Last week we heard about an expert in the Law, who didn’t think he needed Jesus. He believed he was obeying the Law well enough that God should bless him in this life and take him to heaven for the next. Jesus used the Parable of the Good Samaritan to show this man he wasn’t doing as well as he thought. He wasn’t loving his neighbor as himself, and therefore wasn’t loving God as he should either. He needed a savior.

This morning we meet two sisters, Mary and Martha. They had no doubt in their minds they needed a Savior. However, we learn from the example of one of them, that the desire to feel good about ourselves by what we do always stays with us. We need to fight that desire, because trying to feel good by what we do can get us into all kinds of conflicts. Worse, it can lead us away from Jesus. So, am I saying we shouldn’t be doing good things? I’m not saying that at all. God wants us to do good to all people. But our text this morning shows us the best way. 1. Always start by listening to Jesus’ Word. 2. Then joyfully use the gifts and opportunities He gives.

Our text reads, “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.” It used to be that pastors could make house calls. We could even stop in unannounced and people would say, “O Pastor, I’m so glad to see you”, and then start asking questions.

People aren’t glad to see us anymore – at least not at their homes. They could be going through a terrible problem. But if we call and ask, “May I stop over?”, they’ll say, “No, no, no, I’ll come to your office.” Hey, pastors don’t care if there are dirty snack dishes on the end tables or clean laundry piled on the kitchen table. But if you think it’s rough having a pastor come to your house, think how Martha felt when Jesus and the 12 apostles showed up. Clutter went flying into cupboards and she started cooking up a storm. She also started getting angry – first at her sister, May, and then even at Jesus.

We read, “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 was wrong to accuse Jesus of not caring. Yet let’s look at the situation through her eyes. I believe she wanted things to be nice for Jesus. That’s a good thing. He’s our creator. He’s our Redeemer. He deserves our best. However, since Jesus isn’t visibly present with us today, what is our best? Well, we want our house of worship to be spotless. Oops, we got wires hanging down in the corner. Or, we want our singing to be perfect. Oops, during that last hymn, I don’t know who it was, but one of you out there was singing off key. And, we especially want the bulletin to be perfect. Oops!

With all our oops(s) maybe we don’t want Jesus here at all. Maybe we should all just meet Him at His office in heaven – well, no, we still have more work to do here. So, we do want Jesus here with us. Furthermore, our worship isn’t about US being perfect. Rather it’s about listening to Jesus’ Word in the liturgy, the hymns, the readings and the sermon. However week after week, how can we stay excited for the Word? How do we not fall into, “I’ve heard that before, and so it’s more important that I get this work done, or that I get some down-time, so I can do more later”?

Our text reads, “"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."” The desire to put listening to Jesus ahead of everything else comes from what Jesus had told 72 evangelists earlier in this chapter. They had just come back from some exciting work. They had preached the Gospel. They had performed miracles in Jesus’ name. Perhaps souls had been won for eternal life. Yet their joy wasn’t to be over what they did. Rather, they were to rejoice that God had written their names in the book of life.

That will be our greatest joy also, if we really listen to the Word. You see, the Word exposes to us our natural born pride, our failures to fear, love and trust God above all things, our unwillingness to let go of bitterness and be patient with others just as God forgives and is patient with us. However, the Word not only destroys all our attempts at feeling good about ourselves by what we do, the Word points us to Jesus.

Everything He did was in our place. And so, our lives and much less our homes don’t have to be perfect in order for God to feel good about us. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place. Likewise, we don’t have to punish ourselves with guilt or feel God is punishing us every time something goes wrong, because Jesus died on the cross in our place. So, does this mean we don’t have to help those in physical or spiritual need, and we can become spiritual slobs? Why would we want to be like that? Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven in our place. But where the head is, the body follows, and that’s why we want to serve Him. And that’s also why we want to continue in the Word, so each new day we can experience His inner peace and joy.

Another blessing of listening to Jesus’ Word is strength. They always say the time to buy flood insurance is before the hurricanes hit. Or, the time to buy house insurance is before there’s a wildfire coming down your street. In the same way, the floods of troubles – you know just one thing after another, will come, and so will the fires of affliction that all but burn up our faith. The time to grow in the Word is BEFORE those things come. But then if and when they do come, we’ll not only get through them, but our faith will become stronger, brighter, purer. As a result, we will also have perseverance. We’ll be able to hang in there doing the things that need doing, because we’ll be able to recognize how God got us through the past, and we’ll know His promises for the future as well.

But there are even more blessings from listening to Jesus, the Word gives us a quiet wisdom in dealing with others. Then we can be quick to listen and slow to become angry, and even when we do become angry, we’ll be able to speak the truth in love to builds others up, not tear them down.

So, have you been more like Mary or Martha? Have you been growing daily in the blessings of the Word, or have you been trying to feel good about yourself by what you do? The best way, no, the only real way to serve Jesus is by first listening to His Word, because only when we’re rejoicing in Him that we are ready to use the gifts and opportunities He gives.

Let’s see how this played out with Mary and Martha. Well, actually God doesn’t tell us what happened next. Did Jesus miraculously make food for all of them like at the feeding of the 5000? Or, when His Bible lesson was over, did He send both Mary and Martha back to the kitchen to finish dinner? There’s still a third option. Maybe Jesus went into the kitchen with them, because humility before God means that no work is beneath any of us. If it needs doing, it needs doing, and it’s an opportunity for us to thank Jesus for all that He’s done for us.

However, sometimes there are works we aren’t able to do. And maybe it’s not that we don’t want to, but we’re not wired for it. Then the things we are wired for are our opportunity to serve Jesus. Yet that we can’t do certain things doesn’t make us less important than those who can, because remember, feeling good about ourselves isn’t in what we do. Rather, it’s in what Jesus did for us, which also means we are now free to grow. We are free to learn and make mistakes as we learn, and Jesus can work even through that for good. So, in Mary and Martha terms, don’t be afraid to try to recipes. Or, in the 72 evangelists’ terms don’t be afraid to tell someone what Jesus has done for you. It’s fun to serve Jesus! It’s fun to seize the opportunities He gives, but again only if we’re first taking time for Jesus’ Word.

Unfortunately that can be the hardest work of all. For example why is it that if a tire’s going to go flat, or if the kids are going to be cranky, or if the dog’s going to get sick, it’s always when we’re getting ready for church? The same is true when we’re trying to read our Bibles at home. Something is always coming up – a phone call, a click here. In all those things maybe God is giving us an opportunity to exercise our faith by having to look for ways to put His Word first. Also, remember Jesus’ words to Martha, “"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."” A person may start out wanting to serve the Lord and build up His Kingdom. But without a childlike faith that comes from the Word, they devil can wear a person down. He can turn the joys of service into conflict, and then that person may loose out on serving. On the other hand, the compounding blessings of the Word can never be taken from us, as long as we continue in it. And then too Jesus will keep giving us new opportunities to serve Him, which will also mean more opportunities for more oops(s), but that’s okay. It’s not about us. It’s all about Jesus, and remembering that is the best way to serve Him. Amen.

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