The text is Mary and Martha which is usually taken as a compare and contrast of two symbols. Martha representing the active life and Mary the contemplative life. But I think that is a bit facile. And I’m basing that on both the immediate context – largely Luke 9-10 – and the life situation that is being displayed. Martha and Mary are not simple cut outs. Both are making choices about actions. And Martha’s request and Jesus’ words are not directed at action, but disordered action. Mary is acting. She is just acting after contemplating the good of the Kingdom. Not what her own anxieties and troubles desired, but what Jesus desired. As a sermon, it is probably a bit subtle. But the take away if I were to force one would simply be ordered action. A gift of the spirit is self-control. In the spirit we have the ability to act with kingdom purpose, not out of our anxiety.
The Text is the Good Samaritan. When you are preaching on such a story you really have to be content with telling the old old story. And as a Lutheran that Old Old story is captured in this incredibly compact story of law and gospel. The law story is clear and is the direct text. You have a lawyer, arguing points of the law, and a command to go and do likewise. The gospel? The gospel is the subtext of the story. Because you eventually realize that the text is impossible. Something or someone must deliver us from this narrative that we have been living. That someone is Jesus the Good Samaritan.
The text is Jesus sending out the 70, or is it the 72? That is one of the few textual questions of the New Testament. Which like all textual questions is ultimately unanswerable. It becomes a matter of faith. But if you side with the King James Version and the manuscript that usually “wins”, 70 opens up a bunch of old testament references that could see their fulfillment in these 70. There is a tie in with Moses’ 70 elders who received a part of his Spirit. The fulfillment being the Priesthood of All Believers where Moses’ wish that all would have the Spirit becomes true. There is a tie in with the teaching authority of the 70 members of the Sanhedrin. The called and ordained ministry sent out with the authority of the Word. And there is a fulfillment of the 70 nations from the table of nations in Genesis 10. The proclamation of Jesus being sent to all the world.
The text is Mary and Martha which has had an outsized influence on Christian history. It is not stretching it to think that the interpretation of this passage shaped Christianity from the 200’s to the Reformation. What I’m speaking of is the separation of the Christian Life into the Active and the Contemplative. But that division, isn’t really fair either to the historical reality or to the larger reality presented in all of Luke 10.
What this sermon attempts to do is understand Mary and Martha in the full context of Luke 10. It ponders how and why Mary represents the one thing needful, while at the same time giving Martha her place as one addressed doubly “Martha, Martha” by the LORD. (Ponder for a second the full list of those addressed this way. It is like finding yourself on a list with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds.) And then it answers how we move from an anxious and troubled place, to the place of holding the one thing needful.
Christians often talk about our freedom in Christ, or at least pastors do, but I’m not sure that we often talk about what the freedom actually is. If we do the farthest we often go might be our freedom from sin. Yes, Christ has freed us from sin. And that is something big. But I think borrowing the Apostle’s analogy, that is the milk of the Christian life. As one grows one needs to eat meat. And what is that meat, or at least some of it? We have not just been freed from sin and because of sin from death, we have also been freed from Satan and the powers and principalities. The Good Samaritan parable is a lesson in Christian freedom. We can be so bound in our identities, the laws, rules and chains of those powers, that we pass-by on the other side. Life – and the Lord who writes that life – presents us we many opportunities to exercise our freedom in being and becoming truly human. In becoming Christlike and triumphing over those powers. We can choose to be neighbors. We can choose to pay the cost of that. We can have our guts churned and be human. Or we can stay bound in identity chains. Christian freedom mean choosing to be a neighbor.
This sermon is a traditional mission day sermon. The sending of the 72. But I took it in a different direction. I wanted to ask a different question, or maybe I should say a question that I think is on many minds. For all the talk of missions and growth in the church, why does it seem like we see little of it? Why knowing that we need revival, does it not happen? To me there are three answers. The first is denial. Hey, it is not so bad. The second in to blame God. And the last is to examine ourselves. And this is where I think our text helps us. Jesus gives a bunch of advice to those on mission. 1) Pray earnestly. 2) Don’t take the moneybag. Depend upon the providence of God as you step out like lambs amidst wolves. 3) Receive the word of peace. And finally, 4) rejoice that your names are in heaven, which I take a reminder to put first things first, which is simply God.
This message might be a bit hot. I admit that. But I think it is true. I think it is a valid answer as to why revival tarries. It is a honest examination of why we know we have a spiritual problem, but it doesn’t go away.
Luke has a habit of telling a powerful story (The Good Samaritan) and following it up with a minor correction (Mary and Martha). That minor correction is the text of this week. (A couple of other examples are the Sermon on the Plain’s teaching about loving you enemies and not judging other (Luke 6:27-42) followed by a tree and its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). The net effect is love your enemy, don’t judge him, but don’t let your brains fall out. Two chapters later you have the parable of the sower & the purpose of the parables (Luke 8:4-15) which emphasize the roll of election followed by the short teaching on a lamp under a jar (Luke 8:16-18). The net effect is that you can’t guess the yield, and many who hear won’t understand, but don’t be overly discriminating is sharing the gospel. Election and mission are not to be placed in opposition.) The Martha and Mary story reminds us of the “one thing needful”. As important as being a neighbor/service is, the one needful thing is Christ. Christ is our neighbor, he came to serve us, so that we could serve others. And the means of that divine service to us is the Word. So this sermon is about the importance of Faith Alone and Word Alone – two thirds of the Reformation Solas – and how because they are Christ’s work, they will not be taken from us.
