The One Thing Necessary: The Word of Life

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But the Lord answered her, “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” (Luke 10:41–42).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
During their travels, Jesus and His disciples were often guests in the homes of people who accepted His message and supported His mission. In fact, when Jesus sent first the Twelve, and then the seventy-two into the towns of Judea, He instructed them to go without extra supplies. Those disciples were to depend on the hospitality of the townspeople. They were to stay with the people who welcomed them and eat in their homes. They were to heal the sick, and tell them the Good News, “The kingdom of God is near you.”
Jesus didn’t force Himself on anyone. He went into the homes He was welcomed and invited, and taught His disciples to do the same. It didn’t matter who they were, what they had done, or what station of life they occupied. Jesus went to the homes of the most religious like Simon the Pharisee; but He also stayed at the home of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. That caused some tongues to wag. “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner,’” the Pharisees and the scribes muttered.
Wherever Jesus went, He used it as an opportunity to share His Word of Life, to teach about the kingdom of God. When Jesus ate with the so-called outcasts of society, the tax collectors and sinners, His message did not fall on deaf ears. Many of them listened to Jesus and believed in Him as their Savior. They repented and believed. The Gospel had its way with them, and so their lives were changed for the better. And they couldn’t wait to share that Good News! They invited their friends to hear Jesus’ Word of Life for themselves
So, when Jesus ate with someone, what was more important, the meal or the teaching? (Pause) The opportunity to teach God’s Word was more important, of course. Mac & Cheese would work as well as prime rib. Fast food carryout would do as well as a home-cooked seven course dinner in a pinch. The meal only provided an opportunity for Jesus to teach. Proclaiming God’s Word was the more important thing. It was the one thing necessary.
And when Jesus was at Martha and Mary’s home, what do you suppose was the more important thing, the meal or Jesus’ teaching? (Pause) Again, the more important thing was the opportunity for Jesus to teach. The one thing necessary was for Martha and Mary to listen to Jesus.
Martha made the mistake of thinking she was the host and Jesus the guest. But actually, it was the other way around. Jesus was the real host. Jesus was the main event, and therefore everyone should have stopped everything in order to hear what He had to say.
As sinners, Martha and Mary needed the Gospel Jesus came to deliver to their house. So do we! The most important thing for us is to receive God’s grace and mercy in Christ. The one thing necessary in our lives is the Word of life which is delivered here Sunday after Sunday. That is the good portion, which will not be taken away from you or me.
It was a special day for Martha. Jesus came to Bethany and accepted her invitation to her home. As we see in our Old Testament lesson, ancient people expressed hospitality by preparing special dinners for their guests. Abraham had Sarah bake some fresh bread and a servant prepare a delicious beef stroganoff. A meal was, in many respects, a symbol of the bond of friendship, trust, and mutual admiration among all gathered at the table. It was also an opportunity to show honor to distinguished guests. And certainly no one is due greater honor than Jesus!
We can imagine Martha’s sense of responsibility as a hostess. A banquet celebration meant the best of meats, the finest wines, and an assortment of vegetables and side dishes. Martha had a lot of things to think about. No doubt, she was quickly figuring out how to stretch the meal she already had planned. She was thinking about any extras she had in the pantry that would be available to help feed company. Remember, this was long before refrigerators and freezers and microwave ovens. You couldn’t just call for a few pizzas to be delivered or pick up a couple buckets of chicken or Chinese takeout.
Martha had a lot of things to do, and she wanted to do them right. We get the impression that she was an energetic worker—diligent and productive. If she was a member of this congregation, I’m sure she would be found preparing a meal for this or for that event. I bet you could find her in the kitchen, helping to do dishes and cleaning up afterwards. Like the women here at St. John's, she’d be called a good and faithful worker.
Was it wrong for Martha to serve Jesus a meal? Was it wrong of Martha to want to do her very best? Of course not! Martha was simply trying to provide for Jesus’ needs. She was trying to be one of those homes that welcomed Jesus and His disciples and invited them to stay, eat, drink, and share His Word of Life.
But, our text says that Martha was “distracted with much serving.” What was distracting her? What was she being distracted from? (Pause) Serving a meal distracted Martha from listening to Jesus’ Word. Getting upset at the fact her sister was sitting at Jesus’ feet instead of helping her get the meal ready, distracted Martha from cheerful service. She came to Jesus and asked Him: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me!”
I’m sure Martha was taken aback by Jesus' reply: “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.”
It’s not that Martha was entirely off base. She was showing hospitality to the Son of Man who had no place to lay His head. She was welcoming the Savior, and providing for the physical needs of Jesus and His disciples. Those were certainly good things. But, in doing those good things, Martha was missing out on the one thing that is necessary, the better thing that will not be taken away. Simply put, Martha’s priorities were in the wrong place. She was anxious about the details of life, details that in the light of the Kingdom have little or no ultimate significance. Today is the day of salvation; now is the time to receive God’s gifts with quietness of heart and single-minded devotion.
