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Martha’s Dilemma

Luke 10:38-42

Pastor James F. Wright

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, Series C
St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Sun, Aug 2, 1998 

Luke 10:38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (NIV)

In my motherís garden was a little statue with a water fountain in it. Mom called the statue "Willieís Dilemma." When I asked mother why she gave the fountain that name, she asked me, "What do you see?"

I said, "Well, I see a little boy who wants a drink of water from the fountain, but heís two short, so he has to climb."

"And why does he have that puzzled look on his face?" asked mother.

And I replied, "Because to climb up and get a drink he will have to put down that ice cream cone he is holding in his hand."

Mom said, "Thatís what a dilemma is, when you canít decide what you really want to do first."

The Holy Gospel for today from Luke chapter 10 is the story of Marthaís dilemma. Martha and Mary were sisters who invited Jesus over for supper. Martha wanted to listen to the conversation Jesus was making, for he was her Lord, but she also was hard at work getting a nice meal together to serve to Jesus. That was her dilemma, whether to serve Jesus or be served by him.

We can really identify with Martha, for we are caught up in a similar dilemma in daily life. We are constantly occupied with making a better life. From early childhood to post adolescence we are busy with schoolwork. Then comes our first real job and the internal pressure to advance our career. A spouse and children add much reason to try to succeed. Later on thereís the preparation for retirement. Sometimes it seems that every stage of life is simply a preparation for the next phase we going into. Our dilemma is that while we are on this continuous slope of preparation for the future, thereís the present to deal with.

I know a man who all his life worked hard to bring himself up from the poverty he grew up in. He worked hard in school, got a scholarship and worked his way through law school, married a beautiful wife, raised two children, and was gathering fortune. One morning I got a call from his wife. She was sobbing uncontrollably. Her husband had collapsed on the exercise bike. She asked me to meet her at the hospital. I got there first as the brought him in. He was dead at age 52. No one would ever expect this to happen to such a healthy looking man who seemed so control of his life.

Our dilemma is that while we are preparing for the future, Christ is with us now. Christ is asking us to set aside our plans for ourselves long enough to listen to him. We listen to Jesus Christ because he is the highest treasure we can have. Jesus gives us real pleasure. The teaching of Jesus renews us and gives us a permanence we canít bring to ourselves.

Mary understood this. This is why she sat down with Jesus and listened to him. Her greatest joy was to hear the wisdom he revealed. His words gave meaning to her life.

Martha, on the other hand, broke her dilemma by getting the supper ready. She would listen to Jesus later. Now, there is nothing wrong with cooking supper and preparing the table. It is commendable that she would offer this service to her Lord Jesus. How many women today are wrongfully looked down upon in our society as "cookie bakers" because they show their love for others by caring for the basic human needs of their families. Putting aside career advancement and extra income, many find great joy and purpose in serving God in the home.

But Martha shows whatís really in her heart when she says to Jesus, "Lord, donít you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and lend me a hand.!" Martha thought that she was the host and Jesus was the guest, when with God, itís always the other way around. In order to serve Jesus, you first have to be served by him. After receiving his gifts, there will be time to show hospitality to him.

How good and gracious God is that he has reached into our busy lives with the gospel of Jesus. Again and again Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to carry the voice of Jesusí teaching to us. And we have acted too busy to care. We have wandering minds, busy fingers. We have devoted our wealth to selfish goals when the work of Jesus has been left undone. But still God always continued to speak to us through his Word and Church. We are thankful that salvation depends on faith in Christ alone, for if it depended on our service to God, who of us could be saved?

We can learn a great lesson here from Marthaís dilemma. All of our lifeís striving to overcome the challenges will, in the final balance, mean nothing, if we never receive what Jesus has done for us. Like little Willie, we have to be humble enough to put the ice cream cone down for a moment in order to drink from the fountain of life. But after we drink, the ice cream will taste even better. We will find great purpose in our daily vocation when we are first served by Jesus. Then we will find ourselves putting our abilities to work for others, and Christ served us.

Jesusí words to Martha show this. "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Think about this when you are about to sign on that new auto loan or mortgage. Think about what will really help you and your family most, a more comfortable life, or a Church that is better able to bring you and your family the teaching of your Lord Jesus. Avoid the dilemma and decide what you really want most in life.

As we have just sung,

Wisdomís highest, noblest treasure,

Jesus, is revealed in you.

Let me find in you my pleasure,

Make my will and actions true,

Humility there and simplicity reigning,

In paths of true wisdom my steps ever training.

If I learn from Jesus this knowledge divine,

the blessing of a heavenly wisdom is mine.

Lutheran Worship # 227, st. 5

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.

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