Recording Note: I’ve left in our closing hymn LSB 583 God Has Spoken by His Prophets. I think the stretch from prophets to now and the focus on the unchanging message of Christ alone captures the solidness of the promise. Nations rise and fall, the world’s despair and turmoil seems never ending, but God abides with us. We have a sure anchor. And it will not be taken from us.
I am always amazed as the lectionary’s ability to be a very appropriate text for the day. In a week of horror, the Gospel lesson was the Good Samaritan. There are no easy answers, but all of the answer start right there in contemplating mercy. This sermon attempts to do that in light of the week’s events, and a lawyer who asks “what shall I do?”
Worship planning is consistently one of those spaces where the work of the Spirit is evident. We plan services typically from a couple weeks in advance to a couple of months. We try to do 6-8 every time we meet, and we meet roughly every other month. So when you pick the hymns that far out, you really have no idea what will be happening. But I’ve rarely had a Sunday where the hymns just seemed out of touch. Much more often they are spookily on point. Often to the point of scratching my head: a) how did we pick this one and b) how is it so right. The hymn I left in the recording was the one we sang after the sermon. LSB 844, Where Charity and Love Prevail. The text is from a 9th century Latin work. It was translated and paraphrased circa 1990. The music it is paired with in the Lutheran Service Book is 17th century common meter work originally for the 24th psalm. The composer, Lucius Chapin was a soldier at Ticonderoga and Valley Forge. The hymn is spot on for meditation this week.
Program Note: I’m sorry about possible recording quality. I’ve been having a little trouble with the line volume. I think the pulpit mic might be going out, so the altar mic is doing all the recording except for occasional pops. I’ve amplified and leveled the signal such that I think its okay. The altar mic is a real good one and the system isn’t bad, but I’ve got some wire work to do.
The text for the day is often appropriated for mission Sundays, and it can work that way. Biblical texts are multivalent in that there are often multiple appropriate understandings of them. But I don’t think that the sending of the seventy-two is primarily about lay evangelism. Using it to preach that people in the pews should be ready and able to share their faith misses a distinction. That is better preached from something like 1 Peter 3:15. The distinction which is missed using it for that is that the 72 are the new elders of Israel. There are traditions that don’t have an ordained ministry, but the apostolic church, following Jesus here, did set aside those called – think Stephen and the Seven deacons and Timothy and Titus and those Paul sent Titus to appoint and lay on hands. When the apostles did that they were following Jesus here.
What Jesus does here is give the charter for that office. When that office is functioning within bounds as intended what does it do? It preaches peace. It seeks to heal those of the house. It proclaims the reign of God. What this sermon does is attempt to do that while providing examples.
Music Note: I have left in two of the hymns. Our opening hymn Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing (LSB 584) is a wonderful prayer for the opening of service that mirrors Jesus’ words to pray to the Lord of the Harvest. The hymn of the day has a wonderful message, but I left it in primarily because of the tune – We Are Called to Stand Together (LSB 828). Both of them are newer hymns the texts written by people living at the time of hymnal publication (2006) and the tunes as well, although Holy Manna is a new setting of an older hymn tune. The text of We are called mirrors the progression of the sermon moving from Patriarch, Prophets and Apostles through ages to us. The urge is to continue in each generation to proclaim the truth, that the reign of God has come near to you with His peace. That time will end, when we will all be united, but till then we tell the story.
Mary and Martha. That used to be the jumping off point for a bunch of buddy stories. But the text is not about a conflict of personality. The revisionist and womanist (or is it womynist) preacher makes great hay out of this text. Martha is the enforcer of accepted patriarchal social scripts which Mary chooses to ignore. Jesus backs up her choice securing her already grasped freedom. (Just to be clear, Mary moves first, Jesus just gives moral support). But that would seem to be majoring in minors – although there is enough truth you can’t just scoff.
The context is the help. Last week was the good Samaritan and in previous weeks the 70 were sent out and great things are happening. The whole contingent is on the move. They are doing great things. The disciples, and us the reader, could be forgiven for taking the point of the Christian life as being a heroic do-gooder. And then we see the ultimate do gooder. Martha is serving everyone…and Mary just sits. Jesus, do you mean what you’ve been saying?
Like Martha, the church is full of care and distracted by all the things that need taken care of. And there will be plenty of opportunity to serve. Nobody ever gets in your way when you don the role of the servant. But the world, the devil and our own flesh will labor mightily to keep us from the Word. Service not grounded first and firmly in the Word of God is just so much trouble. The one needful thing – the one thing that we can’t go without is the Word. And that is typically presented as a choice. Do we choose the feet of the Jesus, or our cares? Everything else shall pass away, but what is done at the foot of the cross will never be taken away.