. Faith receives those benefits and makes them its own by clinging to the Lord Jesus. And that faith, then, is always active in love and service.
Christians have been prone to mess up the order of all this from the beginning and throughout the Church’s history. As a matter of fact, the Reformation was all about this very thing. The problem that gave rise to the Reformation was the mistaken belief that the most important thing, the one thing needful, was not to hear Jesus and believe His Word, but to do good works, and in this way the Christian is saved. Not so! It’s not your action that saves you. It’s not your good works that save you. God saves you. Jesus Christ saves you. He does it all. He fulfills the Law for you. He dies for your forgiveness. He is raised for your justification. And so the one thing needful is to receive all of that from Him. And He gives it, freely and generously, in His Word and Sacraments. So the one thing needful is to sit at His feet and hear Him. Then go serve. That will naturally follow. But your salvation is not based on your serving. Rather, your serving is based on your salvation, which your Lord Jesus Christ gives you totally apart from your serving and before your serving, by His serving Himself all the way to the death of the cross for you and for all people.
So what things in your life hinder you from sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ and hearing His Word? Family? Friends? Your job? Fun in the sun? Your pillow? Even serving your neighbor in their time of need? Even working here at the Church? Repent. These are all necessary, good, and God-pleasing things. We should do them, and we should rejoice in them. But when they hinder us from sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing Him, they are evil. You have to understand that when Jesus and His Word serve as the basis of your life, everything else falls into its proper place. “(S)eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” which is to say, hear and believe Jesus in His Word, “and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). When Jesus and His Word are just some subordinate part of your life, nothing is in its proper place. Repent. And hear the Word of the Lord. All your sins are forgiven, covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. Your mistaken priorities, your thinking that there are things more important than being here in God’s House and hearing Jesus, your resentment against your neighbor for not helping you the way you think they should, your resentment against Jesus for seeming not to care when nothing could be further from the truth, all of that is taken by the Savior, Jesus Christ, and nailed to the cross in His flesh, where it dies with Him. Your debt to God is paid in full. You are free. And you have eternal life. For Christ is risen. And He is here. He is here to speak His Word to you, His justifying, life-giving Word. Sit at His feet and revel in His gracious speech, by which He imparts to you His gifts.
And there’s something else. You don’t give a Feast for Jesus. Jesus gives a Feast for you. Here He sets the Table with the richest of foods, the true treasure, His body and blood given and shed for you, under bread and wine, for your forgiveness and life. So don’t miss it. Not for any reason. For this is all gift, freely given, for you, the one thing needful, the good portion, that shall never be taken away from you.
There are many things necessary, good, and God-pleasing in this life. But only one thing is needful for the rest to fall into place. That is Jesus Christ. Hearing His Word, you have Him as your Lord. Having Him as your Lord, all things are yours, which is to say, you have everything you need. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.