Beckett: Sermon – The Lord is My Portion

Featured Image: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Vincent Andraessen (1595-1675), ca. 1610-1622. Wikimedia Commons.

Date: July 17, 2022
Festival: 6th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 10:38-42
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Genesis 18:1-14; Colossians 1:21-29; Luke 10:38-42
Sermon Hymn: LSB #536 One Thing’s Needful

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever read something in the Bible and gotten jealous of somebody? It certainly doesn’t happen often. Usually, we read something that makes us shake our heads at the Israelites: “Why can’t they just do what God says,” we wonder. Yet ironically, we hardly do what God says either. Or we shake our heads at some characters in the New Testament, like the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee says, “God, I thank You that I am not like this tax collector.” We shake our heads and think, “Thank God I’m not like that Pharisee,” and we entirely miss the point. Or last Sunday’s Gospel reading with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We shake our heads at the priest and the Levite in the parable and think, “How could they just leave that man to die on the side of the road?” Meanwhile, we will leave a homeless man who’s not even half-dead on the side of the road without hesitation because we immediately assume they’ll use the money on drugs, and simply interacting with them will make us unclean somehow.

So, it is not often that we read something in the Bible and get jealous of somebody. This is what happens to me when I read this account of Mary and Martha. I’m jealous of Mary. I envy this opportunity she had. She got to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His teaching. Do you realise how special that is? She doesn’t have any rabbinical commentary or a Hebrew Study Bible with commentaries from various rabbis to understand what He’s saying. No, she simply sits at His feet and listens. When was the last time you just listened to Jesus?

I’m jealous of Mary because she got to sit at the physical Jesus’ feet—to embrace Him, to kiss His hands. We might not get to sit at the physical feet of Jesus like Mary did, at least not yet, but we do live in an age and a country where His Word is easily accessible. When I ask our youth and college students to take out their Bibles during a Bible study, most of them take out their phones. I still prefer a paper copy. But think about that: we live in an age where we can literally have the Word of God in our pockets! {show smartphone} And most of these apps are free! You live in a time and a country where you are free to sit at Jesus’ feet in the written Word of God every single day!

Yet there are things that can take the joy out of sitting at Jesus’ feet, no matter your age. Some of you have a Bible reading plan. Reading a couple pages every day can become a chore so that we no longer enjoy reading the Bible. Some of you might be apathetic about church; you’d rather be at home sleeping, playing video games, or hanging out with your friends. Even some seminarians find that their joy is gone when they read the Bible because they spend so much time studying it in commentaries, scholarly books and journals, the original languages, and sitting at the feet of wise professors. Or maybe some of us are like Martha: we use the busyness of our lives as an excuse not to sit at the feet of Jesus. Or maybe you’re like me where you have an unquenchable longing to sit at Jesus’ actual feet to hear from Him; and the best you get is coming to church once a week to hear from someone like me talk about Jesus. There’s a purpose for this, because Christ is present wherever His Word is preached and sung, so I thank you for your faithful attendance; but I’m not Jesus.

We can be jealous of Mary, so long as it’s a healthy jealousy—a jealousy that brings us to long for Christ and His Word, like the absence of a man’s wife causes him to desire her even more. At the same time, we must be careful not to be too harsh on Martha, which is easy to do, just as we are harsh on the Israelites and others in the Bible who disappoint us when we are exactly like them. Martha’s behaviour is understandable. She does what anyone would expect her to do when a guest enters their home. As was the custom of their day, she would show hospitality by providing food and wine for Him—like Abraham did when God in the Holy Trinity visited him [Gen. 18:1-14]. This isn’t too different from what we do today, is it? When you have guests over, what do you usually do? You busy yourself with getting the house cleaned and making sure there’s enough food and drink for them. And if there’s anybody else living with you, you usually don’t do it alone; everybody else pitches in.

So, we can empathise with Martha’s outburst. If Jesus were anybody else, Mary would’ve been helping Martha prepare food and drink for their guest, but here she is sitting at His feet, doing nothing. You know how stressful it can be to prepare the house for a guest, especially when they show up without calling first like Jesus did (and they didn’t have telephones back in those days). Understandably, Martha expected Jesus to be sensitive to her workload. Yet as necessary as good hospitality is, especially where the Son of God Himself is concerned, the one thing necessary to Jesus was that Martha and Mary receive the Word of God.

By using a clever turn of phrase, Jesus says Mary has chosen the good portion. Mary was embodying the psalm that says, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot” [Psalm 16:5]; and another psalm, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple” [Psalm 27:4]. The good portion is not whatever meal Martha was preparing but being fed the Word of God. Mary got to sit at the feet of her Lord, gaze upon His beauty, and inquire in His temple, which Jesus later calls His body—Himself. The Temple of the Lord entered her house, and she got to learn from Him like a student.

