At the Lord's Feet

Text: Luke 10:38-42
Date: Pentecost IX (Proper 11) + 7/21/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. When He comes to you, as we have heard the past couple of Sundays, you are to receive Him. But it matters how you receive Him, either in faith or with other motives or not at all. Today St. Luke tells us that while it is good, proper and even expected for us to serve our Lord, such faith and love can happen only if and when we first allow the Lord to serve us.

You will recall the Evangelist’s stated purpose for penning his Gospel when he began by addressing himself to someone named Theophilus. Whether this was an actual individual Luke was mentoring in the faith or a symbolic reference to whoever reads his Gospel as a “theo phileo” or “friend of God,” one of Luke’s intentions in the arrangement of stories is to teach would-be believers or catechumens certain fundamental things about what faith in Jesus is all about.

Recall, if you will, the accounts we have heard to this point: the rejection of Jesus by a Samaritan village, then the contrast when He sent out the seventy-two how some were rejected but others were received into peoples’ homes. Last Sunday we heard how the story of the Good Samaritan tells us that, while our actions of love of neighbor are important, such love can only result from the Lord loving us first without our works, His saving love for us helpless sinners.

Today in the little but well-known story of Mary and Martha we are to learn that while both sorts of “hospitality” in receiving Jesus are good, one is “better,” that is there is a proper order.

In this short story Jesus is welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha where she prepares to show Jesus her generous hospitality. Her sister Mary shows a different attitude by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His teaching. When Martha complains that Mary ought to be helping her with her many preparations, Jesus puts things into their proper perspective. In the loving words of care and concern Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha,” dear 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.”

I suppose Mary was a little surprised at her sister’s complaint because she clearly had the right priority. Hospitality is shown to missionaries first by receiving and hearing their message, the preaching of the kingdom. Only then should follow also the hospitality of providing a meal of table fellowship. In the words of Arthur Just,

“The issue here is whether one is first to serve the Lord or first to be served by him. This is really a question of the proper approach to worship. Mary has the right liturgical theology. She sits at the feet of Jesus to receive divine service from him. Instead of trying to serve Jesus first, she allows Jesus first to serve her with his gifts. Hospitality to the Lord is first expressed in faith’s passive acceptance of God’s Word…. After receiving the gifts, there will be time for an expression of hospitality in response.”[1]

It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking God’s grace for granted, of forgetting the importance of a constant hearing of God’s Word even when you think you know it well enough or have already heard it.

I’ve heard that at a certain church the money counters would count and record the offering for the day right away in another room even while the rest of the service continued. I recall in a previous parish of mine how quite often the individuals scheduled to count the money from the offering, though they would wait to do this until after the service was concluded, still many times would have themselves not attended the service at all. I thought they would be embarrassed when I would greet them. But I didn’t detect any awkward response on their part. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking God’s grace for granted.

Today we are here, first, to receive the Lord’s divine service. He speaks His word concerning the grace of God’s kingdom and the importance of hearing that word. For it is in the hearing that God Himself creates and sustains the one thing needful above everything else, namely, faith; the hand of faith that believes and receives the forgiveness of sins He Himself won for us by His suffering and death on the cross, for us, for you. “Faith is that worship which receives the benefits that God offers” (Ap IV:49). In this same, God-given faith, we are called to the Holy Supper He Himself instituted. For it is by faith in His Words of Institution, what He says is happening here, that we receive what He says.

Having received His divine service, forgiveness, life and salvation, we are enabled then to serve Him. We serve Him in the Divine Service by singing thankful hymns of praise, by confessing the faith He has given in the ears of the whole world, by praying for the whole Church and for all people according to their needs, by our offerings and, yes, even by our fellowship of love of one another around coffee and refreshments and continued Bible study. Then we serve Him by being busy, even “anxious and troubled” to show the love of Christ to our family and our neighbors in many and various ways.

Mary or Martha? Not either/or, but both/and. Welcome the Lord like Martha. Sit at His feet like Mary. Rejoice in the forgiveness of sins like both Martha and Mary. And serve the Lord with gladness, because of His service to you and for the life of the world.

[1] Arthur Just Jr, Luke 9:51—24:53, ©1997 CPH, p. 459