One Thing Is Needed
A sermon preached on Luke 10:38-42 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD on August 11, 2019.
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.” – Luke 10:38-42
Have you ever had friends or family coming to visit and found yourself so consumed by trying to make their trip special that you completely ruined your time with them because you were so stressed out? It wasn’t wrong of you to be so concerned for them, but you may have robbed yourself of enjoyment etc. since you couldn’t relax. That’s kind of the exact scenario we have in the Gospel this morning.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Mary and Martha is another very familiar Bible story that we have before us today. It was one of our kids’ favorites at an early age because of the pictures in their Bible and Martha looks like she’s making a cake for Jesus.
Jesus has been traveling around and he had just sent out 72 of his disciples to preach around the area and he finds himself near his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. There really are many different things we could take away from this story if we really wanted. You can see how siblings are different, how they sometimes get annoyed with each other. If someone ever said they really like the church but this one person is a bit annoying, I’d probably smile and say welcome to the family – families get on each other’s nerves sometimes. But today we focus on this: One thing is needed 1. We get distracted 2. Choose what is better.
The moral of this story is not Mary is good and Martha is bad. Martha had a strong faith. She also was very generous. We’re not sure how many people are with Jesus but for all we know, all of those 72 disciples or more are still with him and she opens her home to them. She wants to provide her Lord and his disciples with a nice meal and lodging – that’s a big job.
I picture it as the roast is in the oven and she is scrambling to get the sides prepared. She asks Mary to hand her the bread knife and…where’s Mary? She peaks around the corner and sure enough, Mary’s still sitting by Jesus. She had already asked her three times to come help her and Mary had only absent mindedly said ok and never moved.
Finally, “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!” I almost picture the scene as Martha bursting into the room with an apron on, flour all over her face and clothes, her hair frazzled and pleading with Jesus. The room immediately goes silent. Andrew looks at Matthew and mouths “awkward.” But, Jesus doesn’t get flustered or upset, I even like to picture him smiling as he responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”
Martha, there’s a lot you can do – but there’s only one thing you need. That’s what Mary has chosen. In fact some translations have Jesus say Mary chose “the better portion.” I bet when Martha made a meal she always made sure that Jesus got the best pork chop, the biggest piece of cake, the best portion. But Jesus says to her, you’re so worried about giving me the better potion – what I’m giving you now, my Word, is the best portion.
Martha meant well. She wanted to provide a nice meal for her Lord and his disciples. But with good intentions, she was sitting at the foot of the idol of busyness without even realizing it. Here was her Savior, God himself sitting in her living room, and she was in the kitchen. She was worried and upset about many things – many things except the one thing needful at that moment. And you can see why busyness is so dangerous. Even with good intentions, Martha gets consumed with her busyness to the point that she is pursuing it ahead of God. I’ve heard it said, if the devil can’t make you evil, he makes you busy.
“Of course I love God, but there are only so many months where the weather’s nice enough to go camping. Besides, I can worship God in nature up there – I don’t, but you know I could.” “We love God, but Sunday is the day for traveling teams – God understands.” I’m amazed at and a little scared as a young dad just how many things there are now to make you busy and miss church in our society today.
Part of Martha’s problem was she was trying to take on too much that God hadn’t given her to do. It was very nice that she wanted to make them a nice meal but had Jesus told her to do it? No he could have made food if he wanted – she took this work on. It was good work, but God hadn’t told her to do it. Jesus is saying, you have a million things to do – I’m here for a little bit, spend some time with me.
When I try to take on too much that God hasn’t given me to do, I might become resentful. “Lord, don’t you care…” Obviously I’m not Jesus because I would have been tempted to respond something like, let’s see here, I’ve given up heaven for you, I’m homeless for you, I’m on my way to die for you – ya I care. This attitude happens in church when we complain that there aren’t more volunteers…Lord, don’t you care about our church? And here’s the thing when I try and do too much especially when God hasn’t given it to me to do: I may resent God because “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). As God’s enemy, I deserve nothing but God’s punishment in hell.
And that is why Jesus comes to Martha and you and me and lovingly says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” I might become distracted, but Jesus had a laser focus in saving me. There were many things that could have distracted Jesus. He could have become a great proponent of humanitarian aid and went around the world healing the sick. He could have led the Jews to a new golden age and lead a massive revolt and expel the Romans from the region. He could have become a famous politician. He could have taken up the family business and become a famous carpenter. But for Jesus, the one thing needful was winning your salvation. The Apostle Paul once said, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While I was still hostile toward God, Jesus died for me. Paul goes on to say that Jesus’ death justifies or declares us not guilty. I find my hope and joy for life in the true God’s death for me. Jesus has declared you not guilty, that is how you know you are forgiven. It doesn’t depend on what I do or how good I am, I am justified because Jesus died for me and declares me not guilty. I am forgiven for all the times I felt abandoned but really just ignored God’s help. I’m forgiven for all the times I didn’t trust God to run the world without me. I am forgiven.
There is one thing needed – God’s Good News about Jesus in his Word. I want to strive after his gospel and choose what is better. Conquer the idol of busyness by choosing what is better. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
You know, you can learn a lot about society from its observant commentators and critics – you know cartoons and comic strips. I was reminded of an old Calvin and Hobbes comic as I was thinking about busyness. Calvin is complaining to Hobbes about the pace of life. He says the pace of life today is all wrong, it turns every day into an ordeal. We should ease into the day. I can see the progression of what Calvin was talking about just in our choices of breakfast. No longer did we have time to cook up some eggs and fry some bacon in the morning, so Mr. Kellogg invented cold cereal. Then we got even more busy and we didn’t want to have to mess with milk and cleaning up afterwards so Pop Tarts were invented. And now, who wants to wait for a toaster if you can just grab a protein bar.
Don’t let busy-ness take over your life because it doesn’t just hurt your relationship with God, it can degrade our quality of life. It was amusing when Pokemon Go came out and you saw all these people in the park, glued to their phones. But how many times have you seen a parent miss most of a sports game on the phone or a couple at a restaurant glued to their phones?
So choose what is better in life. Observe a little Sabbath for yourself to make time for just you and God. Maybe it’s time in the morning or evening to start or end your day with God. Let him strengthen you with his love. It’s something you have to schedule or else it won’t happen. Follow this pattern: Mary first, Martha second. Mary’s heart, Martha’s hands. Mary’s worship, Martha’s service. Both are good but if I don’t keep them in that pattern, I’ll get out of whack and frustrated.
Choose what’s better in both your relationships but most importantly in your spiritual life. Set aside time to be filled with Christ and your joy will not be robbed both in this life and the next.