Beckett: Advent Sermon – The One Thing Necessary

Date: December 11, 2019
Festival: Midweek Advent Service (Week 2)
Text: Luke 10:38-42; Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Sermon Hymn: LSB #862 Oh, Blest the House


Introduction

“Wow! How many days until Christmas? I don’t see how we’re gonna’ get everything done by Christmas! Can’t you do more to help me? Do I have to do all the shopping myself?”

“No, I can’t make it to church. Because I have to do all this Christmas shopping! Because church is boring! Because Sunday is my only day to sleep in! Because it’s football Sunday!”

“What? Join you for devotion this morning? Are you kidding?! How can I set aside time for devotion when there’s so much to do around the house?!”

Some of these comments are spoken. Others are left as mere thoughts. There are many cares and worries that preoccupy us, and they usually get worse during this so-called happiest time of the year. The secular Christmas song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” ought to be changed to, “It’s the Most Stressful Time of the Year!”

Because on top of our usual worries—like job stress, monthly bills, relationship struggles, what our kids will eat and wear—now we add holiday pressures to our already long list of cares and worries. There are presents to buy, gatherings to plan, gatherings to attend, work projects to finish, shut-ins to visit, and so forth. As we add to our already long list of things to do, activities that are supposed to be focused on Christ end up being stressful. Who woulda’ thought?

Christ’s Coming Brought Out Martha’s Cares & Worries

We are like Martha in our Luke text. Here, Jesus visits her home. Shouldn’t that have been a joyous time? I would like to think that if Jesus visited my home, I would be like Mary, eager to sit and listen to Him, because when we read a text like this we like to think we’re better than the sinner in the text when we’re actually just like them.

In reality, I would be a lot more like Martha. “Oh no! My house isn’t clean! I gotta’ clean up all this clutter, clean my bathroom, get my dirty socks off the floor, and do the dishes! I have to make my house presentable!”

When Pastor Mat and I do our shut-in visits, one of the things they tend to say is something like, “I’m sorry my house is such a mess.” Yet Pastor Mat and I always tell them, “I’m not here to see your house; I’m here to see you.” Jesus did not visit Mary and Martha to see their home; He visited them to see them. If Jesus can approach and touch diseased lepers, certainly He doesn’t care what your house looks like when He comes to see you, or what you look like.

Understandably, then, Martha was preoccupied with getting the house ready for Jesus. She was obviously stressed out. Wouldn’t you be? I mean, Jesus—the second person of the Trinity—had come to be a guest in her home! Above this, she was not meeting her own expectations for hosting Him. So, she cries out in frustration.

First, she is annoyed with Jesus, the one she’s supposed to be hosting. “Don’t You care,” she says, “that my sister has left me to serve alone?” Then she makes a demand of her Lord, “Tell her to help me!” And what was Mary doing? She was in her home listening to the words of Jesus. She wasn’t cleaning their clutter or doing dishes. She stopped whatever it was she was doing and listened to her Lord.

In Pastor Mat’s sermon last week, we looked at a story Jesus told called the Parable of the Sower. It told us about the strong obstacles that often hinder us from hearing God’s Word—from receiving “the one thing necessary.” We called these obstacles the Unholy Trinity—the Devil, the world, and our sinful nature. Last week, we were reminded that Satan is constantly working to snatch away the Word of God like a bird that gobbles up a seed before it can be planted.

Today, we are facing another planting problem described in the parable. Jesus saids, “A sower went out to sow” and some of the seeds “fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.”

This planting problem was caused by rocky ground with shallow soil. He said this is what happens when we fail to let the Word of God take root in our hearts under the scorching heat of pressure and persecution. If this can happen with one of Jesus’ close personal friends like Martha, who dearly loved Him and desired to serve Him, then it can certainly be a challenge for any of us on any given day.

Grace in God’s Word

When Jesus replied to Martha’s stressed outburst, He gave her something she really needed. He lovingly spoke words of Law. He gently rebuked her and redirected her attention to what He calls “the one thing necessary.” He says gently, “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.” In other words, “Come. Sit. Listen.”

While He speaks Law in these words, He also weaves words of Gospel hope. He talks about “the one thing necessary” and the “better portion.” We’ll observe in another encounter with Jesus that He was giving her hope in Himself through His words. After all, “the one thing necessary” is His dying and rising to save sinners. The “better portion” is the hope of eternal life He came to bring.

Martha doesn’t know it yet, but she’ll be facing some scorching stress and pressing persecution in the coming days. Her brother, Lazarus, will die. Her dear friend, Jesus, will be crucified. It was no doubt that because of encounters like this that God’s Work broke up her heart’s hard ground and put down deep Gospel roots. We do know that when Lazarus died, she confessed her faith in “the one thing necessary,” the resurrection of her Lord.

