Pentecost 9c

Preached: July 29, 2007

Only One Thing Is Needed
Luke 10:38-42

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out his Holy Spirit on you through his Word and Sacraments. That word before today is Luke 10.

It came about as they traveled that he also went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who also, having sat at Jesus' feet, kept listening to his word. But Martha kept being distracted about so much to do to serve him. She stepped up and said, Lord, aren't you concerned that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to help me.
Jesus replied and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

Listen to the beating heart. That regular rhythm is the difference between life and death for us. We can stop breathing, hold our breath, for a minute or more with no ill effect. But how dangerous if our heart stops for a minute! Or consider the current recommendations for CPR. They recommend thirty chest compressions for every two breaths. It's obvious which is more important.

Yet Jesus directs us this morning to what is even more necessary than a beating heart. In fact, he says, Only one thing is needed (Luke 10:42 NIV), the good thing that Mary had chosen. Let's think about that today.

1. What are the stresses of life that you feel?

What excitement must have filled Martha's house! Jesus was their special guest. But what stress as well! Any of us who have had guests know that stress. We want everything to be just right. And Martha worked hard to make it so. She must have thought, There's so much to do and not enough time. Isn't that what stress does to us? It makes us feel pulled in a hundred different directions at once. So much to do. So many things. And there her sister sat not helping at all. No wonder Martha was worried and upset.

Our modern life is no different. In fact it was less than a hundred years ago that doctors began to use that word stress to refer to the effects of life's anxieties, pressures, worries, and troubles on us. What are your stresses? We're pulled in so many directions: family, work, school, community, church, health, recreation, friends, entertainment. Even when everything is going well, there's stress. How much worse when trouble, disappointment, or tension strikes! We might feel pulled apart at the joints, drawn and quartered by all life's tensions. Just as a rubber band pulled too far breaks under the stress, so also at times we feel like we're ready to snap.

Many solutions have been suggested. One trend that makes the news every once in a while is the lifestyle of simple living also called voluntary simplicity. This lifestyle downsizes from the accumulation of wealth and things. It downshifts from the rapid rat race. It attempts to reduce stress by reducing the number of things we think we need.

2. Why is adding God's Word to our schedule not the same as considering it the one thing that is needed?

But Jesus goes far beyond suggesting downsizing to fewer necessary things. He says that in fact there is only one thing essential, only one thing that's needed.

Now don't misunderstand what he is saying. Sometimes when it comes to God's Word hearing it in worship each Sunday, studying it in Bible class, reading and praying about it at home, sitting at Jesus' feet in these ways, listening as Mary did sometimes we think that Jesus is telling us that his Word is one more thing we need to add to our busy life. And we think, I'm already stressed. I'm already over-committed. How can I possibly set aside time for God's Word!?

Listen carefully to what Jesus says, Only one thing is needed (Luke 10:42 NIV). He's not saying, Add this to your busy schedule. Rather he's saying, Do this first as the one, necessary thing, then everything else will fall into its proper place. Yes, God's Word will cause more stress for you and me if we just try to fit it in as another thing to do on an already overbooked schedule. That's not what Jesus is saying. But it's entirely different when we sit at Jesus feet first, when we seek his kingdom and his righteousness first, when his Word is our first and only priority. Only one thing is needed.

3. How could our trying to serve Jesus get in the way of the one thing that we need?

As we reflect on this text, there is a more focused lesson for active church members like us to take to heart. We've talked about stress in general and being pulled in different directions by our many responsibilities in life. But Martha wasn't being pulled or stressed by earthly pursuits, was she? She was trying to serve her Savior. Her busyness in getting the meal ready was because she loved Jesus and wanted to do what she could for him. But take note of what is better than Martha or us serving Jesus. It is the good thing that Mary had chosen. And what was it that Mary chose? She chose to be served by Jesus, to have Jesus serve her his Word.

Don't misunderstand, your service to Jesus, just as Martha's, is a wonderful fruit of faith. I encourage you to keep on serving out of love for Jesus. But our service to Jesus is not the one thing that's needed. The one thing needed is what Jesus serves to us. He serves you and me his life-giving food that's sweeter than honey. He serves us his Word. So, more important than serving on council or as Sunday school teachers, more important than cleaning the church or providing a meal for a funeral, more important than all our service combined is to sit at Jesus' feet and be served by him, eating up his words. That's the one thing needed.

Yes, I realize that our drive to be useful and helpful will deceive us at times into thinking that sitting in worship or coming to Bible class or reading and praying over God's Word at home, isn't as beneficial as serving our fellow Christians or being a neighbor to others. But listen to what Jesus says, Only one thing is needed (Luke 10:37 NIV). Only his word. Feast on it. Drink it in. For you see, his Word is the pulse that keeps our faith and our service alive.

4. Why is his Word the one thing that is needed?

His Word pumps to us his blood that brings forgiveness. Our life is in Jesus' blood that flowed from his wounds to pay for our sins. In his blood you have forgiveness for all those times that our running around, our busyness, our stressful life has distracted us from the one thing needful. Like a heart, his Word pumps his holy blood to you.

And his Word brings you the Holy Spirit. Just as the heart pumps blood to the lungs to take in oxygen from our breathing, so also his Word brings us the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit, who brings you life, spiritual life. As the Word brings you the Holy Spirit, the Spirit energizes you. Just as the oxygen that our heart pumps to our muscles enables our metabolism to oxidize sugar and produce energy, so the Holy Spirit brings you the energy to serve God and your neighbor. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit works in you both to will and to act according to God's good purpose. That's why when we have God's Word as the one thing needful, all our service to Jesus and all our other responsibilities will fall into place. The Holy Spirit through the Word will give you the wisdom and energy you need.

But unlike our heart that pumps whether we think about it or not, we can choose to ignore God's Word and be preoccupied with all the others things in life or even distracted by our own service to Jesus. But through Baptism the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see the truth. He has opened your mind to understand how important God's Word is. He has shown you Jesus, your Savior, through that Word. He has brought you forgiveness and eternal life through that Word. He has revealed to you God's saving glory and his gracious good will through that Word. He has kindled faith, hope, and love in you though that Word. He has brought you that Word through the Scriptures and Sacraments. Keep that in mind when you decide what to do on a Sunday morning. Keep that in mind when Bible classes are offered this Fall. Keep that in mind when you have your Bible sitting at home. God's Word is the one thing needed. It brings you Jesus, your Savior from sin and death, and all his blessings. Why would we choose anything else? Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313