Distracted? Anxious? Sit at Jesus' Feet!
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The text for today is our Gospel, Luke 10:38-42, which has already been read.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Martha was distracted…” Now there’s a phrase we can relate to. Finally, here’s a person in the Bible we can really understand. Martha is a woman after our own hearts. Distracted… and there is much to be distracted about. Jesus has come to her village. She has “welcomed Him into her house.” He is an honored guest and that means much preparation. We don’t know how many have come with Jesus, but there could perhaps be dozens. That takes a lot of food. And in the days before carryout, refrigerators, or microwave ovens, that means first going to the market or garden to get fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables. And then preparing everything from scratch, spending hours over a hot stove.
Well, you get the idea. There are simply a lot of things that need to be done. “Martha,” the text says, “was distracted with much serving.” She is being pulled around the house concerning the many things of serving her guests. Martha is busy… she is busy with the things of life… she is busy with the things that need to be done. And that is where we can relate to Martha. Life is busy. There are lots of things to do. Have you said or heard any of these things at your house?
“Didn’t we say that we’re going to slow down and not do so many things?”
“After the corn is planted things won’t be so rushed. We’ll have a little time for a breather.”
“I know I said I’d help you, but the house still needs to be painted. I’ve been trying to get to it for weeks now and it still isn’t finished.”
“Mom, did you forget I had to be at the fair today? I’m supposed to work at the food booth.”
“This is Dr. Smith’s office calling. We had you down for an 11:30 a.m. appointment. Do we need to reschedule?”
“Honey, I’d really just like to stay home tonight. When was the last time that we all sat down together for a family meal?”
“Hello Joe, this is John. I’m serving on the nominating committee at church. I know you are already serving as a Sunday School teacher, but…”
A thousand things pulling us a thousand different directions. And it never seems to stop. Back and forth. To school. To work. Back home. To church. Busy and distracted. Anxious and troubled by many things. That’s why we can relate to Martha. She, too, is being pulled back and forth. To the kitchen to check on the food. To the bedrooms to check on the beds. So many places to be at once. So much running around to make sure everything is ready.
Well, at first reading we might get the idea that there is something wrong with what Martha is doing. Because, after all, Jesus does give her a minor rebuke. But the truth of the matter is that she is doing a good thing. Especially as far as the culture is concerned. You have to take care of your guests. Look at all the trouble Abraham went through when he had visitors. Gave them a place to wash up and rest. Set up a banquet with the finest food and drink available. Abraham went to a lot of trouble to take care of his guests.
Martha wants to serve Jesus out of her love for Him. He has come to her house at her invitation. She wants Him to be comfortable. As a more recently famous Martha might say: “It’s a good thing” for Martha to want to serve Jesus.
But there is a very strong contrast in this reading today. Look at the text again. Before we are even told how busy Martha is, we are told about Martha’s sister, Mary. And what is Mary doing? That’s right! She is sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He has to say. Mary, too, is motivated by her love for Jesus. But she is not distracted. She sits at Jesus’ feet listening to Him.
Well, the contrast does not go unnoticed by Martha, either. And she’s not very happy about it. I imagine she, too, would like to be able to sit at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. But there are things that need to be done. And I can imagine the conversation that began to take off in her mind. “Doesn’t Mary see that I am busy? Why doesn’t she help me for a little bit, so that I can listen, too?”
That’s when the fireworks begin. It’s like a scene straight of Chef Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen. The roast is in danger of being overcooked. The vegetables are getting soggy. The temperature in the kitchen is rising. And it’s getting a little hot under Martha’s collar, too. Distraction leads to anxiety. And anxiety gives way to anger. Martha slams her spoon down, storms out of the kitchen, and lashes out.
And at whom does she lash out? Not her sister! No. Her guest! The One she is totally focused on, the reason for all of her feverish preparations. She lashes out at Jesus! “Lord! Don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve all alone? Don’t You care that I’m in the kitchen slaving away over a hot stove while she sits there all doe-eyed at Your feet doing nothing? How about cutting the chitchat and telling her to get her lazy rear end in the kitchen to help me!”
In a way, this real life episode illustrates the point of the parable we heard last week about the Good Samaritan. The Law says love God and love your neighbor. This is a good thing. A very good thing. And yet, the Law cannot produce this love. If you think you can work up love for God and love for the neighbor yourself, you will end up as distracted and anxious and troubled as Martha. The very guest she loves and wants to serve becomes the object of her anger, which spills over to her sister. And therein is the problem. If all we have to work with is divine rules and regulations, whether Ten Commandments from Moses, or twelve life principles from Joel Osteen, or the laws of attraction from Oprah, or the 613 dos and don’ts of the Pharisees, if all we have is the Law, we will end up hating God and hating our neighbor.
Martha’s problem is not her service, but her lack of freedom. She wants to please Jesus. She wants to serve Him with her very best. And yet, it all fails. She winds up yelling at Jesus and getting angry with her sister. She is distracted by much service, anxious and troubled about many things, when only one thing is necessary. Sometimes a person has to choose between the lesser of two evils. But, in this case, we might say that Martha has to choose between the greater of two goods. There is the good of serving the Lord. And there is the good of sitting at His feet and receiving Jesus’ Word. Both are good. But one is better!
