Sunday, July 21, 2019
Tampa Bay, Florida
A storm is coming. It threatens to sweep them away. Death will soon visit this house. And Death comes with his companions, Doubt and Despair.
Knowing death was coming for Lazarus, Life came. Life spoke. And Mary listened. She does not know it yet, but she will soon need the Word of Life. A storm is coming.
Another storm rages within Martha. She is busy. Doing what? Doing diakonia – service, ministry. Is that not good? To prepare a meal for Jesus? But over the fire of the hearth, a fire burns in Martha’s heart.
She resents Mary. “I’m doing all the work! And she is not working with me.”
Thus Martha judges her sister. For this, Martha is in jeopardy of God’s judgment. So is everyone who is angry at her sister, or brother. “For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
We can relate to Martha’s cry to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care?” Mired in self-pity, she felt alone. Have you experienced that? We know what needs to be done, but the people who are supposed to help don’t see it. And it appears the Lord does not care. “I’m working! And she is not working with me.”
“Tell her to help me.” That’s why we’ve come to Tampa. That’s why we are in this synod – to help each other, to undertake together the mission of Christ. And we can feel like Martha: “I’m working, but my sister congregation, my brother pastor, my district president - they’re not working with me.”
Maybe we shouldn’t even bother. Maybe we’d be better off going our separate ways. But first we’ll try the Law. That’s what Martha is doing. “Tell her to help me!” Cooperation by compulsion. She wants Jesus to command the diakonia, to force Mary to the ministry of the table.
Mark how Jesus responds. Not in anger. “Martha, Martha.” The repetition indicates love. His rebuke is gentle.
He addresses in her the anxiety common to us all. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.”
Although we’ve gathered under the banner of Joy:fully Lutheran, I bet you, too, are anxious and troubled about many things.
On one level, if you’re not troubled, you’re not paying attention. As a storm was coming for Martha and Mary, a storm is coming for us as well. The world is changing. Our numbers are declining. It’s tempting to point the finger at each other and say, “Lord, tell her to help! Lord, tell my brother to divide the inheritance! Lord, shall we call down fire?”
And Jesus, looking at the rich young ruler, loved him. And Jesus, having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end. And Jesus, looking at a synod full of blame and bitterness, said, “Missouri, Missouri, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful.”
What is it? You know. “The Law says ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. The Gospel says, ‘Believe this,’ and everything is done already.” Jesus has done it. The one thing needful is to receive from Jesus His righteousness, His love, His life. He has done everything already.
The storm is coming, but we have a Jesus who stills storms. The world is raging, but we have a Jesus who has overcome the world. Death is coming, but we have a Jesus who has trampled down death by His death. The devil accuses us, but one little word can fell him. One word from Jesus.
What is that word? “Liar.” It’s addressed to the devil. That’s what the devil does. He lies. He is the father of it. And that’s what the fear of the storm does to us – it plants lies in our heart. “The Lord doesn’t care. The Synod doesn’t care. My pastor doesn’t care. My congregation doesn’t care. We are doomed. I know what I will do. I have resolved in my heart to fight harder, to win the vote, to win the war.”
And Jesus says, “Missouri, Missouri, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful. Don’t believe the lies. Look to Me. Look to My cross. Look to My resurrection. I have washed you. I have fed you. You are holy. You are mine. Will I not be with you in the storm? Will I not lead you safely through the valley of the shadow of death? It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. I am the resurrection and the life. You will not die, but live.”
We have business to do this week. Elections and resolutions. But our chief business is to be still and lay our anxieties at the feet of Jesus. Luther said, “A man … is made a Christian, not by working, but by hearing” (Commentary on Galatians, p211).
So was Martha wrong, and Mary right? Not exactly. It is a matter of ordering. Martha put ministry, diakonia, first. We don’t know for certain what happened next – and maybe that’s for us to fill in. What should happen next? I like to imagine that Martha sat down next to Mary and they both listened to the one thing needful: Jesus’ words of forgiveness and life. And then, all bitterness and resentment gone, they both proceeded joyfully to the work. Together. They were a synod of two: listening to Jesus together; working together; walking together. Their joy came from Jesus. From Jesus comes our joy! The joy of the Lord is our strength. ✠INJ✠