The Most Important Thing / Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 10:38-42

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

If you’ve ever hosted an event at your house, a Super Bowl party, a holiday meal, a book club meeting, or even a child’s fourth birthday party, you know that there are a hundred little details that need to be taken care of before the guests arrive. And one or two details could make the difference between a great event and a hosting nightmare. So, it takes a certain spiritual gift and an inner fortitude to be a good host. Not everyone is cut out for this job.

A mom visit her son at his first-ever apartment. When she and her husband walked in, her son asked if they would like a cold drink. The mother was so proud of her son for being a gracious host. She said, yes, what do you have? He opened his refrigerator door, stared in for a few seconds, then said, I have pickle juice or water. What a choice! I’m guessing they drank the water.

What about when the candles on a patio table fell over and set the whole table on fire? Or when 50 guests arrived for brunch just as the city utility department cut off the water. Or trying to make a new chicken recipe that turned out so bad that you had throw the whole thing away and ordered pizza instead.

Every time I read our scripture lesson, I wonder how Martha had the energy and skill to host a large group of people on short notice. Our lesson for today begins, as Jesus and His disciples were on their, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. As she rushed around making preparations, she noticed that Mary, her sister, wasn’t helping her. Where was she? She was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach.

Verse 40 reads, but Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. The Greek word used here for “distracted” literally means “to drag all around.” Have you ever experienced this? You feel like you’re dragging around others’ demands on your time and energy. You’re dragging around others’ expectations and standards. You’re dragging around other people’s priorities. Of course, Martha was stressed out!

A great definition of fear that fits our Bible story is that fear stands for “future event already ruined.” Isn’t that what happens when we get worried and distracted and weighed down by others’ demands? That’s exactly what Martha was experiencing in our story today: future event already ruined. So, she brought her fear and her stress to Jesus.

In this life, our time is limited, but our demands are endless. Most of us live in a permanent state of distraction and anxiety because we have a limited amount of time and energy to deal with an unlimited number of options. And this wasn’t God’s design for human beings.

In Genesis chapter 2, verse 2, God rested from His work of creating the universe. God, who has infinite power and lives outside of time, rested from His work. Because there was no more work to be done? No. Because rest is essential for health and peace and restoration. Rest is essential for joy. At some point, if we want to live the life God made us for, we have to lay down our burdens to take up the rest that God offers us.

In my years of working with dying people, I’ve discovered the five most common regrets are these:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends

I wish I had let myself be happier.

Anytime someone at the end of their lives says, “I wish I had . . .” we need to stop and listen. In this life, our time is limited, but our demands are endless. How do we keep from getting dragged around by the constant demands on our time? And what would it look like to live the life God made us for?

Jesus shows us how to live with no regrets. I bet some of you are confused right now. You think this is the point in the sermon where I’m supposed to praise Mary for choosing the better way. And it would be easy to make this Bible story into a competition between Team Mary and Team Martha. But Jesus’ actions, His priorities, are what impress me most in this passage.

Let’s go back to the first verse in this passage again. Verse 38 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. As Jesus and His disciples were on their way. On their way where? We’ve been talking about this for four weeks now. They’re on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Only Jesus knows that He is on His way to His arrest, torture, and crucifixion. The truth is, Jesus is on the way to His death.

If anyone had the right to be distracted and anxious about many things, Jesus had that right. And yet, He wasn’t. What was the secret to His peace? His life had a singular focus: sharing the truth and love of God through teaching, preaching, and healing. His priorities were clear. His focus was unwavering. His mind was at peace, and His life was effective. And Jesus wants that same peace and effectiveness for each of us.

There will always be too much to do, and once you realize this, the freer you will be. Today more than ever, there’s just no reason to assume anything will fit between the demands on your time, all the things you would like to do, or feel you ought to do, and the amount of time available. The only solution is to modify your life spent trying not to neglect anything, to one spent consciously choosing what to neglect, in favor of what matters most.

I think Jesus would agree with this idea that we need to proactively and consciously choose what to neglect in favor of what matters most. We can’t do it all. We can’t have it all. In fact, the “all” we are looking for can’t be achieved by our labor. The “all” we so desperately need for peace and fulfillment and happiness can only be found in knowing God. Jesus knew that, and He focused His time and energy accordingly. Mary understood that, so she neglected her hosting duties to sit at Jesus’ feet and enjoy her time with Him.

A tourist is standing in front very tall statue of Jesus, and looked disappointed. A local resident asked what his problem was. He replied, I cannot see His face. The resident explained, if you want to see His face, you must kneel at His feet.

If we desire to see Jesus’ face, if we want to find the purpose of our life in the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then we need to kneel at His feet. We can’t get to know Him if we are rushing around chasing after our own agenda. It’s time to lay down our burdens and take up the relationship God offers us.

You’ll never have time for everything, so focus your time on the most important thing. In verses 41-42 of our Bible passage, Jesus says, Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what’s better, and it won’t be taken away from her.

When Martha brought her stress and her complaints to Jesus, He heard her deepest need. He wanted Martha’s soul to catch up to her body. So, He encouraged her to follow Mary’s example and neglect her work in favor of resting and enjoying time with Him. He was saying to her and to us, lay down your temporary burdens and take up My eternal purpose. It’s the only thing you need, and it’s the only thing that can never be taken away from you. How would it change your life if you believed that?

Stress comes from the sense that someone always needs something from you. Peace comes from the realization that you need something from God. The one thing we need, the only thing that can never be taken away from us, is our love for Jesus Christ. And this love will change everything about our lives. It will decide what gets us out of bed in the morning. What breaks our hearts. What amazes us with joy and gratitude. And that love comes from spending time at Jesus’ feet. So, I encourage you to lay aside your agenda and your distractions and spend time praying, meditating, worshiping Jesus every day. Fall in love with Him, stay in love with Him, and it will decide everything.