Sermon, June 28: Just One Thing

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said, but Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Well, of course, Martha was distracted. How would you feel if Jesus and his disciples dropped in for lunch? We probably all grew up hearing that Mary was concerned with Jesus and Martha was worrying about worldly things, but is that really what Luke is saying here?

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus said, “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Do you really think that what he meant was “stop fussing – take out would have been fine”? Or that what he was saying “Stop fussing. I know you’re working hard to make me welcome, but I’d just as soon you didn’t bother.” No.

What was he saying that made listening the better part when his culture insisted that the kind of hospitality Abraham showed the angels was the better part? Luke doesn’t directly say. He tells us about Martha trying to get Jesus to tell Mary to help in the kitchen, but he never tells us what Jesus was saying while Mary sat at his feet and listening.

Perhaps it would help if we thought back to what Jesus has been saying all along. Right before this, was the story we heard last week – the one about the lawyer who first asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, and then answered his own question with quotes he joined from the Scriptures:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It has to matter that these were separate thoughts until he read them together.

Then that same lawyer wondered out loud about who might be his neighbor, and Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The neighbor, he pointed out, is the one who showed compassion in the face of all the rules of the day about nationality and race and religion. The one who let the boundaries between them dissolve so the other’s need became his need, even perhaps, became God’s need. 

Maybe Jesus was telling Mary and Martha that story all over again. Maybe he was talking again about loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving the stranger as yourself. If you were Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, what would you want to hear him say? Probably not something like “Get in the kitchen and help your sister, for heaven’s sake!” Probably not even something like “sitting here in a dreamy haze is the only place you ever need to be. Forget your connection to anything or anyone else on this planet…”

 “Only one thing is needed.” But what is the one thing? Only one thing to gain eternal life? One thing to make you a real person? One thing about how to change the way we treat people at our southern border? How do you “love the stranger as yourself”?

Maybe the one thing needed to love God with your heart and soul and strength is to either sit still or go do, but to do either by opening an space for the other in your heart. Focus on the person, not the situation. Because placing the other at the center of your concern changes everything, doesn’t it? You’ll see need, not confrontation. Humanity, not ancient barriers.

This “one thing that is needed” varies from person to person and from time to time. Maybe what one of us needs at this moment, in order to be loving God and loving neighbor, is to come out of the kitchen and sit with Jesus. Maybe another, in order to be loving God and loving neighbor, needs to get into the kitchen and start serving in his name. What doesn’t ever change is the central importance of the other in our own hearts.

Because here’s the one thing: God didn’t make you to fill a role. God made you so you might come to express – with your own life – “how you see God loving the world.”  For then – only then – can we go and live God’s love.   Amen. 

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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