“Distracted Discipleship and the One Thing Needful” (Luke 10:38-42)

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 17, 2022

“Distracted Discipleship and the One Thing Needful” (Luke 10:38-42)

Are you anxious and troubled about many things? Does your busy-ness distract you from the one thing needful? If so, join the club. That’s where I find myself all too often. But if that’s you too, then our message today is what you need to hear. For Jesus is in the house today, and when Jesus speaks, we need to listen. And so our theme this morning: “Distracted Discipleship and the One Thing Needful.”

Our text is the Holy Gospel for today, from Luke chapter 10. Jesus enters a village. We know from elsewhere in the gospels that this village is Bethany. Two sisters live there, Martha and Mary. I mention Martha first, because she seems to be the one running the household. It says that Martha welcomed Jesus “into her house.”

What else do we learn about Martha? Well, I’m going to go ahead and call this woman “the Martha Stewart of Bethany.” Like Martha Stewart, this Martha is “the hostess with the mostest.” She pulls out all the stops for her honored guest. She’s busy, busy, busy, getting things ready. I can just see her in the kitchen, preparing the hors d’oeuvres: crab cakes, deviled eggs–no, wait, scratch the deviled eggs. And ixnay on the crab cakes too; they’re not kosher. Better go with the gefilte fish and chopped liver paté.

Martha is hustling back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room: getting out a nice table runner, putting a beautiful hydrangea arrangement on the table as the centerpiece. So many things to do to make things nice for Jesus!

Meanwhile, what is her sister, Mary, doing to help? Nothing! “Are you kidding me?” Martha thinks to herself. “I’m out here slaving away, while my sister is in the living room, just sitting on her behind!” Yeah, Martha, your sister Mary is sitting is in the living room, alright, because that’s the room where the living Lord Jesus is, and he’s giving out his words of life to those who will listen.

But Martha doesn’t get that yet. She’s preoccupied with all the preparations. So she goes and complains to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Yeah, you tell him, Martha! Then he can tell Little Miss Lazybones to get off her duff and get out to the kitchen!

But no, Jesus does not do that. Instead, he’s got a word to say to Martha: “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.”

This is a rebuke from Jesus, but it’s a gentle one. He’s not blasting away at her, like he does with the scribes and Pharisees. He’s giving her a kind correction. You can hear it in his voice: “Martha, Martha,” he begins. When someone does that repeating of a name in the Bible, it usually conveys an attitude of care and concern and love. Think of David saying of his son, “Absalom, Absalom”; or Jesus saying to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon”; or Jesus lamenting over the city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” Here it’s “Martha, Martha.” What Jesus is about to say is prompted by love.

Dear friends, when Jesus has to give you a mid-course correction, even a gentle rebuke, he’s not doing that out of anger. He’s doing it out of love. He’s not rejecting you; he’s correcting you. And sometimes we all need that. Your good shepherd knows you by name, and when you go astray, he loves you enough to call you back on the right path.

Which is what he does with Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,” he says. You see, that was Martha’s problem here. You’ve seen those warning signs on the highways about the dangers of “distracted driving”? Well, Martha is having a problem with “distracted discipleship.” Martha, Martha, forget the hors d’oeuvres and the hydrangeas! At least for a bit. Your priorities are out of whack. Oh, there will be a time for all that. But something else is more important right now.

Which Jesus now gets to: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” Note the contrast between the “many things” and the “one thing.” There are so many things that Martha is anxious and troubled about. But in the process, she’s missing out on the one thing she really needs.

And what is this one thing needful? Jesus tells us: “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion. . . .” This seems counterintuitive in a way. It goes against our way of thinking. We usually think, “Don’t just sit there; do something!” But Jesus turns it around: “Don’t just do something; sit there!” There is a time to sit, and there is a time to serve. Just don’t get them confused. And this was a time to sit. Because Jesus was doing the serving.

“The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The one thing needful is to be served by Jesus. It’s like what Jesus said to Peter when Jesus came to wash his feet: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” We need to be served by Jesus. That’s the number-one priority. All things else, including our acts of service, fall in line after that. Martha needed to learn that.

And so do we. How has Jesus served us? By going to the cross and giving his life there as our ransom, as our redemption. We needed that above all. For we were lost and dead in our sin, and all our activity, all our busy-ness, could not rescue us from that. Only Jesus could. And he has. Our beautiful Savior has purchased our forgiveness by his holy, precious blood. God counts us righteous for Christ’s sake. It’s nothing we did. It’s what he has done for us. We have forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation in his holy name. And Jesus’ words give us what he won for us.

Mary is soaking up those words of Jesus. And Jesus isn’t going to let anything interfere with that. He tells Martha: “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” “Martha, you may have been preparing a five-star, six-course meal. But Mary has already chosen the best portion on the menu. And I’m not going to let you take that away from her. In fact, you would do well to sit here and join her.”

Friends, do you ever let your busy-ness or your being anxious and troubled about many things–do you let that distract you from the one thing needful? For instance, any time you let something else get in the way of your coming to church on Sunday morning and receiving from Jesus–unless there’s an ice storm or you’re sick or something like that)–any time you choose to skip out on church when you could be here, you are making the wrong choice. You’re pulling a Martha, when Jesus would have you be a Mary.

It’s Third Commandment stuff: “The Third Commandment. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” “Hold it sacred”: That means, Don’t let anything else get in the way. I’m going to be on vacation the next two Sundays, but I’ve already scouted out where I’ll be going to church. Because it will be Sunday morning, and that is sacred time. It’s the Lord’s Day, when Jesus is giving out gifts, and so that’s where I want to be. No matter how long I live, I will always need the one thing needful. By the way, if you are ever going to be out of town on a Sunday morning, and you need help finding a good church to go to, I can help you with that.

Today you are here in this church, in God’s house, where Jesus is giving out his goods. You have chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken from you–not now, not ever. Jesus is here in the living room, and you are sitting and listening to his words of life. Jesus is doing the serving, and you are on the receiving end. That’s a good place, it’s the best place, to be. Here Jesus has prepared a table for us, the Lord’s Table, where you will receive from his hand his very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. This is a foretaste of the feast to come, for our risen Lord has ascended into heaven and is preparing a place for us to be there with him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ–including you sisters Martha and Mary–when you get distracted in your discipleship, remember this: The one essential thing, the one thing needful, is to be served by our Lord Jesus Christ and to receive from him.

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Published in: on July 16, 2022 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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