************ Sermon on Luke 10:41-42 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 21, 2004
"Only One Thing is Needed"
I Too Busy to Listen
A Sometimes people are too busy to listen to each other or to talk with each other. A "Dennis the Menace" cartoon in the newspaper a few years ago illustrates this so very well. Dennis wanted to tell his parents something important. But he just couldn't get their attention. They were too busy cleaning out the closet or something. Dennis even rang the doorbell. Finally, out of desperation, he deliberately dropped his mother's crystal vase on the floor and broke it. Then, and only then, did his parents listen to him.
There are many parents who say "later" or "don't bother me now" to their children. There are lots of people whose busy lifestyle does not allow them much time to visit elderly parents. There are many corporations that are so busy trying to capture new markets and make bigger profits that they don't take the time to listen to the complaints, problems, or suggestions of their employees. Many times people are so busy with their careers, their recreation, their cattle, their plans, their businesses, that they don't have the time to listen to God and His Word. Sometimes even churches and Christians can get so wrapped up in programs, plans, and ministries that they no longer hear Jesus.
B In our Scripture passage we also have someone who was too busy to listen. Her name was Martha. It seems that one day she suddenly had 13 guests drop in for dinner. Jesus and His disciples had been traveling in the area and unexpectedly dropped in. So, like thousands of hosts and hostesses around the world, Martha started a frenzy of activity in order to entertain and feed her guests. Martha was so busy serving she didn't have the time to converse with her guests. Even more important, Martha didn't have time to listen to Jesus; she was too busy preparing the meal to take time out to hear the words of the Master.
Verse 40 says it all: "Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made." The Greek word translated as "distracted" literally means "to be pulled, dragged away." Can you picture a team of work-horses pulling a big tree stump out of a field? In the same way, Martha's work pulled or dragged away her attention from Jesus.
Martha wanted to listen but she only heard bits and pieces of the conversation. Being the good hostess that she was, she was constantly jumping up and down in order to fill cups, ladle out food, pass dishes around, stir the dessert, and so forth. She wanted to listen but was distracted by the pressure of being a good hostess.
C In direct contrast to Martha was Mary, her sister. Verse 39 tells us that Mary "sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said." It was customary in the Middle East for students to sit at the feet of their teacher. So, like a student, Mary sat at the feet of the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ. Also, in Israel, at that time, women were discouraged from getting an education either at school or in the synagogue or Temple. But Mary wanted to learn from Jesus and was eager to learn.
D Martha, it seems, did not appreciate this. While running back and forth she noticed that Mary was sitting down with Jesus. Here she was so busy with 13 unexpected guests for dinner and her sister was sitting down. So Martha went to Jesus and said, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" (vs 40).
How fair and just this request sounds. Surely Jesus is embarrassed by Mary's lack of activity. Surely He sees how Martha runs around and will tell Mary to help out. This may be our reaction, but that isn't how Jesus reacts.
Did you notice what Martha said? According to her, "my sister has left me to do the work by myself." In other words, Mary had been helping but now she thought it more important to sit down and listen to Jesus. She had been working; but now she said "enough," threw down her apron, and sat at Jesus' feet.
So, in reply to Martha, Jesus said, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things." Martha is worried and upset. These words indicate a worldly attitude, a preoccupation with the things of the world; these words indicate that a person's attention is upon the material realm rather than the spiritual realm; these words indicate that Martha is more concerned about feeding Jesus than on being fed by His Word.
What is said about Martha can be said about most of Western Society today. The attention of most people today is away from God and upon the world and the material realm. People today, like Martha, are worried and upset, they are concerned, not about God and the things of God, but about money, jobs, homes, farms, cars, vacations, and recreation. As proof, consider this: 99% of all Americans say they believe in God; yet, only 41% attend church every week. Most people today are more concerned about their possessions or their work than about God and the state of their soul.
II We Must Listen to Jesus
A Jesus told Martha not "to be worried and upset" about the many things of the world. Instead, "only one thing is needed."
What does Jesus mean here?
We must not conclude from this that it is better to sit still than to work. We know of one church, the church of Thessalonica, where the people were inclined to sit still and merely talk about the return of Christ. The Apostle had to tell them to get to work for God hates and despises all forms of laziness.
Yet, work can kill a person. Being busy with this or that can kill a person. That happens when a person, like Martha, is too busy to listen to Jesus. So Jesus says, "Martha, Martha ... only one thing is needed." What is this one thing? It is knowing and listening to Jesus.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than knowing and listening to Jesus. There is only one important thing in life, and that is having a personal love relationship with Jesus. Absolutely nothing else is as important as this. A productive farm or dairy, a new car, a fulfilling job, an immaculate house, happy guests, a booming business, a relaxing vacation, invigorating exercise, a winning basketball season, a handsome boyfriend or beautiful girlfriend, high grades – all of these are unimportant next to Christ Himself. Remember what Jesus said? "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Mt 16:26).