Get this—and let it be forever etched in your memory: the good of receiving Jesus is better than the good of serving Him. Busily working for Jesus and hearing Him in the preached Word are both good. But hearing Jesus in the preached Word is better. Serving others and receiving Jesus in His Supper are both good. But receiving Jesus’ body and blood for your forgiveness is better. Actively working for the Lord and passively receiving His Word are both good. But if forced to choose, it is better for you to be passive and to receive from Christ.
This truth is so deep and runs so much against our nature and popular opinion that we have to let it rewire us even when we come to worship in the Lord’s house. We naturally want to be a Martha when we come to worship. We want to be doing something for the Lord, just like her. Our natural understanding about worship is that it is all about what we do for God. But that’s wrong! Worship is really about what God does for us!
Jesus, in effect, says: “Don’t just do something… sit here! During this sacred hour, I, the Lord, am doing the work. I am the One who feeds you through the Word read, preached, announced, and distributed. It is only after I have fed you with My Word, then you are to serve, as you go from this place into the world.” As He said upon another occasion: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
In the midst of Martha’s busy, distracted life, Jesus Christ comes to serve her. In the midst of our busy, distracted lives, Jesus Christ has come to give us the one thing that we need most—Himself! Jesus Christ comes to serve. And He serves us far beyond all our ability to serve ourselves. Jesus is the one necessary thing. We need nothing but Jesus and His life-giving Word.
And yet, don’t we often find ourselves in Martha’s shoes? Busy with so many things that we have no time to rest in the Lord? So busy that we have no time to hear His Word, to receive His body and blood. Distracted by this thing and that other thing. Thinking about what we must do in order to please God. But if we are to please God at all, there must first be faith. And faith comes by hearing, sitting with Mary at Jesus’ feet and being given to.
We need to repent of our busyness. We’ve let many things get ahead of the one important thing. We’ve let so many things get between us and Jesus. The symptoms are all there. Frustration, anger, snapping at each other, griping, finger-pointing. When you sense that in yourself, read the symptoms of busyness and hear the gracious invitation of Jesus: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Just be quiet for a while and listen. I know; it’s hard to do. We’re so tuned to being busy. The way of our world is Martha, not Mary. But the way of the world leads to death. Sit and listen. Jesus is here to give to you. There’s plenty of opportunity to serve, but what good is our service if it simply burns us out on the Lord and on each other? So sit down at Jesus’ feet for a bit. Listen to His Word of grace and peace. Let Him serve you.
He already has. When we deserved death because of our sin and selfishness, Jesus served us by dying for us. When we deserved God’s wrath and punishment for our rejection of God’s control of our lives, Jesus served us by enduring that wrath and punishment. When we deserved to die and stay dead, Jesus served us by rising from the dead and breaking death’s hold on us forever.
But that isn’t all. Jesus is here right now to serve us again. We gather together before Him bringing our load of sins: “We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed.” “Have mercy on us,” we pray. “Serve us, Lord Jesus.” And He answers with forgiveness through His Word. He comes to His Table here both as host and food, serving us with forgiveness of sins. He regularly comes to serve us here, and we come to be served. Jesus knows the one thing needful and He comes here to bring it to us, week after week.
Yes, but even so, there’s still a lot of Martha in each of us. We are so easily distracted. Life is so distracting it invades our thoughts even here in worship. Don’t show your hands, but answer this question silently to yourself: How many of you have been thinking about something else today, rather than listening to the sermon or focusing on the words of our hymns? I know it happens, because sometimes I’m so busy thinking about what I need to do next in the service that I don’t really hear what God’s Word is saying to me, either.
Let’s face it! There are a lot of things that can distract us—even a lot of good things. Just think of all the things that have to happen just so we can gather together here for worship. There is much service going on. There are ushers, elders, cleaners, greeters, and the organist all serving Jesus. The communion ware needs to be set up. The hymn numbers have to be posted. The bulletins are copied and folded. The offering needs to be counted. There are parents who have to get up early to get their kids fed and dressed for church.
All of these things are helpful. All of these things are good. All of these things are done because we want to serve Jesus. Jesus has come to this house and we want to serve Him. But our minds can be pulled back and forth with all the preparation. We can be easily distracted from the one thing that is necessary. We can forget that the reason we are here is because Jesus is here, and He brings the gifts He has won for us by His life, death, and resurrection.
But Jesus never forgets. Jesus is never distracted. Jesus always comes. For the one thing that is necessary—for Him to serve you and me. So, clear your mind. Sit at Jesus’ feet. Jesus is here. He has gifts to give you. Listen.
Jesus is saying to you right now, “My child, My child. I am here today. I know that you love Me. Don’t be anxious. Don’t be troubled. Don’t be distracted by all these many things. Right now I am saying things I want you to hear. I am bringing you the one thing that is necessary, the one thing you cannot live without—My Word.
“In My Word you have everything you need. You have the good portion, which will not be taken away from you. You have eternal life and salvation and forgiveness without end. Why, I even forgive you for your distraction, anxiety, and worry. Indeed, I forgive you for all of your sins.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.