“Only One Thing”


Luke 10:38-42

21 July 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

The Rush United Methodist Church


Luke 10:38-42 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=430381840)


Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”




You’re all invited over to our cottage next Saturday.

Bring hiking shoes, a swimsuit, and a dish-to-share.

I’ll make the hot dogs and hamburgers.

All 400 members of the parish.

It will be swell.


One of the things I love about my wife, Cynthia,

Is that she loves to shower guests with hospitality.

If four are coming, she’ll prepare for eight.

If eight are coming, Cynthia will make enough food for sixteen.

There’s always someone who come who can benefit

From a take home Tupperware container of food, … or two, or ten.


Almost certainly, she will make her very finest summer dishes:

Fruit salad, potato salad, Santa Fe salad, and fresh peas from Moser’s roadside vegetable stand.



What a blessing to be married to a wonderful host.




Every preacher commenting this week on this Mary and Martha passage

From the Gospel of Luke has their hands full.

It is a narrative of contrast between

Martha the perfect hostess and

Mary the perfect disciple.

There are many dangers that can steal our attention away from the intent of Jesus.


Don’t get derailed by these common mistakes:


Consider gender stereotyping.

Gender stereotyping is a terrible mistake

And does violence to this story of Mary and Martha.

How would this passage be different if Jesus was visiting the home of two brothers, say Philip and Nathanial?


I dare anyone to pull the “Women’s Work” card;

Your chair has been wired and

You’re about to meet your maker!


Another danger of this passage of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha is to make an unintended connection with the previous passage.

Last Sunday’s passage, Jesus taught the inquiring Jewish lawyer what he must do to inherit eternal life,

Using a story about a good Samaritan to make his point.

Neighbors love God, love others, and engage in compassionate works of mercy for those in need.


Even though both Gospel narratives can only be found in Luke

And one follows the other,

I see no evidence that the intent of the Mary and Martha story

Is meant to shed light on the question of eternal life.

Jesus is frying other fish.


The third danger of the Mary and Martha story

Is to come to the mistaken assumption that Mary and Martha

Are engaged in a zero-sum game welcoming Jesus into their home.

There isn’t a winner at the expense of a loser here.


Consider the possibility that perhaps both Mary and Martha

Were engaged in exceptional acts of discipleship,

Giving Jesus an opportunity to teach

An even more important essential truth

About life, faith, and following him.


Don’t make these common mistakes.


Let’s make some new Gospel discoveries!





Let’s talk gender.

It’s the elephant in the room everyone is afraid to talk about,

Especially in today’s world.


Take note.
Luke reports this is a story of two women and Jesus.

Unlike other Gospel narratives that may include Lazarus,

a brother who Jesus would eventually raise from the dead,

Luke writes Lazarus out from the story and

Keeps the location of their home vague,

All-the-while making the point

That it is women

Who were supporting the mission and ministry of Jesus.


This is not the first revelation that Luke makes

To highlight women disciples.

In the eighth chapter of Luke,

It is reported that Mary, called the Magdalene,

Joanna, Susanna, and many others

Were called disciples

Who provided for Jesus out of their resources. (8:1-3)


Of course, in Luke’s version of the resurrection,

It is women

Who followed and supported Jesus from the beginning,

Who went to the tomb to prepare his corpse with spices.


It was women who first observed the resurrected Jesus, and

It was women who first witnessed their resurrection encounter to others.

“Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them,”

Became the first to witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (24:1-12)


Women disciples!

Stand tall! Stand proud!

When it comes to following Jesus,

Don’t ever stand in the shadow of men.

Stand as equal partners with male disciples.

Stand with all disciples only in the shadow of Jesus.


What does this mean for us today? And how can I apply this to my life?


We have a horrible history of holding women back in the Church,

Both locally and globally.

We have a terrible history

Of objectifying women,

Of making women the subject and focus of violence.

If you don’t believe me

You haven’t been listening.


Yeah, sexual harassment prevention policy and training for all employees?

It’s mandated by New York State law to be completed by October 9th.

The Church should be leading cultural change,

Not the State leading the Church.


Each of us, male and female alike,

Can begin with repentance,

Followed with our sincere vow to never treat a member of the opposite sex as anyone other than an equally beloved child of God,

as anyone other than an equal sister or brother disciple of Jesus.


Listen to the voice of women,

Who have been demeaned, hit upon, cursed, held back.

Listen to the stories of intimidation, abuse, violence, and rape.

Do not dismiss their voice.

Do not dismiss their stories as unbelievable.


Listen for the stirring of God in those painful stories

To create in each of us a new heart and

A better way forward for the Church and for the world.


Men need to be strong,

To lead by example,

To stand up and stand by our sister disciples and Church leaders.

Men need to be in the front row of the balcony,

Cheering the success women are making today

In the pulpit and in the pew,

In Church and in society,

Bringing home God’s kingdom.





Do not be overly critical of Martha.


Remember when Jesus sent 70 disciples on a mission

To teach, heal, and cast out demons?

