Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Listening: A Consequential Thing

[Below you'll find live stream video from this past Sunday's 8:45 AM traditional and 11:00 AM modern worship services at Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Also below is the text of the message. Have a good week!]

Luke 10:38-42
As we begin our consideration of today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 10:38-42, let’s be clear about what Jesus is not saying. Jesus is not telling Martha (or us) that hospitality is a bad thing. The Bible tells us repeatedly that it’s God’s will for us, both as an expression of our love for Him and our neighbor, that we show hospitality to others.

Our Old Testament lesson this morning, for example, recounts how three strangers showed up at the tent of Abraham and Sarah, the father and mother of ancient Israel, and how they bent over backward to welcome and provide for these visitors. Those visitors turned out to be, I believe, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It’s this incident that informs the call to we Christians found in Hebrews 13:2, in the New Testament: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” On many occasions, Jesus says that in our hospitality toward strangers, more than anything, we extend hospitality to Him. We welcome Him. And that’s a good thing.

But, friends, there are different ways to welcome Jesus. 

One way is exemplified in today’s lesson by Martha, who is busily involved in seeing to it that everyone is fed, everyone’s glass is filled, and everyone has a place to sleep. 

Another way of welcoming Jesus is exemplified by Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His Word.

There are times and places for us to show each kind of hospitality to Jesus, times to get busy with serving, and times to sit and listen to God’s Word. 

Martha did a good thing by inviting Jesus and His entourage to the home she shared with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus. 

But Jesus says that Mary did the better thing, chose “what is better,” by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His Word. (Luke 10:42)

Mary seems to understand that when Jesus, the Word of God, came to the place she lived speaking His Word, telling all who will listen that He has brought the free gift of forgiveness and new life for all people and calling all to trust in Him, it’s time to set down the pots and pans, time to forget about the roast, time to forgo even treasured leisure time activities and listen. 

It was time, in the words of Psalm 46:10, to “Be still, and know that [Jesus is] God…”

Martha seems to think–in the same way that we modern Christians, concerned about the apathy or even hostility toward God that exists in our world, sometimes think: that she had to serve Jesus, that she had to prop Jesus up, that Jesus needed her to throw herself into frenzied action

But there are times when the greatest act of service and worship we can render to God is to hear His Word, receive the assurance of His love and forgiveness, and receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion. In Mark 10:45, Jesus says: “...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) God transforms us from His enemies to His friends and brings His grace into our lives not by what we do for Him, but by what He has done and still doing for us!

Jesus didn’t need a scrap of the food that Martha was preparing for Him; but she needed the Word of life He was serving up as a free gift right there under her roof! So do we…week in and week out.

So what about us? 

Are we too busy to listen to Jesus? 

Are we so involved in activities and projects, at work, at home, even good and laudable ones, that we can’t keep still long enough to hear from Jesus and His Word? The fact that you're here, placing yourself under the Word of God is a very good thing!

That we need Jesus and His Word is a central teaching of the Bible. In the demands of daily life and in the face of overpowering temptation, it can become hard for us to remember that Jesus, God the Son, has already conquered our sins, conquered the power of temptations to separate us from God, and conquered death. It becomes easy when we become absorbed in mountains of activity, some of which may be designed to prove how wonderful we are or even to lift Jesus up to the world that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) 

At the Mount of Transfiguration, the voice of God the Father told Peter, James, and John (and us), “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (Luke 9:35) 

Both for our own salvation and to lend the power of God to our witness and service to others, we need to push the pause button on our sometimes frenzied lives to just listen to Jesus and His Gospel Word. “...faith comes from hearing the message [the message that Jesus, God in the flesh, took our punishment for sin on the cross, then opened up eternity to all who turn to Him], and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17) 

Listen, friends: It’s the Word of Jesus and the Word about Jesus, not our work or our serving or our good deeds, but the Word of Jesus and the Word about Jesus alone, that creates and sustains and grows the gift of faith in Jesus that saves us from sin, death, and hell and saves us for life with God that never ends.

This is why God created the Sabbath day for His ancient people. God wanted them to hear His Word of Law that reminds us of His will and His Word of Gospel by which, through the crucified and risen Jesus, He saves us from the consequence of our complete inability to keep His Law. God commanded ancient Israel in the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) 

Even though today Jesus has liberated the Sabbath so that the grace and new life He brought into the world on the first Easter Sunday is ours every single day of the week, we still need, like Mary, to sit at Jesus’ feet to hear His Word. Regularly.

Being in worship regularly when we could be tailgating at a Bengals game, sleeping in (like I did in the early years of Ann's and my marriage when, she would go to worship, and I'd stay at home worshiping at Saint Mattress of the Springs), or catching up on chores around the house can seem onerous. 

But one pastor pushes back on all that with a little scenario. Imagine, he says, that you’re part of a family that’s had a long day without the time to eat. You’re famished. Then, back home, a family member takes the time to go to the kitchen and fix a meal. Eventually, you’re told, “Come and get it.” It’s unlikely that you’d say, “Do we have to eat again? I ate yesterday.” No, you’d gladly come to eat up the food offered to you because you know you need it to live! At one level, the call to "Come and get it!" may be a law, a command: "You need food. Here it is. Now start eating." But in reality, it's a gracious word of promise, of good news: "Here's the food that I've prepared for you to give you strength and good health." That's why the Sabbath call to worship with God's people and to welcome the Word and Sacraments isn't onerous, but life-giving!

No matter what else happens in your week, you know that on at least one day of the week, Jesus will come to you and His Church just as He came to the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. 

And, as was true then, He will come to you through His Word: read, proclaimed, and even imparted to us in, with, and under simple elements like water, bread, and wine. 

He invites us to feed each week on His grace, forgiveness, and love. 

This is why in his explanation of the Third Commandment–to keep the Sabbath day holy–Martin Luther writes not of a day of grim obligation, but of a day of stillness and humble receptivity to Jesus. “We should fear and love God,” Luther says, “so that we do not despise His Word and the preaching of it, but acknowledge it as holy, and gladly hear and learn it.” 

When we worship with God’s people as often as circumstances allow, whether here in our home church or at another church when we’re on vacation, we join the apostle Peter who once said to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Friends, let’s be fair to Martha. 

There are times for the kind of hospitality she wanted to exercise the day Jesus visited her home. 

But every Sunday, in the Word and the Sacraments, Jesus comes to His Church to call them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. “ (Matthew 11:28) 

In His Word, Jesus works the gift of faith in Him within us. 

He gives us rest in Him. 

He gives us the assurance that He has died and risen for us. 

He announces that He has already done everything needed for our eternal salvation. 

In the end, there is only one thing we really need–Jesus and His Gospel

We need His Word and His Sacraments

Sunday worship may not seem like much to an unbelieving world. Sometimes, it may not seem like much to us. But, friends, joining our sisters and brothers to sit at Jesus’ feet and welcome Jesus and His Word into our hearts and minds and wills each Sunday is the most consequential thing we can do during this and every week we live in this world. Martha’s sister Mary knew that. May we always know it too. Amen