Martha was upset and angry about Mary’s choice and wanted Jesus to correct the wrong. But in fact, the solution was not to take Mary away from the Good News, but for Martha to come near the Good News. Martha could’ve first sat down and listened to Jesus and then served the meal. She could’ve forgone the elaborate banquet, prepared a simple lunch, and then joined Mary at Jesus’ feet. Martha forgot that Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He came for the purpose of serving mankind with His Word. Ultimately, He came to give His life as a ransom upon the cross.
Can you identify with Martha? Oh, there’s nothing wrong with serving others. There’s nothing wrong with teaching Sunday School or helping out at Vacation Bible School. There’s nothing wrong with inviting the neighbors over for supper or volunteering to coach your son’s baseball team. These are good things. We encourage everyone to share their time and talents with their family, neighbors, and our congregation as much as possible. But if such service distracts us from hearing God’s Word and receiving the Sacrament, then it’s not good. If serving our Lord becomes a burden, then it’s not good. If neglecting worship becomes a habit, or worship just becomes an occasional thing here and there, it’s not good. If we’re anxious and troubled about many things not trusting in God, then it’s not good.
If we’re honest, we must admit that like the tax collectors, the sinners, and the outcasts of society... like Martha and Mary, we too, are sinful and in need of God’s grace and mercy. We, too, have let our priorities get out of line. We, too, have let the busyness and worries of everyday life distract us, and cause us to feel resentment, even anger toward others. So what do we do? Where do we turn? (Pause) We turn back to the one thing necessary, the good thing that will not be taken away from us—Jesus’ Word of Life and forgiveness!
Martha was distracted with many things, but for Mary, there was only one thing necessary and that was to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His Word. There was plenty of time to serve a meal. The most important thing–the highest priority–for Mary was to receive from Jesus the Word of God.
David said, “One thing I have asked of the Lord... that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (Psalm 27: 4). The one thing that was most important for David was to be in the gracious presence of the Lord.
After the ten lepers were healed, one of them said to himself, “I have plenty of time to go to the priest and then to my family, but I must turn around and give thanks to Jesus for healing me.” The highest priority for him was to give thanks to Jesus. And so he turned around, fell down at Jesus' feet and gave Him thanks.
A few weeks ago we heard about the demon-possessed man who lived in the region of the Gerasenes. He was often bound in chains and shackles. He lived among the tombs. Jesus came along and cast out the demons. The man was healed. And where did the people find that man? (Pause) He was sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind listening to Jesus.
Jesus once said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). And He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8). He also said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Dear brothers and sisters, the highest priority in your life is to listen to God’s Word and to receive His gifts of life and salvation. His forgiving Word comes to you in Holy Absolution, removing sins of worry, sins of distraction, and sins of anxiety. His Word is delivered from the lectern and the pulpit. And His life-giving Word is fed to you from this altar in Jesus’ very body and blood.
God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus is exactly what we poor, miserable, sinners need. We will not live by bread alone. But the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God is the one thing necessary in our lives. Whether God’s Word is taught, preached, or read it has the power to create and to strengthen faith. God’s Word points us to Jesus who willingly died upon the cross for all of our sin and rose again the third day. God’s Word makes us wise unto salvation. God’s Word calms our fears and refreshes us. It lifts us up and strengthens us. It is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path which points the way to heaven.
Today, God has welcomed you into His house and you came. In our Divine Service, God serves us with His Word and Sacrament. After we have received God’s service to us, then we respond to Him with thanksgiving and praise. We, then, serve our neighbor because of God’s love which first came to us.
Peter’s mother-in-law got it right. First Jesus healed her of her sickness and then she served Him a meal (Luke 4:38-39). In the same way, we too, need to first be healed and fed by His Word, before we serve Him. We must first receive what Jesus has to offer us, before we have anything to offer anyone else.
Our priorities are in the right place when we realize faith first receives what God has to offer. The proper posture of saving faith is not in the busyness of doing things, but in the stillness of listening to the words of Jesus. We have to first hear that life-giving Word. The opportunity for that Word to work in and through our lives will present itself soon enough.
It wasn’t long after Jesus came to Martha and Mary’s house that their brother, Lazarus, died. In order to comfort Martha, Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” And Martha said, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:25-27).
It’s amazing what God’s Word can do. God’s Word had its way with Martha and she believed in Jesus as her Lord and Savior. And being in the Word helped her to hold onto her faith in the storms of life. Even in the midst of her sorrow and mourning, Martha was able to confess her faith in Christ as her Savior and to look forward to His resurrection of the dead.
It’s times like that, you begin to realize where your priorities really should lie. It’s times like that, you desperately need that one thing necessary, that good portion, which will not be taken away, that one thing Mary chose. It’s times like that you need God’s holy Word hidden in your hearts and minds. For only that Word can bring peace in the midst of things you cannot understand. Only that Word can bring hope when all seems hopeless. Only that Word has the power to keep you in the faith and carry you through to life everlasting.
Dearly beloved, God’s Word of Life is your one thing necessary, which will never be taken away. Make sure that the hearing and receiving of God’s Word is the highest priority in your life. For in it, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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