“One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, our Introit for today comes from the longest chapter in the bible, Psalm 119. This psalm is all about the Word of God, more specifically our study of His Word and our meditation upon it. The little snippet we spoke together earlier in the service is so wonderful because it expresses the psalmist’s joy in studying the Word. Hear again what he says: “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” He cannot imagine walking through this dark world without God’s Word to guide him. And listen again to how he concludes: “The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes!” He loves the Word of the Lord so much that He cries to his God to give him more, to teach him more. As we read these words, we can feel the joy he receives from every moment spent in the midst of God’s Word.
How about you and me? Do we feel that same joy from hearing or reading God’s Word? Do we cry out to our God with eagerness, “teach me your statutes!” No doubt many of you are thinking, “I do feel that joy! I am excited and eager to learn God’s Word!” Even though I have only been among you for a short time, I have no doubt that this is true, but we should dig a little deeper. Do we always receive God’s Word with joy? Or are there times when the things of this world keep us from hearing God’s Word? We have plenty of distractions in our world today, there are many other things to do rather than read our bible our spend time in prayer. You know what many of these are in your own life. Whether it is the television, the internet, or simply the busyness of life, there is always something waiting to pull us away from God’s Word. Satan has always been a master at distracting us from the study of God’s Word, and with our current technology and busy schedules, he barely has to work at it anymore. He wants us to not have time for God’s Word, because He wants us disconnected from the source of strength and life. He wants us to wither away from a drought of our own creation. And in our text for today, we see that even service can distract us from hearing God’s Word.
This is a dangerous text for a new pastor to preach on. A pastor is supposed to encourage his people to serve, right? And then, on his first Sunday, as he climbs into the pulpit the cruel fate of the lectionary is that he has to preach on the story of Mary and Martha. He has to tell his people, these people whom he barely knows, these people on whom he has to depend to run these churches, that service is a bad thing!? We’ll be lucky if we have coffee after church…or ever. How can service, especially service to Christ, be a negative? When we think about it in these terms, I think we can understand Martha’s dilemma. She welcomed Jesus into her home, and now she thought it was only proper to show Him hospitality. She’s just following the example of Abraham, right? We heard about him in our Old Testament lesson, how he hurried about to prepare a meal for his three angelic visitors. Martha knows what good hospitality entails, and it has nothing to do with sitting in the living room while the Messiah has nothing to eat! That is why she says to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
The reply of Jesus is striking: “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.” Martha’s service has turned into a distraction, which has then transformed into worry and anxiety. Satan is the master of deception; he is an expert at using even good things to pull us away from God’s Word. I think we all have a little Martha in us, and the danger unfortunately increases the more we are involved in our church and in our communities. We get so wrapped up in serving, in doing the tasks to help our Lord’s Church and our neighbor that we work ourselves into a frenzy, forgetting why we serve in the first place. The church can become a place where people are simply busy, as if busyness was a mark of God’s favor. This can feed into Satan’s greatest lie, that our service is needed to please God, that it is something we do to earn His favor. How often are we tempted to think that our service, our busyness, will earn us God’s grace? Satan wants us to stand before God on the day of judgment with our titles, or a list of all our volunteer hours, depending on them to give us entry into eternal life. That is Martha’s fundamental problem. She thinks that she first has to serve Jesus. She thinks that He has come as a triumphant king to receive glory and honor from all He meets. In order for blessings to come to her, she needs to do something for Jesus.
But that way of thinking is completely backward. Jesus says in Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Martha’s problem is that she is trying to serve the One who came to serve! Jesus Christ came into this world not as a triumphant king searching for glory and servants, but instead He came in the form of a servant, and He was on His way to Jerusalem to render the greatest service of all, His very own life for us. He declared to Martha, “One thing is necessary.” We know that in this life plenty of things are necessary. We need food, we need water, we need air and a place to live. But here Jesus says that only one thing is necessary. I can imagine Him pointing at His own chest as He said those words. Jesus is the only necessary thing, and Him alone. All those other necessities pale before Him, because our need for Him was greater than any other need. The same sin that distracts us from God, the same sin that uses even our service to pull us away from Him, left us condemned before Him. All the church titles and all the volunteer hours in the world could not reconcile us to God. We had a need for a Savior, and thanks be to God that our Savior came in the form of a servant.
Jesus Christ came to serve you when He carried your sins to the cross. Jesus Christ came to serve you when He stood in your place before Pilate’s judgment seat. Jesus came to serve you when He faced the wrath of God over your sin and my sin upon that cross. Jesus came to serve you when He crushed Satan’s head by sacrificing Himself in your place, removing the penalty for your sin. Jesus came to serve you when He triumphed over sin, Satan, and the grave by walking out of the empty tomb on the third day. The entire life of Jesus was one of service, service to you, service for your salvation. And because He came not to be served but to serve, you will dwell with Him forever in heaven. Your sins have been washed away by Christ’s sacrificial death and His victorious resurrection. He fulfilled our necessity, He was determined to wipe out our greatest need, and so He willingly offered the greatest service by laying down His life. Rejoice, for we do not have to depend on our service to be reconciled to God, but instead He came to serve us!
You see, Mary had the proper perspective. Listen to how Luke describes her. “And [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching.” Although she may not have understood all the details, Mary knew that Jesus had not come to simply receive, but He had first come to give. And thanks be to God that Christ’s service, His giving to His people, did not end with the cross. The salvation He accomplished there He now delivers to us in His Word and His holy sacraments. We gather here each and every week to sit at the feet of Jesus, receiving His gifts from Him again and again. Jesus proclaims His Word to you, His Word of forgiveness, His Word of life. He worked through a pastor to baptize you, bringing you into His kingdom. And on this day, He serves you by giving of Himself. The same body that the Servant bore on the cross, the same blood that He poured out in service to you is given to you this day to eat and to drink. Christ brings His forgiveness near to you, the forgiveness that you need, the forgiveness that He won.
Having received the forgiveness of Christ here in this place, having sat at the feet of Jesus today and every time we are in God’s Word, we then respond with prayer and praise, service to God and service to our neighbor. We experienced the joy of the Gospel each and every time that Christ gives to us His gifts, and then that joy motivates us to serve. We do not, like Martha, first try to serve Christ, but we like Mary first receive from His overflowing hand and then go out and serve. That is why we volunteer our time at our congregations, serving in various capacities. That is why some of you gave generously of your time to serve at Vacation Bible School this week. That is why we are involved in our communities, searching for any opportunity to serve, bringing the love that Christ first showed us to others. That is why we provide a helping hand to friends, family, or coworkers throughout our daily lives. Service is a wonderful and God-pleasing thing! Moreover, our neighbors need that service. Martha’s dilemma is not solved by pitting service and hearing the Word against each other, but by having them in the proper order. Christ serves us, and then we respond in joy to the great things He has done for us.
We go forth in service with a great promise, the same one that Mary and Martha heard in our text for today. “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Satan wants to pull us away from Christ, but here we have the promise that He will hold tightly onto us, strengthening our faith through His gifts until that day when He brings us to be with Himself forever. He is constantly working to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith through the hearing of His Word and the giving of His Body and Blood to eat and to drink. Come rejoicing, for Christ our servant gives of Himself to you once again on this day, for the forgiveness of your sins and to bring you to eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. In His name, Amen.