Text: Luke 10:38-42
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The story of Mary and Martha in our Gospel reading today sometimes gets a bad rap. This story about two sisters who act very differently when Jesus comes to visit and the family tension that arises because of those differences is often misunderstood. Leah was reminding me that my mother-in-law doesn’t really like this story because she insists that “The world needs Martha’s too.” She is a “Martha” (not literally, her name is not Martha). She is much more inclined to just do what needs to be done that to take a break from work just to sit and listen. Often times this text is taken to show that being a “Martha” who focuses on serving first is a bad thing and that being a “Mary” who sits and listens to Jesus is a good thing. This is very much an oversimplification of what Jesus is saying here. The world does need Martha’s, my mother-in-law is right. Jesus is not saying that one kind of person or personality is better than another. Jesus is not saying that Martha needs to stop worrying about supper or about cleaning the house. Jesus is saying that we need to think about how we worship Him and what the proper order for how we worship Him. This is a story about worshiping Jesus and what that looks like.
So, how do we worship Jesus? Maybe that seems like a silly question. We just turn to page 260 in the front of the hymnal or page 151 or 184 and follow the words that are there. We sing a few songs, maybe have communion, then we are done and on our way home. Nice and simple. That’s how we worship Jesus.
There is some truth to that, but what is really going on when we worship Jesus? This text presents us with two legitimate options for how to worship Jesus. Both of them are legitimate, God pleasing ways to worship Jesus. First we see Martha. Knowing that Jesus is coming, Martha makes a list of everything that needs to be done before Jesus arrives and starts powering through her “to do” list. Mary is right there helping Martha too, but then Jesus arrives. At that point Mary stops helping her sister, stops working on the list of chores and sits at Jesus feet. Martha chooses to keep working, she chooses to serve; Mary chooses to stop working, she chooses to listen.
It would be easy to get on Martha’s case about all this and say that she should know better. In the end Jesus makes it clear that Mary has chosen the better, more necessary thing in that moment. But we should not be too hard on Martha because the thing that she chose matters too. Martha chooses to serve Jesus. She focuses her attention one hospitality, how you welcome someone like Jesus into your home, how you serve Him. In our Old Testament reading when Abraham ran around from his tent to the field to prepare a feast when the Lord came to visit. Hospitality, how you welcome guest (especially divine guests) matter a lot. Earlier in Luke when Jesus went to a Pharisees house it is noted that the Pharisee did not show the proper level of hospitality to Jesus. He did not give Jesus a basin to wash His feet, he didn’t greet Jesus with a kiss, and he didn’t anoint Jesus’ head with oil. If someone like Jesus was coming you needed to show Him the right kind of hospitality and welcome Him to your home the proper way. That is all that Martha was trying to do.
But, as important as hospitality is, listening to Jesus is important too, really important, and that is what Martha seems to forget. She gets so caught up in serving, in doing things for Jesus and welcoming Him, that she forgets the one thing that is necessary and needful in that moment: to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him.
Jesus sees what is going on here and He kindly pleads with Martha to come and sit and listen. “Martha, Martha,” He says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Come, sit, and listen.” Jesus’ words here are not a sharp rebuke. They are not angry words. They are tender, loving, and inviting words. They are pleading words. Jesus begs Martha to remember what is most important, to leave the serving for another time, and to come and receive the Word of God.
Worshiping Jesus is first and foremost about receiving. It is not about what we do or what we bring to Jesus, what we can offer to Him. It is about receiving the gifts that He gives to us. Jesus does not need our service. He says, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus serves us by giving His life as a ransom for us. Today He serves us as we sit at His feet and listen. This happens here on Sunday mornings and it happens every time we read our Bibles at home. That is the one thing that really matters, everything else takes a back seat to our time spent listening to Jesus. It’s not that nothing else matters, but listening and receiving are the most important things that we as Christians do. Being a Christian and worshiping Jesus is about what He does for us, not what we do for Him.
This a simple enough truth, but it is easy to forget. We are always drawn to doing thing. We like doing things. Doing things makes us feel like we are accomplishing something. Our society does a terrible job teaching us just to sit and listen. We are raised to be active and do stuff, to make a positive contribution. Sitting and listening just seems like laziness. But sitting and listening is what Jesus wants us to do, that is the one thing that is necessary.
Even still, we want to do something. You know the Christmas song Little Drummer boy? It’s a great song. Lots of people really like that song, I like that song. But the song is all about us doing something for Jesus. The boy has no gift, he is poor, and he thinks he has nothing to offer the newborn baby Jesus, but rather than just come empty handed to Jesus he decides to play his drum for Him since that is all that he has. As nice and sweet as the song is, it points us to what we can do for Jesus. What do we think that we have to do for Jesus? If we compare the drummer boy to the actual shepherd that the Bible tells us about who came to see Jesus we see that they brought nothing. They just came to Jesus empty handed, straight from the fields, and received what He brought to this earth: peace and God’s goodwill towards men.
We always want to do something. It’s in our Christmas songs, our culture, and even in our way of thinking about church. What are we trying to bring to Jesus? Our good works? Our excellent morals? Our high level of commitment that causes us to never miss a Sunday? Our countless volunteer hours? We can get distracted by serving to the point that we miss the most important thing, the only needful thing: listening to Jesus.
Have you ever wondered why the services in our hymnal are called “Divine Service” instead of “Worship Service” or something like that? It is because we believe that what happens here on a Sunday morning is first and foremost about God coming to us and serving us. It is divine service, God serving us. We receive forgiveness from Him in absolution, we sit as His feet and listen to His word in Scripture readings and in the sermon where we hear about how He sent His Son to die and rise for us to forgive us, we receive Jesus body and blood in communion, and then, at the end, we receive His blessing as we go back home into the world. All of it is about what Jesus does for us.
All that being said, it’s not like there is never a time or a place for us to serve God. Actually, there is a lot of time for that. God does not need our good works, Jesus does not need our good works, but our neighbour sure does. All of our lives are lived out as we love God by loving our neighbour and all of the people around us. But our serving of God, what we do for Him, can only happen after and as a result of His service to us. There is a time and a place for the service that Martha offers to Jesus. The world does need Martha’s. There is work to be done in the Kingdom of God that we are sent out to do, there are neighbours who need our love, service, and hospitality out there.
The same is true in a church service on Sunday. There is a time and a place in the service for us to respond to God’s gifts to us by praying, praising, and giving thanks. That is a good, right, and salutary thing for us to do. But it can only happen after we receive God’s gifts to us. Before we can serve God, before we can serve anybody, we need to be filled up by Jesus with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. Then we can serve.
So really, this story about Mary and Martha is about proper order to our Christian lives. What comes first and what comes second. First we receive, then we serve. It always has to be that way.
Jesus pleaded with Martha asking her to turn from her focus on serving and work to see what was really important and Jesus makes that plea to us too. He invites us simply to come and receive what He has to offer. There is plenty out there in the world for us to do, lots of serving that needs to done, but Jesus simply says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden (everyone who is tired and anxious about all the serving), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Put down whatever you are trying to bring to Jesus and just receive what He offers. He gives you forgiveness, life, and salvation for free. Just listen to His Words, that is the most necessary thing. Amen.