+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 10:42
Theme: The Good Portion
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
When it comes down to things of pivotal importance, Jesus is always the giver. He is always the host. When sin is confronted, when mortality is faced, when life hangs in the balance- the presence, and promise, and purpose and power of Christ are decisive. Everything else is a reflection, a shadow, an imitation or a sham- even our greatest and finest efforts contribute no weight on the scales of divine justice. Just one drop of His blood pays the debt, makes the sacrifice- reconciles the sinner. The believer’s entire life is nothing but a continual reception of and response to this truth.
What can we learn from the sisters of Bethany today? What are we to make of the example of Mary and Martha? Martha was undoubtedly a diligent, gracious, and dutiful host. She was an exemplary model of hospitality seeking to serve the many that had come to hear her honoured guest. Jesus was in the house and preparing to serve Him was her first priority. In this regard she was upset with Mary for not assisting her and she was not afraid to show some frustration with the Lord. She was bold enough even to give Him a directive, “Tell her to help me!”1 Yet Martha had made a fundamental miscalculation. She wrongly assumed that she was the host, when in fact, it was Jesus.
The tenderness of His response is indicated by His repetition of her name. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”2 His rebuke is gentle, intended to instruct those gathered to listen. Only the word of God is indispensable. If we are bereft of all other comforts and necessities we must still rejoice to have God’s truth. Yet how few do! If we were to possess every comfort and the highest level of earthly riches, yet had not the gospel, we would still be doomed to perish for eternity. Death will come to us all. Apart from Him who is the victor over sin and death all is darkness. If we have not a resurrected and living Christ we have not hope.
Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better ‘part’, ‘share’, or ‘portion’ indicating that He is using a play on words that refers to a portion of food. She chose the good portion. Martha was busy with all the serving of food but Mary was receiving the most important part of what was on offer. She was dining at the royal banquet. Christ’s word was true nourishment. Mary was the perfect model of listening. Focused on Christ, she was a receptive vessel. Spiritually speaking, listening to God’s word is as closely linked with eating as it is with learning. Physical eating is not an exercise that occupies the brain per se, but it does provide energy for the mind to work. Spiritual eating does both: It nourishes our faith and exercises our faith at the same time. The Scripture says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”3
Our faith originates in Christ alone. Our assent, or our articulation of what we believe, or our confession is only a response, a recognition of what exists. Faith doesn’t come into existence by the verbalization of our thoughts, feelings, or opinions. It isn’t created by our efforts. Born in sin we are dead to all spiritual truth. Faith is engendered purely by the action of the Holy Spirit through the gospel.
Biblical faith then brings equal blessings to all. The faith of the newly baptized infant is no less complete or legitimate than the faith of a mature Christian. This assertion may seem illogical, even absurd, but it is expressive of the nature of the divine gift. The faith of the neophyte may be simple while the faith of the mature person complex. The newly Christened may have fragile faith while an experienced person’s faith is robust. Yet, just as a baby is no less a person than an octogenarian, so too, fresh belief is no less genuine than tested conviction. The critical truth is that genuine faith receives the full blessings of salvation. There is no piecemeal or apportioned inheritance. Baptism promises the fullness of the kingdom. In these promises we know God’s love.
The greatest drive we have is survival. But the greatest need we have is love. To survive or exist without the knowledge or experience of love is to exist cut-off from the Creator and His creation. To be absent love is soon to be encompassed, embraced, and inundated by sin. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”4 “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him [Christ], and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things…by making peace through His blood, shed on a cross.”5
Dear friends, our acts of service are always responses to His embrace. The diligent devotion of Martha is not to be disdained. It only needed to be rightly ordered. The fact that she voiced complaint to Jesus shows that she wasn’t trying to impress Him with false humility. She genuinely desired to serve Him. She only needed to understand that at that time Mary was rendering the greater honour by being served by Him. Still, in her serving Martha probably did better than most. Often ulterior motives betray us.
John Galbraith was an economist and public intellectual whose influence spanned the presidential terms of Roosevelt through to Lyndon Johnson. In his autobiography, A Life in Our Times, he illustrates the devotion of his family's housekeeper: It had been a wearying day, and I asked Emily to hold all telephone calls while I had a nap. Shortly thereafter the phone rang. Lyndon Johnson was calling from the White House. "Get me John ‘Ken’ Galbraith. This is Lyndon Johnson." "He is sleeping, Mr. President. He said not to disturb him." "Well, wake him up. I want to talk to him." "No, Mr. President. I work for him, not you. When I called the President back, he could scarcely control his pleasure. "Tell that woman I want her here in the White House." Does our service and obedience depend on who’s watching, who’s taking notice, and who we are trying to impress? When we are serving Christ we are not concerned with recognition from others. We are always answerable to the Almighty God, first and foremost.
There is a time for contributing and a time for receiving. One night in Bethany Christ ate from Martha’s table. But Mary feasted on finer food. Like physical food the benefits of His truth are multifaceted. It grants us comfort, inspiration, encouragement, and instruction. It checks our rebelliousness, clarifies our confusion, and lifts our hopes. God’s word, particularly His absolving word, gives us spiritual strength and healing. In things essential Christ is always the host. At this table He is both the sacrifice and the One who serves. He is the Saviour. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Luke 10:40
2 Luke 10:41-42
3 Luke 10:37
4 Romans 5:8
5 Colossians 1:19-20
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
21 July 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt