Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 21, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 10:38-42
Sermon Theme: “Mary Has Chosen What Is Better”
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary and Illustrations; original ideas; Brokhof, Series C, Workbook)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Mary/Martha story has been so popular over the years that just about everybody knows it. In spite of what Jesus says in the story, people even divide up into two sides and argue, one side acclaiming Mary and the other side making a case for Martha. There’s no need to argue about it, as Jesus says in the text, literally in the Greek, “Mary has chosen what is the better.”
And it’s a very short, simple story. Luke tells it in one paragraph, only eight sentences long. People try to pull all kinds of things out of the story, but it is simply a story about choices. And Jesus says Mary has made the better choice.
A woman once came running up to Artur Rubinstein after he finished another spectacular concert. “Oh, Mr. Rubinstein!” she said, “I’ve always wanted to play the piano! I’d give anything if I could play like you did this evening!”
“No, you wouldn’t,” he replied. “I know what I’ve had to give up to be able to play like this, and if that’s what you really wanted, you would have done the same.”
It’s true. He knew his goal. He knew where he wanted to be in life, and then he kept making the necessary choices. He practiced his scales. He put in his hours at the keyboard. He did what he had to do. You are delusional if you think you can become a great pianist, or guitarist, or football player without putting your whole self into your practice! Just dreaming about it gets you nowhere! Do it!
There is a powerful scene in Shakespeare’s drama, The Merchant of Venice. Portia is a beautiful woman and also very wealthy. Men come from all over the world begging to marry her. They have a goal in mind, but if they want to win her hand they must first make a choice.
Portia knows that talk is often cheap, so she has had three large caskets created, and she uses them in a test of values. Whoever would win her hand must choose the casket that contains her portrait.
Each casket is very different from the others. One is made of silver, with an inscription that reads: “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves!” Those who are attracted to the shine of that fair vessel open it, only to find the head of a fool. That, according to Portia, is what seekers of treasure deserve.
The second casket is even more spectacular than the first. It is gilded and studded with baubles and gems. The inscription on this glittering icon reads: “Who chooseth me shall get what many men desire!” The suitors who nod for this prize open it to receive a dry and lifeless skull. Riches are dead. They have no life in them.
Of course, there is the third casket, but it rather ugly. It is only made of lead and fashioned by a rather crude artisan. It is, however, the one which contains Portia’s portrait. The message carved on the front is this: “Who chooseth me must give all and hazard all he hath!”
This is the way it is on the narrow path to the kingdom of God. If you own this goal, then this goal must own you. There are no shortcuts. There are no detours or safety measures. That is why Jesus pictures the gate as straight and the way narrow – no one can take along any treasures or safety gear. Choosing this way is a hazard. It’s all or nothing.
We choose our houses. We chose our clothes. We choose our friends. We choose our work and play. Even when a tragedy comes our way, something unplanned and unexpected, like a death or a disease or a divorce, we still choose how we will deal with it. We choose to turn it into something we can live with. And in those choices we find ourselves. “The greatest thing in the world,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes, “is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”
God did not make us in the form of puppets. He gave us free will, — a dangerous thing in the body of an idiot! Adam and Eve each made a choice, — they chose to disobey God. Like them, we too often choose to sin, and then, also like Adam and Eve we try to blame somebody else. Adam says ‘That woman you gave me, God, she made me do it!’ (blaming both God, for giving him the woman in the first place, and Eve, for coaxing him into eating the fruit). And Eve says the devil made her do it.
We like the free will to make choices, but we also like to blame somebody else if the choices turn out to be bad for us and for others.
What about our Mary/Martha choices in the church? Most folks in the church like covered dish suppers, programs, projects, remodeling projects, teas, bazaars, and parties. But none of those activities give us any spiritual depth. Those are good things, but not at the expense of neglecting worship, prayer, solitude, meditation, Bible study, and singing spiritual music. It seems that some of the mega-churches in large cities like Houston offer too much that is more entertaining than spiritual. A two hundred person choir singing the “Messiah” is certainly more spiritual than entertaining, but when the laser lights and percussion noises over power the words of a Christian rock band, that’s not spiritual.
In our sermon text, Martha made some foolish choices. First of all, she was foolish to complain to Jesus about Mary. She complained, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Her response sounds all too human, doesn’t it?
Jesus tells her that she has her values confused, that she is anxious and troubled about many worldly things. He is implying that she allows worldly concerns to push aside spiritual concerns.
Mary, on the other hand, chose to confer with Jesus. She listened and learned from her Lord. The text says Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. Jesus of course says she made the better choice.
I’m sure some of you ladies are thinking, “But somebody had to do the cooking! What were they going to do, — send out for pizza?”
In other circumstance, that might have been a valid question. But Jesus is not just any guest; He’s not just any Rabbi. He has come to save the whole world, and only He knows the entire plan of salvation. Jesus is going to spend a limited time on this earth. He will be going to the cross before all of His followers have a chance to ask Him their spiritual questions. He Himself is the Word in that He is living the plan that Scripture will write about. In such a situation, I think we could eat late or even go without supper.
Indeed, life is about choices, isn’t it? It won’t be long and school will be starting up again for you young people, both public school and college. You can choose to obey your public school teachers, do your homework, study, and make good grades. Or you can choose to be disrespectful, disobedient, and lazy, and flunk every course you are taking. In college, you can choose to drink beer every night at Schultz’s Beer Garden and flunk out of the University of Texas, or you can stay sober, study, work hard, and graduate summa cum laude. It’s your choice, but then don’t complain if you end up one day in front of the Post office with a tin cup selling pencils.
“Mary has chosen what is better,” Jesus said, “and it will not be taken away from her.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.