So, as we sit at the feet of Jesus today in His Word from this portion in Luke’s Gospel, we learn something quite amazing. We learn that Jesus is the Lord of people with limited understanding.[1] Being a woman, Mary would not have gone to synagogue school to learn the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets. This was for young boys to do; and as men, they would teach their sons and daughters. She still would’ve had much of the Torah memorised, having gone to synagogue every Sabbath and hearing it read, but she did not get to sit at the feet of rabbis at the schools and learn from their wisdom and gain their understanding because she’s a woman; women did have rights in 1st-century Palestine. But here she is, sitting at the feet of Rabbi Jesus. She sits before Him to drink from the cup of her Lord’s wisdom of God’s Word, who Himself is the Word of God in the flesh.

Jesus is your Lord, even for those of you who have limited understanding. Maybe the last time you really got into the Scriptures was your Confirmation class. I may have the ability to read the Scriptures in Greek and Hebrew, but you don’t need such understanding to drink it all in. These things are helpful, but there is just something special about reading God’s Word in your native tongue, which is something we take for granted.

If you’re familiar with the organisation called Lutheran Bible Translators, they do amazing work where they work with the people of a given country and help them translate the Word of God into their own language. Can you imagine not having God’s Word in your native tongue? There is just something special about opening a translation in your own language and reading only a couple pages every day. You can look up great Bible reading plans online. The Lutheran Study Bible has a 2-year reading plan. The one I use is simple if you want to read it in one year. Simply take the number of pages in your Bible, divide it by 365 for the number of days in a year (and you’ll have to adjust for a leap year), and then you have your daily number of pages. Usually, it’s somewhere between 4-6 pages a day for a whole year, which really isn’t that much. It should only take maybe 20 minutes, which is about the length or half the length of a TV episode you might usually spend watching on Netflix. Your Netflix binge can wait. You live in a country where you are free to sit at Jesus’ feet by simply opening your Bible any time you want. Many countries have to get Bibles illegally smuggled into their country and hide them from the government, and others don’t even have it written in their own language. So, take advantage of where you live to sit at Jesus’ feet every day.

The amazing thing about sitting at Jesus’ feet—about hearing from His Word every day—is that His Word does not depend on how intelligent you are or how mentally functional you are for His Word to take effect. In the short amount of time I’ve been ministering to people, I’ve spent many hours with people who have Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. They can hardly remember their spouse, or their children, or what they did for a living. Some of you know this by firsthand experience. Yet every time I bring them God’s Word in some part of the liturgy—like the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, or the Lord’s Supper, or a psalm—or sing a hymn to them, suddenly something within them reawakens and they say the words or sing the hymn word for word. One of my joys in being a pastor is that I get to bring them before Jesus’ feet, and they know His voice [John 10:27].

Likewise, your level of intelligence doesn’t matter either. God’s Word is so powerful that even infants can have faith. Jesus expresses this when He quotes the psalm, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies, You have prepared praise” [Psalm 8:2, LXX; cf. Matt. 21:16]. I’ve met many 2-year-olds who have more Scripture memorised than most Christian adults. If you’ll allow me one more testimony, I have seen the power of God’s Word in those who are severely mentally disabled. They may not be as articulate as you or me, but boy do they know the Word. They recognise it when they hear it; they love coming to church and even make their parents go to church at times!

So then, what is the benefit of daily sitting at Jesus’ feet in His written Word? There are two things, and I believe it’s best to quote from Luther twice, who himself sat at the feet of Jesus many times to be the first to translate the entire Scriptures into the German vernacular. First, he says, “think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines which can never be sufficiently explored, in order that you may find divine wisdom which God here lays before you in such simple guise as to quench all pride.”[2] The Scriptures are an endless mine full of many riches, which any person can never get enough of no matter how many times they venture into the Scriptures, and all in the simple form of words on a page, or in your ears.

Second, and this is most important, Luther says:

He who would correctly and profitably read Scriptures should see to it that he finds Christ in it, then finds life eternal without fail. On the other hand, if I do not so study and understand Moses and the Prophets as to find that Christ came from heaven for the sake of my salvation, became man, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended into heaven so that through Him I enjoy reconciliation with God, forgiveness of all my sins, grace, righteousness, and life eternal, then my reading in Scripture is of no help whatsoever to my salvation.[3]

In other words, the apex of our sitting at Jesus’ feet in reading the Scriptures is that He tells us of our salvation, forgiveness of all our sins, and the grace by which He did this for you. His Word is the bread of heaven we feed on daily for the sustaining of our souls. This is Good News so simple that even the faith of children, Jesus says, brings them into God’s kingdom [Matt. 18:3]—the Good News He has given you by simple means of His Word and Sacraments.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

[1] Thanks to Rev. Dr. David Schmitt for this insight.

[2] Helmut T. Lehman, ed. Luther’s Works: Word and Sacrament (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 236.

[3] Martin Luthers Werke. Weimar, 1893, Vol. 51, p. 4.


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