Thursday, July 11, 2019

Being Whole-Hearted

Luke 10:38-42, the gospel appointed for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, contains a familiar story, the story of Mary and Martha.  Many a sermon has been preached on this text, exhorting us to spend time "at the Lord's feet" rather than busy running about working.  It is amusing to read the work of John Mayer, an Anglican priest of the reformation era, who said, in effect, "We should not follow Mary's example,except in sermons." Ha. The crucial question is not which is more important, worship or ministry, but rather, what is going on in our heart?  This will be the central issue for the preacher.

(The following questions have been developed to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, around the function of the Word. They are not meant to be exhaustive.  To learn more about Law and Gospel preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text? I hear this Word as a word of Gospel.  The Lord is obviously concerned about Martha and her unending attempts to please him, and he says, in effect, "Stop being anxious. Only one thing is needed [and I have provided that in my person]."

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Even though many a Law-based sermon has been preached on this text, saying, "Repent of your busyness!" I don't believe it is warranted.  I do not hear Jesus rebuking Martha, but rather showing her compassion.  It is a little like his word to the crowds, "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."(Matt. 11) Or "Be not anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself." (Matt. 6)

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Martha is the one being addressed by the Word (i.e. Jesus), thus we must identify with Martha.  We, "good church folk" are often the ones scurrying around, in charge of everything from the patched together boiler to the cookie baking.  We are the ones who need Jesus to free us from our anxious ways, to allow Him to take our burdens upon him.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is always the call to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ.  Here, the call is to faith, not obedience.  Jesus is saying, "Martha, Martha, trust that all that is needful has already been done."

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Theologically, we could assign several couplets here: bondage [to fear/anxiety]/freedom [from fear/anxiety]; distracted and overburdened/freed for wholehearted service.

6.  Exegetical work:  Luther, in a sermon on this text, imagines that Jesus addresses Martha by reminding her of his preaching on the mountain:  "Martha, you have many worries.  I have preached the gospel before which says that one should not worry: one should work but not worry, and especially when the Word is brought forward, then one should neglect business... and only cling to the Word." ("On the Day of Mary's Ascension," Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, III, 229). Kittel has a brief article on merimnao, the word translated in verse 41 as "worried."  This article is helpful, even though it does not address this text specifically, but refers to the Sermon on the Mount:  "What makes a proper concern foolish is anxiety and the illusion to which it gives rise in its blindness, namely, that life itself can be secured by the means of life for which there is concern... Such anxiety is futile; for the future which they think they can provide for is not in their hands." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, IV, p. 592).

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Steven Albertin has several entries for this text, but the one entitled "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" is the one that I believe gets at the heart of this text.  Albertin points out that when anxiety overtakes us, it is because we think that "it's all on us."  It's not, it's all on God.  As a mentor of mine shared:  "This is the 11th commandment:  Thou shalt not take thyself so seriously."  Go to for this analysis and a number of fine other examples.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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