Monday, July 5, 2010

The One Thing Needful

(painting by Diego Valasquez "Christ in the house of Martha and Mary" 1618)
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
We are busy people.  Running here and there.  Racing down and up highway 43 – speeding back and forth on interstate 94.  Certainly busy with work – important meetings – getting things done.  Also busy with leisure – campouts and cookouts – tailgating – brewers games.  Children need to be taken to basketball practice, baseball games, music and dance lessons.  Pick up – drop off – pick up – go to Walgreens – then the grocery store.  Race home and get some paperwork done.  There are bills to pay.  For us students, loans that need to be addressed.  Chores and responsibilities keep heaping up.  There is leaking from the ceiling, flooding in the basement.  Gutters need to be cleaned.  Lawns need to be mowed.  Getting together for a family meal begins to seem like an antiquated idea from times past – a funny little activity they did on “Leave it to beaver” or one of those other old black and white shows. 
Congregations are busy too.  There is always work to be done and meetings to be had.  Property to care for.  Programs that need to be organized and run.  Potlucks to be had – and Lutheran hot dish needs to be made.  There are bills to pay.  Organs to be fixed, and a maintenance list that goes on and on.  And these are all very important things to work on – even the preparation and work for coffee hour.
Throughout the week when we speak to others of our busyness, we naturally expect a small compliment or a nod of approval.  In our fast paced American society there are few badges of honor that are more praiseworthy than busyness.  Busy people are getting things done, important things.  (And in our Marxist worldview nothing is more admirable than production and output). 
In our obsession with work and doing for the sake of doing – nothing is more highly esteemed than those folks who are busy.  And no virtue is loftier than busyness.  But this morning let us rest together and reconsider our virtues.    
When Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha – Martha bolts into fast action.  She is making all those special arrangements.  Sweeping the floors, setting the table.  Meanwhile, she has a Lutheran casserole and hot dish baking in the oven.  She is sweeping the floors, setting the table, and arranging flowers in the prettiest vase.  Her hosting is so impeccable she would probably put Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray both to shame.  After all, Jesus is her guest.  Wouldn’t you also put your best effort forward to please him.  Don’t we all want our Lord to be pleased with us for our work? - Our preparations – and everything we do?

But hear this word, dearest Christian, at the Coming of our Lord he will not be impressed by our busyness.  He will not be impressed by how fast we are running around.  He will not delight over how much we have done nor will he be impressed by how much you have collected.  His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.

His pleasure is in finding you here – sitting here, in these pews – just listening.  And listening to the Word he loves to speak to you.  Come to me and I will give you rest.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  If you are troubled and anxious.  Be still and be silent.  Let me speak to you!  I have dealt with your sins and have made preparations for you.   I have taken your troubled, anxious unbelieving portion.  I have borne your sins and buried them in the deepest caverns of the earth.  I have carefully arranged for your salvation and I will calm your anxious heart.  And what more I have risen, that you may have all that is mine.
In faith, you have chosen  (biblical word, but can we handle it??) the good portion – the one thing needful.  And the one thing needful is to sit at the feet of the risen and present Lord Jesus and to hear the Words he loves to say to you.  I forgive you for all your sins.  I love you.

Please don’t get up yet.  Allow me to set the table.  Take, eat; this is my body, which I give to you.  And drink of this chalice all of you; this cup is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  I did not come to be served, but to serve you, and to give my life as a ransom for many.  I came to give rest to tired, overworked, and anxious sinners.  For you, dear Christian.
And return to me again and again.  As often as you like when the changes and chances of this life overwhelm you.  When your busyness keeps you from hearing me, let it not be so!  In the Small Catechism we pray, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, gladly hear and learn it.”  And gladly return to it.  And the Lord himself beckons to us ‘return to me.  Sit at my feet and I will speak this Word of forgiveness again.  As many times as you like to hear it.’    

And we can never tire from sitting at the feet of the living Lord – hearing this Word of forgiveness.  For in those Words he speaks, is the key that opens wide the gates of heaven – for those who repent of their sin and believe.  Let the Lord find you here – in this place – with your ears opened to him – and your eyes fixed on.  This is the most important work for one his disciples – to do no work whatsoever.  Just stop and listen.

For only after you rest from your work.  Only after you stop your busyness and receive His Divine Service may your work in His kingdom truly begin.  Before we go out into the busyness of this world we must first be served a heaping portion of life and salvation.  For, first we must be richly served before we can do any serving of our own.  Without Christ’s service to us – without His life giving Word, without his mercy – and without His love, we are dead in our sins.  All of our running around is in vain.

But with Christ as our possession – living from the Word of God – there is life and there we stand in the light of the resurrection.  Here, our busyness and work takes on new meaning.  For the Christian is not distracted by his or her work but rightly knows who they are serving - active in faith toward God and love toward the neighbor.  As we depart in peace today, the work set before us becomes a sublime joy rather than mere drudgery.  Running around doing errands, making preparations, and baking in the kitchen become acts of worship to your Lord who first served you.  Cleaning the cutters, mowing the lawn, and paying the bills become simple acts of faith because the one who was faithful paid the ultimate price for your life.   

If you are anxious about this life and troubled for all the preparations that need to be made.  Just sit at the feet of Jesus.  Hear His voice, eat and drink what He gives.  This is the good portion that will never be taken from you.  Pretty soon, you will have neither need nor want of anything.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.                 

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