Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen. Have you ever noticed the strange way that many people respond when you ask them how they are? Many people probably just flatly say, “Fine,” but too many others reply, “Busy.” Busy? That describes how you feel, how you’re doing? The best word that describes the reality of your life is “busy”? Houston, we have a problem. We got a big problem if “busy” is the best adjective for the days of our lives. When Jesus promises to give his disciples an “abundant life,” he is not talking about a grueling schedule of 12-hour days or accruing enough airline miles to fly from here to the moon. As wise King Solomon writes in Psalm 127, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:2, ESV).
When did the “badge of busyness,” as someone has called it, become the determination of value in life? If your calendar is full and your cell phone is more important than the person in front of you, then suddenly you are transformed into a valuable person. Like Martha in our Gospel lesson, we have a hard time slowing down, taking it easy, and just being present in the moment with the people around us. I am saddened by how often in restaurants I see entire families staring at their smartphone screens instead of interacting with each other. Sadly, my wife and I are sometimes guilty of this too.
Once when my cell phone rang in the middle of a conversation, and I hurried to answer, my friend asked me, “Do you own your cell phone, or does your cell phone own you?”
Even on my day “off,” I feel guilty if I am not somehow productive. I need to mow the lawn, balance the checkbook, pay the bills, and clean the garage. If I don’t get everything done, then I feel as though I have accomplished nothing, and so I give myself little room to relax, read a good book, or play with my boys. How am I doing? Well, I’m busy, of course!
When did we stop living as human beings and turn into human “doings” instead? Have we gained the world and lost our souls? Have we missed the mark and left out “the one thing necessary,” as Jesus put it (Luke 10:42)?
In our Gospel lesson today, Martha rebuked Jesus and her little sister for not helping her in the kitchen. (Technically, I suppose the Scriptures do not say which sister was older, but Martha speaks in that special, bossy way that only big sisters can! In my mind, Mary is always the little sister.) Mary and Martha had an important, honored guest, and Martha wanted to make sure that he received proper hospitality. Mary, on the other hand, sensed the importance of just “being” with Jesus, hearing his Word and enjoying his presence. She had probably experienced the disappointment of being invited to a friend’s house for a party only to never get a chance to interact with the host and hostess because they were constantly busy serving drinks and filling snack bowls instead of actually visiting with their guests. Mary didn’t want to miss out on what Jesus had to say. Martha, with a true servant’s heart, didn’t want Jesus to miss out on a good meal.
Oh, Martha, Martha! Sometimes I wish we had a hundred Marthas in our church—I’m glad we got at least a dozen. But we need more Marys too, people who slow down and are willing to devote themselves to extended times of study of God’s Word. For in her determination to be the perfect hostess, Martha missed out on the chance to be Jesus’ disciple. Her overly busy, type A personality also made her jealous and resentful of her seemingly lazy, good-for-nothing sister.
“Lord,” Martha yelled with hands on her hips, “do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40).
But Jesus answered her, “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” (Luke 10:41-42).
There is one thing necessary—“one thing needful” (KJV): listening to the Word of God. According to research by the Barna Group, only about one third of Americans read their Bibles at least once per week. The statistics on Bible reading are deplorable even among Christians, which means that we are terrible about sitting at the feet of Jesus. Not even half of our members attend Sunday school and Bible classes regularly.
In our race through rush hour and the minivan marathon, we have lost sight of what matters most. As Martin Luther writes in the Small Catechism, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it” (SC, 3rd Commandment). Of all the ways that we can show love for Jesus, the best way is not to cook up a four course meal. The best way is to enter into his presence to hear and believe his Holy Word. Times with Jesus will never be taken away from you (v. 42).
Tragically, we miss this point in our spiritual lives and in our family life. I have ministered to a lot of people in nursing homes and on their death beds. Nobody has ever told me that they wished they had spent more time working late at the office, watching more football games on TV, or even reading more books. But many people have expressed their sadness that their loved ones were taken from them too soon or that they didn’t spend “more time” with their kids.
No matter how hard you try to have “quality” time with your family, it will never count unless you put the priority on “quantity” time. Good memories don’t just happen on planned family vacations. You can’t flip a switch and say, “Okay, kids! Now we’re going to have quality time, so shut up, cooperate, and have fun!” You must first grin and bear it through the frustrating and mundane before you break through to the surprising and wonderful. The only way to plan for the remarkable is to make room on your day planner for the boring and predictable. Sometimes you just have to “be there.”
Like Martha, we are “anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). At the end of the day, the only things our badge of busyness has gotten us are an anxious heart and sleepless nights. And very often it is the “one thing necessary” that we leave out in our hurried rush from graduation to the grave: quiet time with Jesus. Mary chose the good portion, which Jesus promised could not be taken away from her (Luke 10:42). Time with Jesus in the Word and prayer is never wasted time. Time with Jesus is time to rest, refresh, and renew.
We should remember that when God gave to the Israelites the Third Commandment, “You shall remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy,” he was not burdening them. He was giving them a gift. The Sabbath was more than a day of leisure or an annoying inconvenience to keep them from having fun. The Sabbath was a day of rest to a population that had only recently been set free after 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The Sabbath day was revolutionary! In the ancient world, slaves did not rest. Only the rich and powerful could afford to do so. But God commanded that his people, his “treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5), set aside time to rest in God’s Word.
Martin Luther’s explanation of the Third Commandment is “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it” (SC, Third Commandment). Strictly speaking, there is nothing in Exodus to indicate that the purpose of Sabbath was to gather for public worship in order to read the Scriptures and listen to good preaching. But Luther’s genius was to recognize that apart from the love of Christ and faith in his Word, there is no rest. How can this be? Because for a Christian wearied by sin, work, and the unreasonable expectations that others and we ourselves place upon us, only Jesus offers true rest. In fact, Jesus is our Sabbath rest: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
God invites us to live in the rhythms of creation from sunup to sundown. “The day has its limit,” writes Bonhoeffer in Creation and Fall. And so do we. We are not meant to go 24/7. Sunday mornings are not for sleeping in and getting caught up on the rest you neglected the rest of the week. As Jesus invited his disciples in Mark 6, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Jesus invites you find solace and solitude in the quiet places with him. He came to give you rest. You do not have be the divine director of your own destiny. That role is already taken. “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Ps. 46:10). Literally, “Cease your striving, and know that I am God.”
Your badge of busyness will not get you into heaven. Good works cannot save you. We are saved by grace. The Bible does not say, “God helps those who help themselves.” Ben Franklin said that. The Bible says that God helps those who cannot help themselves. That’s what grace is all about: God’s mercy and forgiveness for sinners who scorn and despise God, their family, and their fellow man—not because we deserve a second chance but because God loves us and shows us mercy instead of wrath because of Christ’s death on the cross.
Now Jesus wants to have a relationship with you and spend time with you. That’s why he died on the cross for your sins: to take away your punishment in hell so that you can live forever with him in heaven. Jesus has gone and ascended into heaven to get your room ready. He goes to prepare a place for you (John 14:2-3). But you don’t have to wait for the day you die to start enjoying time with Jesus. Even now you can find him in the Word and prayer. So instead of eating lunch at your desk, take your lunch break to read your Bible at a picnic table in the park. Get up a half hour earlier so you can pray one of the Psalms and have breakfast at home instead of the drive-thru. Instead of watching TV immediately after you put the kids to bed, do a family devotion instead. And when you are driving, consider listening to a CD of the New Testament instead of talk radio. After all, we need to hear the Good News much more than we do NPR. “One thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42). The good portion will not be taken away from you (v. 42). In the name of Jesus. Amen.