To Serve or to be Served

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 10:38-42

Dear people served by Jesus: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What did Martha do that was so wrong? When Jesus had sent out the twelve apostles and the seventy-two apostles, He had told them that He would take care of them through those who received their ministry. Jesus had told them not to take any provisions including food for their journeys, since He would provide for them, as those who heard their preaching would welcome the apostles into their homes and show them hospitality (Luke 9:3-4; 10:4-7).

Jesus said about Himself, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:58) Jesus had no home of His own, so He received hospitality from others, just as the apostles did when Jesus sent them.

So what did Martha do that was so wrong? Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She provided hospitality to Jesus. She provided the daily needs of one preaching the Good News of the kingdom of God as Jesus had taught her to do. And this wasn’t just one of the apostles, it was Jesus Himself – the great Teacher of teachers; Lord of lords; God in the flesh. Of course she was distracted by much serving. She was going to do her best and give Jesus her best. How could she not? She wasn’t going to serve Him yesterday’s leftovers! She was going to go all out and serve Jesus as well as she could.

Martha was not wrong to serve Jesus. It was not a bad thing that she prepared a meal for Jesus to eat or that she showed Him hospitality. Martha went wrong in her priorities. She went wrong in not realizing who was serving whom. She didn’t realize that more important than her serving Jesus, was Jesus serving her.

Martha was distracted by much serving. She was anxious and troubled by many things, but she was neglecting the most important thing – listening to Jesus’ Word. She had the very words of Jesus being spoken in her very house and she wouldn’t sit to listen but busied herself in the kitchen with much serving. She was so worried about everything being perfect that she neglected the one most important thing – hearing God’s Word. She was so anxious about serving everything just right that she would not let Jesus serve her. That’s where Martha went wrong.

That is also where we often go wrong. We get so busy with life, it’s easy to skip on hearing God’s Word. There are always pressing matters in life. There is always work to be done. There is always something that demands our attention. Here we’re not even talking about doing something selfish. We’re talking about working for your family or serving others in need. There are always tons of demands on us and so many ways we can serve our neighbour, but we should not forget the one thing needful.

It’s hard to switch off this mentality even when we come to Divine Service. It’s easy to still be in service mode, thinking we are here to serve God and serve our neighbour. Are we distracted with much serving? Are we anxious and troubled about many things? Do we think it is more important for us to serve God than it is for Him to serve us?

Is serving on the altar guild or as an usher distracting you from hearing God’s Word? Is counting offering taking you right out of the Divine Service? Just as with Martha, these are not bad things to be doing. They are good things and they do serve God and your neighbour. But if they are distracting you from the one thing needful – the hearing of God’s Word, then stop. If they are making you anxious so that you cannot hear the Word of God; if they are taking you away from God’s Word altogether, then stop. Be like Mary. Sit at the feet of Jesus hearing His Word even as Martha runs around fretting and worrying and being distracted with much serving.

I’m not trying to get you to quit whatever ways you are serving God and your neighbour. In fact, we can often use more helpers rather than less. But remember who is serving whom. This is called the Divine Service because God is serving us, not because we are serving Him. More important than you serving Jesus is Jesus serving you.

After all, what can you give to God? How can you serve Him? Give Him offerings? Sure, but all that you have is already His. Give Him praise? Sure, but the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven are praising Him better than you can. Give Him your heart? “The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap. A fine birthday gift indeed!” is the way one Lutheran pastor put it in a book (Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God). Jesus says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:19) Our hearts are steeped in sin and they are indeed no gift fit to give to God.

God, on the other hand, has great and wonderful ways to serve you. He has washed your dirty, sinful heart and forgiven you all your sins in Baptism. He proclaims you absolved and forgiven through Absolution. He gives you His very body and blood to eat and drink to forgive you your sins and strengthen your faith.

Only one thing is necessary, Jesus says, and it will not be taken away from you. Your Baptism will not wear off like an entrance stamp at the hockey arena. Absolution will not stop declaring you holy and forgiven. It stands for eternity because God’s Word is eternal. Jesus’ body and blood can never be taken away from you, but they course through your veins claiming you for eternal life.

Do not be anxious and troubled about many things. Yes, it is in fact a sin to be anxious and troubled. Instead let Jesus serve you and melt away your anxiety and your troubles. Let the busyness of the world go by as you rest in the arms of your Saviour from sin, death, and the devil.

Remember who is serving whom. More important than you serving Jesus is Jesus serving you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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