THE ONLY THING NECESSARY
IS TO SIT AT JESUS' FEET.
In the name + of Jesus.
I'm sure you've heard it before. Chances are you said it: “I was going to do that, but then life got in the way.” We all make plans and have dreams. Maybe you have a bucket list of things you want to do. Rarely do we get to do them all. Instead, we find that responsibilities and obligations force us to adjust our plans. They may even dash our dreams. We lament having to adjust our plans and dreams, but we do it anyway. We recognize that our responsibilities are more important than our bucket list. Obligations always trump dreams. Complaining that “Life got in the way” suggests that our responsibilities are bad. They are not. Granted, they demand our time and our effort, but they are not evil.
In most cases, your obligations are summed up in the Bible this way: “For we are (God's) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) In other words, your responsibilities and obligations are the works that God has given you to do. Far from evil, these are the good works God lays right in front of you. You get to carry them out in your various vocations. By doing them, you honor God. Your dreams may be more fun for you, but your responsibilities are how you love and serve your neighbor.
You are not unique. All people have responsibilities. Nor is it a new phenomenon. Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. (Luke 10:38) When Jesus came to visit, Martha's desire to serve kicked right in. She was eager to be a good hostess. So, she busied herself with meal prep. Who could fault Martha for that? If you were her guest, you would surely appreciate her hospitality. Martha was busy, but not her sister.
Mary … sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:39-40) Don't you suppose Martha would have enjoyed sitting down and listening to Jesus? Don't you suppose she would have enjoyed relaxing and conversing rather than being absorbed with the drudgery of meal prep? Sure. It would have been nice, but life got in the way.
You know how the story ends. Jesus replied to Martha: “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) Martha often gets taken to task for her tasks. Jesus did not rebuke her for doing what is evil. Rather, he commended Mary for what she was doing. Jesus described what Mary was doing as both “the good portion” and “necessary.” She did not let life get in the way of sitting down at Jesus' feet to listen to the word of God.
Once again, it needs to be stressed that Martha was not doing anything wicked. Love your neighbor as yourself means that you are going to serve your neighbor. To avoid that obligation is to disobey God's command. However, God's commandment is not limited to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) That is the second greatest commandment. The first is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27) Obeying the second greatest commandment is worthless if you do not keep the first. Your neighbor may benefit, but God's wrath remains upon you if you do not honor him above all.
Martha was fulfilling her obligations for her guest. Jesus, however, reminded her that there was only one thing needful, and it was not her serving him. We do not gain God's favor by how much we do, by how well we do it, or by how much others benefit from it. God's favor is not won by works; it is given by grace. It is given only by Jesus. And it is delivered only through the word which is preached and the sacraments which are administered. Therefore, the only thing necessary is to sit at Jesus' feet and to be served.
Jesus said, “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion.” (Luke 10:41-42) Mary sat at Jesus' feet to hear him teach about the kingdom of God. If the kingdom of God were about how much we do for Jesus, Jesus would have commended Martha for all the service she was doing and would have chastised Mary for just sitting there. Instead, it was Mary who was commended. The only thing necessary is to set at Jesus' feet.
This is also why we come to worship. The Divine Service is not about what you are doing for Jesus. Granted, we praise the Lord, we sing hymns, and we say our prayers. But you and I do not bring things to God's house that God needs. Our God is not served as if he needs anything from us. We are sinners who need what God provides. We come into his presence in order to be served by him and to receive gifts from him. Here, God speaks to us through his word—in the liturgy, in the lessons, in the absolution, and in the sermon. Here, Jesus feeds his sheep to strengthen them, sustain them, and to keep them united to him for their salvation. Here, God declares his promises and bestows his blessings upon us. God's grace is revealed and his salvation is delivered.
Salvation is given not because we sang pretty enough, prayed hard enough, or worshiped fervently enough. Salvation is given because the Lord Jesus Christ did the work of carrying your sins to the cross, taking upon himself the wrath of God, dying a cursed death, and substituting his perfect, innocent life for yours. Jesus has suffered and died for you. At his resurrection, Jesus did not appear to his disciples to give new rules to obey—as if Jesus completed his part of your salvation and you still have to prove your commitment to him by your works. If you could not keep his first commandments, what makes you think you could keep a new batch of commandments? Jesus assures you that everything has been fulfilled. When he breathed his last at the cross, he declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) No more works or sacrifices are necessary. Jesus' resurrection declares that your sins are paid for and that your place in his kingdom is secure. The only thing necessary is to sit at Jesus' feet and receive his gifts.
Martha was so busy with her obligations that life was getting in the way of receiving these blessings from Jesus. It is ironic. Life was getting in the way for Martha while the source of life was sitting in her home. Life was getting in the way while the Way, the Truth, and the Life was in her living room. It is easy to get distracted and to be “anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:41) The good portion is what Jesus gives. The only thing necessary it to sit at Jesus' feet.
As long as you are in this world, you will have obligations and responsibilities. They may be drudgery, but they are not evil. They are the good works God gives you to honor him and to love your neighbor. For that matter, even your dreams and bucket list are not evil as long as they are not sins. But no matter what vocations God gives to you, they are all temporary. They will not go on into eternity. Your bucket list expires when you kick the bucket. If your temporary vocations end up being more important than Jesus' eternal gifts, you will end up losing both. That is why it is necessary to sit at Jesus' feet. He blesses your obligations and your dreams now, and he promises everlasting rest to come.
By sitting at Jesus' feet, you receive comfort, strength, and encouragement to support you through the joys and struggles in this life. By sitting at Jesus' feet, you gain the hope and confidence that you will have everlasting peace and rest from all your labors in the glory to come. Life cannot get in the way of this, for this is your life. Only Jesus provides you with peace, mercy, and forgiveness here; and only Jesus will raise you up from the grave to have everlasting life and glory. Only Jesus supplies all you need.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.