At that time, with a much smaller degree of anxiety in a much worse situation, she confidently confessed, “I know that he [Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus then asks her if she believes these words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” She confessed, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” [John 11:17-27].

After this encounter with Jesus, the basis for this resurrection hope would seen be realised as God’s plan of salvation took final shape. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, His enemies came to Mary and Martha’s home, looking for Jesus in order to crucify Him. They didn’t find Him, but later they would be successful. However, it was revealed as Jesus rose from the dead that this was all God’s plan to provide “the one thing necessary” to save sinners, which today leads us to desire “the better portion” as well.

Grace in the World

This “better portion” relieves the expressions of holiday stress and anxiety I shared earlier. It also involves a word of repentance and faith to focus on “the one thing necessary.”

As Pastor Mat shared last week, one of the functions of our Advent sermons this year is to encourage the practice of daily household devotions, which if you still don’t have any devotion materials, the ushers will be passing out some Advent devotions after the service.

Just as Jesus came to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, we desire that He come to be present with us. He does this through His Word. The gospel of John tells us Jesus is the Word of God made flesh and dwells among us [John 1:1, 14]. This means that whenever you read or hear the Word, Jesus is with you and speaking to you in a real way. That is why we are encouraging you with the practice of daily devotions.

The first priority is simply to daily invest time in devotion to the Word of God, moving from Martha’s busy activity to Mary’s focused listening. Whatever helps you develop a habit or routine to do that, do it! “I don’t have time,” you might say. That’s not true. You have time; you simply need to prioritise the Word and make time for it, even if it means sacrificing something else.

For example, in my own devotional life, I usually do my devotion during my lunch hour since that provides enough time. Another example is a friend of mine who changed his sleeping schedule so he still gets enough sleep but also has time for a devotion in the morning. If God’s Word is high on your priority list, it becomes easy to make time for it. If we can make time to watch a game or binge watch a show on Netflix for several hours, we can make time for 5-15 minutes of devotion in God’s Word.

A second goal for daily devotions, then, is to let the Word of God address us as Jesus did Martha, calling for repentance and faith in “the one thing necessary.” In service to that goal, I will share a way that is simple yet reliable for carrying out a daily devotional routine. Other approaches are good, too. This is simply one way to do this.

All you need is your Bible and some sort of journal or notebook to write in. Pick any book in the Bible you find interest in. Read one chapter or even one small section a day, then take some time to meditate on the Word and write down your thoughts. You can do the same thing with a devotional book by reading the devotion for the day and journaling about it. If your hand is too frail due to old age, that’s okay; you can meditate on the Word in some other way.

Now, this isn’t a “diary,” so don’t feel like you’re too manly or too old or too mature to do this. The purpose of journaling about the Word you just read is that it forces you to slow down and absorb it—to let the Word take root in you. As the psalmist says, by meditating on the Word day and night, you are “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,” and your leaf shall not wither under scorching heat [Psalm 1:3].

After your devotion, pray. Pray according to what you just read. If you don’t know what to pray for, guess what? Jesus has given us the words to pray in the Lord’s Prayer where He teaches us to talk with God in ways that strengthen us to face the daily realities of life. These include the stresses of the holidays and much worse, as was true for Martha.

If you’re interested in other devotional materials, you can do a simple search on CPH’s website, which is cph.org. They have tons of options. Portals of Prayer is simply one of many. “But it’s week 2 of Advent,” you might say. “It’s too late to start Advent devotions!” No, it’s not. You can still pick one up and begin today/tonight, maybe even read the others from last week if you find that you have extra time. In fact, you can begin using any devotional material right now.

Also last week, Pastor Mat asked you to envision a scenario where members of a family—be it a house hold of one, two, three, or more—sat down for a short 15-minute devotion. Think of this as being like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. Now, I’d like to add to that vision someone who has something stressful going on in their life, like Martha. This could be you or someone else in your family.

Because the daily devotion is now a holy habit, this person still encounters Jesus and His Word; and that Word redirects them to the one thing necessary to find hope in the promise of Jesus, which Martha confesses at Lazarus’ grave. Rather than anxious thoughts of your stressful day or week, the Word of God—this better portion—becomes the start of your day.

Therefore, we continue to daily pray: “Come, Lord Jesus. Deliver to us the one thing necessary, which is Your salvation. This one thing necessary brings to us the better portion of the hearing of Your Word, which tells us of Your saving work and promise of eternal life in You; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

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