Sunday, July 21, 2013

Giving or Receiving (Sermon preached July 21, Proper 11-C)

Sermon Text: Luke 10:38-42

 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

In the name of T Jesus.

            Too much of a good thing, can be a bad thing.  You want to be a good husband and father, so you work to provide for your wife and your kids.  Out of love for your wife and children you work hard, and you are dedicated, and your boss is pleased, and you are being considered for that promotion, and you will likely be able to provide even more to your wife and children.  And so you work, and you work, and you work, until the good thing called work, has started to become a bad thing, and has begun to keep you from the one thing that you’ve forgotten was the necessary thing.  The ushers and greeters welcome your family, and are glad to see them coming for the Divine Service, but it’s been a while since they’ve seen you.  You’ve been working.  Too much of a good thing, can be a bad thing.
            Of course Martha wasn’t a father, but she was working hard to impress her Lord.  Like Mary, and her brother Lazarus, who didn’t make it in to this story, Martha had a deep friendship with Jesus, and loved him very much.  Like many women, Martha knew that the keeping of her house, and the giving of a warm welcome was a way that she could show Jesus how much she thought of him.  If it was good to give a hearty welcome to the seventy-two disciples Jesus had sent out to preach in his name, how much more important would it be to warmly welcome the Lord Jesus Himself, and to give him a feast that would show him how much you think of him.
Like a father whose absence from the family when they attend the Divine Service is the result of a desire to do good by his wife and children, Martha’s absence from the presence of the Christ was not the result of her despising God’s Word, or refusing to believe, or desiring to be elsewhere.  Martha loved the Lord Jesus.  She was working so hard in order to show him that love.  Like a father who is consumed by his work and doesn’t realize that his noble pursuits are the very thing that is keeping him from joining his family on the Lord’s Day to come to the Lord’s House, and to be fed with the Lord’s Word—which are the only words that have the power to bring life—Martha’s absence from the presence of the Christ was caused by too much of a good thing, becoming a bad thing.
All week, you work, and you work, and your work.  You work to be a good husband or wife.  You work to be good parents, or an obedient child.  You work to be successful in your job, or to get good grades.  You work to keep up your home.  You work to improve in your sport, or on your instrument.  You work to make a difference in the community.  You work at volunteering and serving in the congregation.  You work, and you work, and you work.  And much of this work is done in love and service to your neighbor.  And all of this work is good, right, and salutary.  But it’s while you’re working that you anxious and troubled about many things because of your work.
Despite your best efforts, your haven’t loved your spouse as well as you want.  Though you love your children dearly, you know how easily you can think of them as a burden.  And while you children honestly do try to honor your parents, it can be difficult to show them respect when you can’t seem to understand why they have the rules they do.  And then you go to work, or you go to school, and the demands on your time and your energy are relentless.  And your congregation keeps asking you to become more involved in their work.  And, like Martha, you begin to believe that the solution to your anxiety, and the answer to your many troubles is to rededicate yourself so that this will be the week you start to do the things you want, until finally, the anxiety, and pressure of trying to impress even God Himself by how hard you work has worn you down, and beaten you down, and left you fatigued, and angry, and wondering when it will ever end.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen this happen, I’d be rich—and I’ve only been a pastor for six years.  We work, and we work, and we work.  And we do it with good intentions—with our hearts in the right place, so they say.  But what happens, time and time again, is that our good work begins to keep us from the one thing which Jesus says is actually needful.  Whether it be as a father, working hard to provide for your family, or as a wife and mother who compares herself to every blogging woman who appears to be able to do everything, or a college student who will not take a break from his studies, or a young athlete or musician whose practicing, and games, and concerts require him to be absent from the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day; or even if it is the greeters, ushers, Acolytes, Altar Guild, the musicians, or any other form of service that is good, right, and salutary on its own: when it begins to keep you from the one thing that Jesus says is needful, then too much of a good thing, has become a bad thing, and we need to hear the voice of Jesus.
Martha, Martha, he says.  And you can almost hear the tender affection he speaks with.  He’s not scolding her.  He has pity on her.  For she thinks that the cleanliness of her home, or the quality of the food, or even the amount of work she has done in order to give him a proper welcome could somehow make Him love her more.
“Martha, Martha, he says to her.  You are anxious and troubled about many things. You’re worried about pleasing me, and impressing me, and you think that if you can just do more work, I will see how much you love me.  But one thing is necessary, Martha.  There is one thing that is necessary.  There is one thing that will calm your anxiety.  There is one thing that will give you peace.  There is one thing that will feed you with everlasting food.  There is one thing that will lead you to paths of righteousness.  There is one thing that will assure you, that nothing can separate you from the love of God.  There is one thing that is necessary, Martha, and it’s not your work.  It’s my Word.”
Luther said, “Any observance or work that is practiced without God’s Word is unholy before God.”  He added, “This is true no matter how brilliantly a work may shine….For other works and occupations are not properly called holy exercises, unless the person is holy first. …This is done only through God’s Word.  For this reason, particular places, times, persons, and the entire outward order of worship have been created and appointed” (LC, Part 1, 93-94).  Jesus says it like this, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
When Jesus says, “Martha, Martha,” he could be speaking your name or mine.  And he speaks it out of love for you, who have been laboring in your work, and are heavy laden by your anxieties and troubles.  He knows the pressure that you feel at your job.  He knows that you’re trying to be the best you can be.  He knows that you just want to work hard, and please him.  But he knows how easily your work can keep you from the one thing that you do need.  And he knows that too much work can keep you from Him, and that, you see, is a very bad thing.  For if your work is keeping you from coming to hear the Word of Jesus, then it will be your work that will work you to death.
It is good to work.  And it is good to give.  But when Jesus desires to give, and when Jesus is there to give, it is always better to receive.  The Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.  The Day of the Lord is a gift given by the Lord for us to set aside our work, so that Jesus might get to work and we would be fed, and nourished, and forgiven, and encouraged, and strengthened, by the Word of Jesus given to us on the Lord’s Day, in the Lord’s House, through the Lord’s Word.
It is good to work, but the highest work you do, is the work you do in faith to receive the gifts that Jesus freely gives you.  This is what Martha needed to be reminded of, and in a world where you are rewarded in every aspect of your life because of the work you do, sometimes you need to be reminded, that in the Kingdom of God, you will be rewarded, not for what you do, but because of what you receive.
You see, the highest form of worship is to receive what it is that Jesus comes to give.  From the cross down to you.  And that’s why Jesus tells Martha, that Mary has chosen the good portion.  Both of them love Jesus.  Both of them want to welcome Jesus.  But only Mary was willing to set aside her work, to sit at His feet, and receive whatever it was that Jesus came to give.  By doing that—by sitting and receiving Jesus’ Word—Mary gave Jesus the greatest welcome possible.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has called you to serve your neighbors in a many and various ways through the holy vocations He has given you.  And the work you do in the context of these vocations is good, right, and salutary.  It is pleasing in His sight when you strive to love your spouse, and to serve your children, and be obedient to your parents, and to work hard at your job, and to help out in the work of the church.  But too much of a good thing, can be a bad thing.  And when any of your work, begins to keep you from coming, and hearing the preaching of Jesus, then your work must be set aside, so that you might join the faithful, who will be gathered on the Lord’s Day, in the Lord’s House, to hear the Lord’s Word.  For in that Word, Jesus will be giving you rest.  And you who are weary and heavy laden, will be blessed to receive it, so that when you return to your work, you might actually have something to give.  In the name of T Jesus.  Amen.

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