When I was growing up, I heard a story about a rescue station on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The shores were very rocky and from time to time, when the weather was especially nasty, these rocks claimed many ships. The death toll was horrible.
A group of people got together and decided to establish a search and rescue station. They pooled some of their funds and purchased a sturdy little boat that would allow them to navigate the treacherous waters. They took turns standing watch during foul weather. When they saw that a ship might get into trouble, they sent out the call and together they would go out and rescue as many as they could. They were still sad that so much property was lost, but at least the death count began to drop because of their life saving efforts.
During one particularly bad disaster a very large passenger liner lost its engines and got pulled into the rocks. The members of the search and rescue station labored for over thirty-six hours with little rest. Eventually, there was no more that they could do. They were exhausted, but the number of people who survived through their efforts was huge.
Newspapers all over the country ran with the story. The disaster was horrible, but the death toll was only a fraction of what might be expected because of the noble work of the members of this search and rescue station. Donations began to pour in from all over the country. Because of these donations, the search and rescue station was able to buy a second even sturdier boat. The death toll from the rocks dropped even more.
Over time, auxiliary organizations began to form around the station. There were people who didn't have the skill and strength needed to participate in the rescue, but they would raise money to maintain the boats and buy and maintain more rescue equipment. They built a bigger, better station house. They were ready to handle all sorts of maritime emergencies.
Then the hurricane came. The station house dealt with heavy winds fairly well, but it was too close to the water when the storm surge came. They were able to recover and repair the two boats, but the hurricane carried everything in the station out to sea.
Well, this was not the first hurricane that struck the town and they decided to rebuild. This time they built the rescue station up on the cliff over looking the ocean. That way it would be up out of the storm surge when another hurricane came. They also decided to double the size of the station. That way the auxiliaries could do even more fund raising. There would also be a multimedia center that would tell of the history of the rescue station.
The town was in a picturesque area and the rescue station began to be a tourist destination. Eventually they doubled the size of the station again and added a restaurant. The station was becoming the center of all sorts of activity. There was always something to see or do.
Although everything seemed very upbeat around the station, the original founding members were starting to get a little depressed. You see one of the original members had died and the rest of the members were getting a little bit old to be going out on rescues. They had hoped that members of the next generation would take their place, but it wasn't happening. The members of the next generation seemed to be more interested in the social activities of the station than in its original purpose. Although the number of people who belonged to the search and rescue station was on the rise, the number of people who actually stood watch during foul weather was decreasing. The death toll from the ship wrecks was actually going up again.
Eventually, the original members of the station resigned their membership. They went about the town and recruited a few members from the younger generation. Then they pooled some of their funds and purchased a sturdy little boat that would allow them to navigate the treacherous waters. Again they took turns standing watch during foul weather. When they saw that a ship might get into trouble, they sent out the call and together they would go out and rescue as many as they could.
The rescue station on the cliff had become a successful tourist destination and business, but it was no longer a true rescue station. The members of this station were often so busy with themselves that they didn't even notice the ship wrecks or the people in the boat going out to the rescue. The members of the station on the cliff had forgotten the reason for their existence. They were very successful at raising money and having a good time, but they were total failures when it came to keeping their original charter.
This story illustrates one of Satan's grand strategies. He will work slowly, but surely to twist something that started out as a good thing into something that distracts us from God. Were the fund raisers a good thing? Yes, as long as they supported the rescue effort. Were bigger stations a good thing? Yes, as long as they supported the rescue effort. There was not one step that the people of the rescue station took that was not a good thing in itself. Never the less, in the end, the good things became distractions from the main thing.
Like the people in the rescue station, Martha allowed the good things to distract her from the main thing. Was it good for her to prepare a meal for Jesus? Of course! You cannot have table fellowship without food. Never the less, she allowed this good thing to distract her from the main thing.
What is the main thing? The main thing is the work that Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. Although He was perfect and sinless, He took our sin into Himself and suffered the wrath of God so that we don't have to. He defeated sin, death, and the devil and rose from the dead and opened the way to everlasting life. Through the work Jesus Christ did on the cross we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.
God has graciously revealed this work to us through His Word, the Bible. The Lord said, "Martha, 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." Here the Lord teaches us to focus on the main thing - Him. His desire is to serve us - to communicate the knowledge of salvation to us.
Satan, the World, and our own sinful flesh want to take away the saving knowledge of salvation. They want to distract us from the main thing. If they can distract us in such a way that we still feel that we are doing something good, then that is to their advantage.
Think about all the good things that distract us. Vacations are a good thing, but how many of us lose out on the opportunity to receive God's service with the brothers and sisters in other places because we are on vacation. Sports are a good thing, but how many people are not here today because of athletic activities. What good gifts of God have the forces of evil twisted into distractions from the message of salvation in your life and mine?
If you think we don't have problems with this here at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, then let me ask a few questions. Why do we cancel Sunday School and Bible Class during the summer? Even when Sunday School and Bible Class start up again this fall, why will so few take advantage of God's Word? With our mouths we say we agree with Jesus Christ in today's gospel, but does our apathy toward His Word say something different? I ask you again; what good gifts of God have the forces of evil twisted into distractions from the message of salvation in your life and mine?
The evil forces of this world want to twist the good gifts God has given us into distractions from the main thing. God serves us with His Word and reveals the main thing in its pages - the main thing of the person and work of Jesus Christ that gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is in His Word that God reveals His mercy and grace. It is through His Word that He establishes and maintains faith in us. He works through His Word to keep the main thing the main thing.
God loves us beyond our understanding and deeply desires our presence with Him through all eternity. To that end, He reveals Himself in His Word. He has written His Word [John 20:31] so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Abide in his Word even as a branch abides in the vine. Sit at Jesus' feet as Mary did. There you will hear the Word of God which is [2 Timothy 3:15] able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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