Sermons, Uncategorized

When the Lord Comes to Visit

“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Johannes Vermeer















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Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who 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.” But the Lord 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 10:38-42).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

You all know what it’s like when you’re expecting company. There’s usually a certain amount of preparation that is necessary—cooking, cleaning, bringing out the best dishes and silverware. We want to impress them. We want to make them feel at home. And when the company shows up unexpectedly, it just adds to the stress and busyness—even more so, if it is someone we consider to be above our own social standing.

So. What do you do when the Lord comes to visit?

It was the hottest part of the day. Abraham was sitting in the shade at the door of his tent. Perhaps he had dozed off. Maybe he was in deep thought about the wondrous promise he had received from God—within a year Sarah would give birth to his son. Suddenly, he was aware that three travelers had stopped near his tent. Hebron was on the main road that runs along the ridge of the Judean hills, and occasionally there were travelers who needed food and lodging. Hebrews 13:2 informs us that Abraham did not realize who his visitors were until later. Although they appeared in human form, one was the Lord Himself (Genesis 18:13) and the other two were angels (Genesis 19:1).

Abraham greeted the three travelers humbly and courteously. He bowed to the earth, invited his guests to rest in the shade under the tree, and brought water to wash their feet. By our standards his invitation, and especially his hospitality, might seem overdone, but perhaps our standards need adjusting. The Christian who loves his Lord will learn to look upon people not be interruptions or things to be used but as people designed by God, loved by God, and to be loved and served by us. It is not to our credit if our daily lives touch the lives of others with as little concern as two billiard balls bounce off each other or two ships pass in the night.

At this lazy hour of the day, Abraham’s household suddenly turned into a beehive of activity. Moses describes meal preparation that must have taken several hours. Abraham instructed Sarah to take three seahs—about fifty pounds— of flour and to bake some bread. He ran to the herd, selected a choice bull calf, and ordered his men to slaughter it and prepare it. Curds and milk completed the feast he set before his guests. And the three guests ate Sarah’s fresh-baked bread and the tender veal while Abraham stood by them under the tree.

It soon became clear that the three visitors had not stopped at Abraham’s place just to get a free meal. “Where is Sarah your wife?” they asked. We can imagine how surprised Sarah must have been to hear these “strangers” mention her name as she listened in on the conversation from inside the tent. They were talking about her and had come to bring a message for her: The Lord repeated His promise: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

What a staggering thought! In addition to the promise of a son, Abraham and Sarah were to realize, and you and I are too, that the almighty God, the Lord Himself, wants to share our company as a friend. It is this down-to-earth, seeking, caring love of the Lord that melts cold hearts and wins them to Himself.

What do you do when the Lord comes to visit? You drop everything and spend some time with Him.

As we heard in our Gospel reading a few weeks ago, when Jesus sent out the 72, He told them to take nothing with them but to depend upon the hospitality of those who would hear them and welcome them into their homes. It appears Jesus and the Twelve must have followed the same practice. As Jesus enters the village a woman named Martha welcomes Him into her house.

One can understand why Martha is very busy making meal preparations. It’s not every day when the Lord comes to visit. And if, as seems likely, Jesus’ disciples came with Him, that’s a lot of mouths to feed. She probably could have used some of Sarah’s big batch of fresh-baked bread!

Meanwhile, her sister Mary is sitting at the Lord’s feet doing nothing but listening. Martha becomes irritated and asks the Lord to put Mary to work helping her. Jesus does not agree with Martha’s assessment of the situation. It is Martha who has her priorities wrong not Mary. “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her,” says Jesus. Martha is distracted over many things; Mary is satisfied with “the one thing [that] is necessary.”

This story is a contrast to our Gospel reading from last week, “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” The good Samaritan is an example of active doing. Mary is an example of quiet listening. Martha is busy serving her neighbor, but what she is doing is not so essential as what Mary is doing. A work or service that bypasses the Word of God is one that will never last. Hearing God’s Word must be our first priority.