"Only one thing is needed." Knowing Jesus, listening to Him, is the only really important thing in life; every-thing else is, or should be, secondary.
B Mary and Martha were both faced with a choice: they could be all wrapped up in looking after the unexpected guests, or they could listen to Jesus. Mary knew what she wanted – she chose to listen to Jesus. Martha, on the other hand, chose to busy herself with all the work and preparations involved in looking after Jesus and His disciples.
Jesus says "Mary has chosen what is better." Work is a good thing, there is a place for material and worldly concerns – after all, Mary did do some work – but taking time to also listen to Jesus is even better. Actually, it is not just the better option; it is the best option.
We too, congregation, have this choice. We can choose to make ourselves so busy with the concerns of the world that we don't have time for Jesus anymore. Or, we can choose to take time off from our worldly concerns and pursuits and, like Mary, make time to listen to Jesus.
C Why are we to listen to Jesus? Remember the time Jesus was transfigured on the mountain? You know what happened. In front of Peter, James, and John, Jesus' appearance and clothing changed. And, Elijah and Moses appeared and talked to Him. Suddenly, a cloud came and surrounded them. The voice of God came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him" (Luke 9:34).
We are listen to Jesus because He is God's Son, God's chosen servant. As such, He brings salvation, light, joy, and peace. His words are the words of life. To listen to Him is to drink from the well of living water. To listen to Him is to drink of the only water that quenches the thirst of our soul. So, of course we should listen. If we don't listen, if we don't obey, we are turning our backs on God's wondrous and free salvation.
Nothing in life is more important than knowing and listening to Jesus. So I ask you – do you know Jesus? Do you listen to Him? Your life – boys and girls, young people, congregation – depends, it literally depends, on your answer to this question. Again I ask you, do you listen to Jesus?, do you spend time each day with His Word?, do you faithfully attend worship services?, are you part of a Bible study?, do you attend Sunday School and Catechism lessons?
It has been said that our society is so corrupt that who you know is far more important than what you know. For instance, when applying for a job, it's far more important to know someone on the inside than to have all the possible qualifications. Everything depends on knowing the right person. How true this is when it comes to salvation. Nothing depends on what you know. Everything depends on Who you know. Everything depends on your answer to the question, "Do you know Jesus?" Because of this, listening to Jesus' voice, His Word, His Spirit, is more important than anything else you can mention.
D Mary chose to listen. Martha was too busy to listen. "Mary has chosen what is better." "And," as Jesus puts it, "it will not be taken from her." It is Mary's right and possession to listen to Jesus. Neither Martha nor anyone else can take this right from her.
It is also our right to know Jesus and to listen to Him. No one and no thing has the right to demand so much of us that we no longer are able to do that. No job, no person, no possession, no activity, not even any kingdom cause or church activity, has the right to keep us from listening to Jesus. No job, no person, no possession, no activity, not even any kingdom cause or church activity, has the right to keep us from worship services, from Bible study, from personal and family devotions, from Catechism and Sunday School lessons.
E Let us remember, congregation, that "only one thing is needed." But I'm afraid that we as a church can so easily get what I call the "Martha syndrome." As a church we can get so caught up in programs, meeting the budget, denominational issues, keeping up the building, that we forget the number one concern. Like Martha we can get distracted with much serving. As a church, our number one concern has to be knowing and listening to Jesus.
Individuals too can so easily get the Martha syndrome. There is always so much work to do. There is always so many activities to be involved in. But let's not be like Martha who got distracted with much serving. Rather, let us take time out every day to listen to Jesus and to get to know Jesus better.
Our Master knows our needs. He knows our need for food, clothing, shelter, recreation; He knows we need to pay our bills; He knows there is work which we "simply have to get done." However, there may be good reason for Christ to look at us and to say with the same concern He once showed to a lady, "Martha, Martha ... only one thing is needed."
Sometimes we should stop our head-long rush through life to ask ourselves, "what really is necessary?, what do I really need?" Martha should have asked this question. Martha thought it was necessary to give her guests the royal treatment, so she went all out providing this rather than listening to Jesus. She had to be told this was not necessary. In this instance, a loaf of bread would have been enough for her guests.
What do we really think is necessary? What do we think we need? It must be pointed out that not everything we consider to be necessary is really necessary. Most Americans consider a TV, a micro-wave oven, a computer, and a cell-phone to be necessities. Many Americans think that two cars, a boat, a camper, and a trip to Disney World is necessary. Workaholics think that 16 hour work days are necessary. But none of these things are really necessary. What is necessary is listening to Jesus.
To a large extent, the art of living right is simply a matter of getting priorities straight. If we really believe Christ when He says, "only one thing is needed," then we realize life doesn't have to be a rat-race. If we really believe and practice what Christ says, then life is already simpler, far less hectic, and far more enjoyable.
"Only one thing is needed," congregation. Therefore, let us spend time getting to know and to listen to Jesus. And, if we do, then, like Mary, we have chosen "what is better."
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