Jesus told them not to be burdened with food or clothing;

That they would be received and supported by gracious hosts.

Martha is precisely that kind of host.


She was serving.

She was extending hospitality.

Remember Jesus is recorded in all four Gospels teaching that

The first shall be last and the last shall be first and the servant of all.

Being servant of all should be celebrated!

Shouldn’t it?


Yes, service should be celebrated.

Here, Jesus adds more pigment to the palate called service.


Our Lord’s rebuke of Martha is gentle and tender.

Of course, she was frustrated that she was doing all the physical work

While her sister, Mary, was listening idly at his feet.


What may have been a bigger burr in Jesus’ saddle

Is the fact that Martha asks Jesus to do her bidding.

Modern psychologist would call this “triangulation.”

“Tell her then to help me,” she commands Jesus. (10:40d)

Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be brought into the dispute of others,

To be triangulated,

And neither should we.


Note to self: Jesus doesn’t play fetch.

Don’t even try to tell the Lord what to do.


The original Greek word that is used here is

διακονία, (pronounced) de-awk-o-nee-a, (transliterated) Diakonia,

Which means in modern English:

  • Service, ministering, especially of those who execute the commands of others;
  • The ministration of those who help meet need by the collection or distributing of charities;
  • The service of those who prepare and present food.

Diakonia is the root word for Deacon,

Leaders of the Church,

Commissioned to service.

(Strong’s Lexicon, G1248, as found at https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g1248)


The second part of our Lord’s reply is

“Mary has chosen the better part,” (10:42b)

Revealing to us that, yes, service is vitally important to Christian discipleship,

But service is on a continuum of value and importance.

Something is even better.

There is a higher priority.


If following Jesus was only about service,

We could all turn out the lights, go home, and join the local Rotary Club, Lion’s Club, or League of Women Voters.

We’d be good and

We wouldn’t have to fret over faith, theology, or dogma.


Service in isolation is good works devoid of faith.

Service without Jesus will never have lasting character;

Will ebb and flow with cultural popularity and volunteerism; and

If often becomes unable to support itself in the long term.


Which brings us to:



Jesus calls disciples

To hear the Word and to be doers of the Word.

Hear first,

Then do.


Mary and Martha are additive,

Both espousing essential characteristics of discipleship,

With one characteristic being of higher priority.


Listens first to the Word of Jesus.


And you thought all scripture was equal,

That the Bible is flat?

Not a chance.


“There is need of only one thing,” Jesus teaches.

That is, we need only one thing: his teachings.

As a result of the Good News of Jesus,

Every disciple is convicted.


The Word convicts.

Every hearer of the Word is convicted out of necessity to act,

To do good works,

Service and hospitality,

All in Jesus name.


Service without first listening and learning from Jesus

Results in distractions.

Like Martha,

We become distracted,

If our service isn’t first grounded in the Word of God.


This has much to teach us today,

Especially struggling families,

Juggling priorities,

Raising children,

Caring for aging parents or grandparents,

Finding our way through life’s crisis,

Trying to cover all the bases.


Sunday morning sports and activities?

Parents, take responsibility for your decisions.

The choices you make today will have everything to do with the faith your children develop tomorrow.

Children’s sports and activities are a good thing,

only if their foundation is built first on the Word of God.

A parent’s top priority

Who is a disciple of Jesus,

Is to have their children learn the stories of Jesus.


Visiting and caring for my failing mother tires me out!

I’d rather sleep in Sunday morning.

Sister’s and brothers,

Caring for an aging loved one

Only works for disciples of Jesus

Who are first planted and deeply rooted in the Word of God.


Disciples of Jesus

Who praise God

Celebrating Word and Sacrament in worship,

Become the best care partners God can provide.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the best possible preparation to serve as a loving caregiver.


The Word softens the touch,

Nourishes the soul,

Delivers mercy,

Personifies God’s love,

Becomes the healing hands and touch of Jesus.


It is a joy to simplify,

To cast aside all competing distractions

To focus on only one thing:

The Word of God.

This is what gives me such joy in the Gospel.

This is what makes me a better disciple of Jesus and

Servant of God and neighbor.




Dearly beloved,

Jesus today gives to us Mary and Martha,

Two great disciples,

Who serve as rock stars,

bright and shinning mentors,

For our discipleship today.


We have much to learn from Mary and Martha.


Listen, first, to the Word of Jesus.

Remove competing distractions that steal our attention from Jesus.

Heed his commands.

Follow his directions.

Pattern life according to his ways.


The outcome

For those who hang on every word of Jesus?

We treat all others as equals,

Sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Co-laborers in God’s vineyard,

Each of us called and equipped by God to

Set people free for God’s kingdom.


The Word of Jesus teaches us that

Words matter.

Behavior matters.

Respect matters.

Hospitality matters.

Service matters.


The journey of faith is long and it takes many turns.

Each of us are at different places on the river of faith at any one time.

It’s good we’re all making the journey together.


Make the Word of Jesus your highest priority.

Everything else will fall into place.


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