Text: Luke 10:38-42
Date: Pentecost VIII (Proper 11) + 7/18/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, Rochester Hills, MI
The ninth and tenth chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel have, among other things, addressed what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It is a matter of repentance, a complete turning away from sin and the world, of God-given, justifying faith, and that faith active in love. The Evangelist ends the tenth chapter with the little incident at the house of Mary and Martha. It is an illustration of the priorities and roles of faith and hospitality. As you will see, it has a valuable lesson concerning the worship of the Church.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that quite a few people (mainly pastors) are either not real knowledgeable or at least not very careful about things when it comes to worship. A week ago I made a comment about how the people that planned the opening communion service for the Synod convention confused the Kyrie (which is the opening prayer of the heart, “Lord, have mercy”) with the previous confession of sins, oddly placing the absolution or forgiveness after the Kyrie before the Hymn of Praise. Another confusion or mistake I see quite often these days (including at the convention) is calling the main Sunday service “Divine Worship” instead of “Divine Service.” In our hymnal the phrase comes from a translation of the German word “Gottesdienst,” “dienst” being translated “service.” You may ask, “What’s the difference between Divine Service and Divine Worship?” Ah! It reveals a fundamental difference in understanding what’s happening when we gather for worship. For to call it “Divine Worship” emphasizes our activity of worshiping the Divine, worshipping God. But “Divine Service” says that what’s happening here is primarily or at least initially God coming to serve us; to serve us in His Word and Sacrament, dispensing forgiveness, the strengthening of faith, the gift of eternal life, the gift of salvation. The emphasis must be primarily on what God is doing not on what we’re doing.
I could go on….
Here the pastor handles and describes the symbolism of the fair linen on the altar, the corporal, the veil, chalice, purificator, paten, priest host, pall, ciborium, flagon and other things.
The pastor expresses some anxiety over the proper preparations of the altar, etc. Then, acting like he’s been distracted, he apologizes and goes back to the pulpit.]
Excuse me. That was just a little “Martha” moment. But these things are important. Not only are they the “proper” way of doing things but they express the sacred nature of handling and receiving nothing less than the blessed Word and the body and sacred blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. These things are important.
The point is, when it comes to the worship of God and table fellowship with our Lord, Mary and Martha in today’s Gospel do not demonstrate a wrong way and a right way. Obviously there was nothing wrong with Mary choosing not to help Martha but rather to sit at Jesus feet to hear Him speak. Likewise there was nothing wrong with Martha hurrying and scurrying about to be the best hostess she could be, possibly not only for Jesus but also the twelve and maybe even at least some of the seventy-two with them! Jesus did not rebuke either Mary or Martha. He merely indicated that He valued the activity of each of them differently, calling Mary’s action “the good portion.”
Jesus praised Mary because there are priorities. We have things quite backwards if we think we must serve Jesus first. Our worship should reflect the truth that, on our own, we have nothing to offer God that can win the least of His mercies. By our fallen, sinful condition, when it comes to things spiritual such as repentance, faith and salvation, we are helpless, powerless. God must first come to us, seek us out, speak His mighty Word of Law and Gospel to awaken repentance in the heart, that is, true sorrow over sin, and faith that looks to God to give what we truly need. No, God must first come to serve us. Real worship and therefore real hospitality to the Lord begins, like Mary, with our passive reception of God’s Word.
For what are we receiving in God’s Word and by His Spirit working through that Word? Having come to the point of recognizing our need and confessing our sin, we receive the forgiveness of sins through the Word spoken and believe that forgiveness as if Christ Himself were speaking to us. For that forgiveness is not just a pious wish, but an established fact, established by the payment of His body and blood crucified and shed on the cross for the sins of the whole world. That’s important. Because of Christ’s sacrifice there all sin has been paid for and won. Yet such a gift must be received and believed. For such is the pride of the sinful nature that many will not believe it nor accept it. Nevertheless, the gift is there for all, no matter who you are or what you have done: forgiveness, reconciliation and the promise of eternal life in the day of the resurrection of all flesh. You receive that forgiveness and life now by God’s declaration in His Word, in your holy baptism, in your hearing and receiving of Holy Absolution.
Now, only after receiving God’s gifts of mercy and grace is it time for any action on our part, the response of faith. And how does faith respond to such a gift?
I would remind you that this is precisely why the order of service is the way it is. God first comes to us in His Word, the scripture readings and sermon. Only then does faith respond in the Hymn of the Day, confessing the Creed, praying the Prayer of the Church, the offering of ourselves to God’s service and, finally, the giving of thanks and receiving the Sacrament of the Altar.
Listen to how clearly we make this distinction in our Lutheran Confessions. I read from the fourth article of the Apology (or defense) of the Augsburg Confession.
“The difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the divine service that receives the benefits offered by God. The righteousness of the Law is the divine service that offers to God our merits. God wants to be worshiped through faith so that we receive from Him those things He promises and offers.” (IV:49)
“The virtue is faith. As it has often been said, faith is not just knowledge. But it is willing to receive or take hold of those things that are offered in the promise about Christ. Furthermore, this obedience toward God (i.e., to want to receive the offered promise) is no less a divine service than is love. God wants us to believe Him and to receive from Him blessings. He declares this to be true divine service.” (IV:227-228).
In other words, faith is the highest worship. And what does this worship look like? Like Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet, hearing Him speak, receiving His Word. Faith initially does nothing but receive. But then it also moves to praise of God and service to neighbor.
Now the Christian life is always going to be a combination of Mary and Martha, that is of attending to the Word of God and attending to the loving works of service that issue from faith. After all, you do need to prepare the altar before the Divine Service actually takes place. Yet such loving service of all who do not only the preparations before but also after the service, such works proceed from a heart of faith placed there and strengthened and nourished by God through His means of grace.
Continue to be like Mary. Continue to receive the Word, the strengthening of faith and all the gifts God has for you. Then continue also to be like Martha. Continue to serve the Lord with gladness by serving His people, your brothers and sisters in the faith, and by serving the world in your works of charity and bold confession of faith. Continue to receive and to serve. God continue to bless and to save.