“Sitting or Serving?” (Sermon on Luke 10:38-42, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

“Sitting or Serving?” (Luke 10:38-42)

The committee brings before the assembly Resolution 10-01, “To Affirm the One Thing Needful”:

WHEREAS, The Gospel of Luke in Bylaw 10.38 – 10.42 describes the activities of Mary and Martha; and

WHEREAS, In that section we are told that, of their two activities, one thing is necessary or needful; therefore be it

RESOLVED, That the Synod in convention select and affirm the one thing needful.

Delegates, the resolution is before you. If you wish to vote for “Sitting at the Lord’s feet,” you will press “1.” If you wish to vote for “Much serving,” press “2.” Please vote now. . . .

Dear friends in Christ, please forgive me for speaking the language of resolutions and bylaws and voting. For that is the strange world I have been living in for the past eight days–eight mind-numbing days of deliberating hundreds of proposed resolutions and their amendments, learning to distinguish between a “point of order” and a “point of information,” hearing “Mr. Chairman, I call the question,” and pressing the buttons on my keypad so many times that my index finger has developed carpal tunnel syndrome. I am “One Man–Wiped Out”!

Like the 1200 other delegates who were gathered in Houston for our church’s convention, I have been anxious and troubled about many things, and I have been distracted with much serving. Maybe you have, too. Oh, not as a synodical delegate, but perhaps in other ways equally tiring and distracting. Men’s Club, Ladies’ Guild, fixing light fixtures and preparing luncheons–that sort of thing. And so our text this morning is especially appropriate for us weary servers.

You see, it was Martha who was “anxious and troubled about many things” and was “distracted with much serving.” In our little voting exercise of pressing 1 or pressing 2, Martha would have chosen 2, “Much serving.” But her sister Mary pressed 1, “Sitting at the Lord’s feet.” And “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Today I am here to tell you, “Press 1.” Sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to his teaching is indeed the one thing needful. It’s not that serving the Lord and his church with much serving is wrong or bad. In fact, it is good and can be very helpful. But it is not the one thing needful. The problem comes when we mistake number 2 for number 1, when serving takes the place of sitting, when, like Martha, we do the serving at the expense of the sitting. For really, it is sitting at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ and listening to his word and receiving from him–this truly is the one thing needful. It is the one thing, the only thing, that will give us life, the one thing that will give us what we need to receive as a gift, because we cannot produce it on our own, no matter how hard we work–but which will, at the same time, enable and empower our dedicated serving in ways that are helpful to the church.

Sitting at the feet of Christ and listening to him is the one thing needful. Here’s why. We have a need only he can meet. It is the need of forgiveness, the need of salvation. And we cannot meet that need that on our own, by our own work. No, our ways and our works are tainted with sin. Even the working and the serving of a dedicated woman like Martha–she needed forgiveness, she needed salvation.

And so do you and I. Our deeds are befouled with our sinful, selfish thoughts and desires–the desire for applause and approval, the desire to make ourselves look good, to pull a “one-up” over our sister or our brother. Yes, even in our “much serving,” we do these things. And these sins are evidence of our inner sinful nature, from which we cannot free ourselves. We need–we still need, even as Christians–we need God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

That is why Christ came, my friends, to meet that need we could never meet. As our Epistle from Colossians tells us, “You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he–Christ–has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” It is the much serving of Christ that saves us! He chose to serve creation, to serve you and me, by his innocent suffering and sacrificial death. The Son of God, by the blood he shed for us on the cross, cleanses us from our sins, frees us from our bondage to death, liberates us for new life and service, and forgives us, time and time again, whenever we become anxious and troubled and distracted.

And so that is why we need to sit at our Lord’s feet and receive from him. That is why you have come here this morning. Mary, you have chosen the good portion, and that will not be taken from you. For here, we are listening to our Lord speak his words of comfort and assurance to us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and troubled, and I will give you rest.” This is what our Savior is saying to all us weary, wiped-out servers today. Martha, come and sit here and receive forgiveness for your sins. Come and lay down your burden and listen for a while. Come and receive new life and strength for renewed, dedicated service.

“Sitting or Serving?” Sitting at our Lord’s feet and receiving from him–that is number 1. Much serving for our Lord, in his church–that is number 2. “1,” sitting, is the one thing needful. “2,” serving, is OK too, as long as it stays number 2. The delegates will please remember to keep the order straight.

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