Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 17, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 10:38-42
Sermon Theme: “Mary Has Chosen the Good Portion”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Illustrations; Emphasis Online Commentaries; original ideas; “State of the Bible,” American Bible Society; Online Life Way Bible-Reading Survey; Statistics from the Pew Research Center; Online “The Mary/Martha Mother”; Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Nelson’s Three-in-One Reference; Online Stats for Church Attendance Worldwide)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The pastor of a large congregation with very poor weekly attendance got fired up by Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” So he sent a newsletter to all members announcing that the next Sunday would be “No Excuse Sunday.” Here’s what his newsletter promised so that everyone would come to church and hear the Word.
“There will be a special section with lounge chairs for those who feel that our pews are too hard. Eye drops will be available for those with tired eyes from watching TV late Saturday night. We will have steel helmets for those who say, ‘The roof would cave in if I ever came to church.’ Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who say it is too hot. Scorecards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present.
“Relatives and friends will be in attendance for those who can’t go to church and cook dinner, too. We will distribute ‘Stamp Out Stewardship’ buttons for those that feel the church is always asking for money. Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday. The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who never have seen the church without them. And we will provide hearing aids for those who can’t hear the preacher and cotton wool for those who think he is too loud.”
We laugh at that, but the problem this pastor faced with his congregation is a widespread problem. A worldwide problem. A recent study shows that church attendance in Denmark and Norway is 3 percent; in Finland, 4 percent; In Sweden, 5 %; in Belgium and Australia, 7 %; in the United Kingdom, 10 percent; in Hungary, 12 %; in France, 15 %, — just to show a few. Above and beyond other countries, the United States is shown as 39 percent, but even that is below 50 percent!
We do look a little better than the others; however, a recent report from the Pew Research Center indicates that 70.6 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians (at least they “say” they are Christians). Twenty-three percent of the U. S. public identify themselves as “Nones,” – Nones (from ‘None of the above”) are those who say they are atheists, agnostics, or not affiliated with any religion whatsoever.
Now look at this: A recent report by the American Bible Society’s State of the Bible Survey indicates that 66 2/3 percent of Americans believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know in order to live a meaningful life, and 80 percent believe the Bible is sacred literature. YET, only 33 1/3 percent read the Bible at least once a week! Sixty-two percent express the need to read the Bible more often, but then they don’t.
According to a LifeWay research, of those Protestants who go to church regularly, 90 % desire to “please and honor Jesus in all I do,” yet only 19 percent of them personally read the Bible every day. Almost all read books on how to grow spiritually. Isn’t that ironic? The Word of God is neglected by a large percent of those considered active Christians.
So what does all this have to do with today’s sermon text about Mary and Martha? It has a lot to do with it.
In the 27 years I have been preaching here at St. Paul’s, I have preached on the Mary/Martha text at least seven or eight times, and each time I have focused on something I had not clearly seen before.
In the text, we are told by Luke that Jesus comes to Bethany and to the two sisters’ home for a visit. This is one of many happy times they spend together. Rest, conversation, and friendship, no doubt, occupy their time. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet as a disciple who understand that he is more than just a rabbi, listening, observing, and learning. Martha is busy with her many tasks in the household and rather gruffly asks, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”
What would Jesus answer? Jesus surely loved and valued both sisters equally. Because I grew up surrounded by a bunch of Marthas in my family, and in my church, I always favored Martha. I mean, every church needs a Martha, in fact, every church needs a dozen Marthas. Sleeves rolled up and ready! Because of Marthas, the church budgets get balanced, food gets served at social gatherings, the kitchen gets cleaned up, thorough church cleanings take place, babies get held.
You don’t appreciate Marthas until a Martha is missing. Yes, Marthas are the Energizer Bunnies of the church. They just keep going and going.
Yet Jesus rebukes Martha by saying, “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.”
In past preachings on this text, I overlooked a very, very important word in Jesus’ rebuke. The word “necessary.” ONE thing is NECESSARY! And that one thing is the WORD of God. No matter how clean the church is, how quickly the bills are paid, or how good the cakes and pies are, without the Word of God, the church is not the church.
Do you listen to the Word of God preached? Do you study the Word in Bible Class? Do you read the Word of God daily at home? Or is your family Bible the one book most covered with dust?
Why did Jesus say the Word is necessary? Not just important, but NECESSARY! First of all, Jesus is the Word. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” In Psalm 119, the Word is a lamp; In Jeremiah 23, it is a hammer; in Matthew 13, it is a seed; and in Ephesians 6, it is a sword.
The Word produces faith, makes you free, rejoices your heart, makes you wise, and heals and regenerates you. Isaiah says the Word, when it goes out, does not come back empty, and Martin Luther said that even if a jackass preached the Word, it would be efficacious. God created the world by speaking it into existence. So, yes, the Word is NECESSARY!
In our text, Luke says Martha was distracted with much serving, and Jesus rebukes her by saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but ONE thing is NECESSARY.”
Pastor A. K. Fadness says that there were three flies in Martha’s soup. The FIRST fly is worry; Jesus says Martha is anxious and troubled about many things.
In today’s world, we are anxious and troubled by many things. In the United States alone, 20,000 tons of aspirin in some form or other are bought each year, — that’s 225 tablets per person per year. That must mean that nearly everyone in the United States has a headache most of the time. In Martha’s day, people asked, “How can I get to heaven?” Nowadays, people are asking, “How can I get through this day?”
The SECOND fly in Martha’s soup is DISTRACTION. Martha was distracted by cooking and serving. Cell Phones, computers, Twitter, and Facebook are some of today’s distractions. And a hundred more distractions demand, “Follow me, buy me, go here, go there, do this, do that.”
Think about it, — what keeps us from looking and listening and loving God? What distracts us from worship?
The THIRD fly in Martha’s soup is RESENTMENT. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” To be resentful is to be indignantly aggrieved at someone. Resentment can rust a relationship and destroy a friendship. Resentment blocks love of neighbor, and you cannot love God unless you love your neighbor as yourself.
Even though we see three flies in Martha’s soup – worry, distraction, and resentment, — the gospel does not call us to irresponsible behaviors. It doesn’t say we are to forget the kitchen, the garbage, and the work, just play and then go to five Bible studies a week. It’s a matter of balance.
Ecclesiastes says there is a time for every matter under heaven. There is a time to labor and a time to love. There is a time to work and a time to worship. There is a time to be Martha and a time to be Mary. With Martha, however, the Word was in her living room, and she turned away from it.
“One thing is NECESSARY,” the Word-made-Flesh told Martha. What is the one thing necessary? To take time to hear the Word of God, to sit at the feet of Jesus,
and get connected with that which is necessary to life. After all, it is a matter of life or death! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.