The main point of the story is easy to recognize. Don’t get so distracted and concerned about doing good that you neglect what is most important, namely, to sit at the feet of Jesus and to hear the Word of God. But we should also recognize the problem confronting Martha. Isn’t she also doing the proper thing, namely showing hospitality to the Son of Man, who has no place to lay His head (9:58)? And by receiving Jesus, isn’t she receiving Him who sent Jesus (Luke 10:16)?

Martha’s dilemma can be highlighted by seeing it in the broader context of Luke’s Gospel. Recall that there are three elements to Jesus’ table fellowship: teaching, eating, and the presence of Jesus. One shows hospitality to those workers sent out into the harvest in a variety of ways. One certainly provides for them the food that is essential for table fellowship. But the most fundamental part of the hospitality shown to God’s pastors and missionaries is to receive and hear the preaching of the kingdom.

The one thing necessary is the gift that Jesus has come to bring. In the context of the Church, it is the catechesis of the Church, the teaching of the Word of God. The catechumen shows hospitality when he faithfully receives the Word of God. Jesus’ teaching is the good portion that will not be taken away.

The issue here is whether one is first to serve the Lord or first to be served by Him. This really ends up being a question of the proper approach to worship. Mary has the right liturgical theology. She sits at the feet of Jesus to receive divine service from Him. Instead of trying to serve Jesus first, she allows Jesus first to serve her with His gifts. Hospitality to the Lord is best expressed in faith’s passive acceptance of God’s Word, where the gifts of God’s kingdom will be found. After receiving the gifts, there will be time for an expression of hospitality in response. But first must come the reception by faith of the preaching of the kingdom. Martha makes the mistake of thinking she is the host and Jesus the guest.

For our meal prayer, we often pray:

Come, Lord Jesus be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed.

Given our focus from today Gospel, perhaps we’d be wise to add another verse:

Come, Lord Jesus be our host. You are what we need to the most.

What do you do when the Lord comes to visit? Perhaps the more important question is: When the Lord come comes to visit, what would He have you do? You drop everything and spend time with Him. You sit at His feet and listen to what He has to say, to receive what He has to give.

The story of Mary and Martha shows that when the kingdom of God is near, one must choose the portion that is “good” in the absolute sense—good above all others. The posture in which one receives Jesus’ divine service is not the busyness of human doing, but the stillness of listening to the words of Jesus. Faith is the highest worship. A faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

Our hymnal follows the Eastern and German tradition of calling the Communion service the “Divine Service.” The point is that worship is first and foremost God’s service to us. Going to church isn’t doing God a favor. We go to receive the fruit of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection—His forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Sure, we respond to His grace and forgiveness by confessing and praising His name and serving our neighbor, but first things first. Unless we passively sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, let Him wash us in Holy Baptism, let Him take our sins away and give us His perfect righteousness, let Him put His holy and precious blood in our mouths, we are not His. For it is in these means of grace, the Lord comes to visit you.

When the Lord comes to visit, like Abraham and Sarah, you hear the Lord’s promises of salvation and His return. Like Mary, you sit at Jesus’ feet to learn and hear from the Lord of all Creation. It is a privileged place to be if there ever was one! You are not here because of your wisdom as much as Jesus’ instigation. Abraham may have invited the Lord and His angels to stay for dinner, but the Lord came to his camp at the oaks of Mamre first. Martha may have welcomed Jesus into her house, but Jesus is the one who came to the village.

What is more, the one thing necessary—which is Jesus, Himself, of course—will not be taken away from you either! He has given Himself to you—not only as Teacher and Lord, but also as Savior. No one can take away the forgiveness, life, and salvation which is yours in Christ.

What a blessed way to begin a week!

Come here often and regularly to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen. For here you will find the good portion, the one thing necessary, the Lord Jesus and His life-giving Word. Here He has washed away your sins and made you God’s own beloved child, a co-heir with Christ in His kingdom. Here, the Lord feeds you His Supper, His very body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Here, through His called and ordained servant, He speaks to you this gracious Good News: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Who Was the Neighbor?

“The Good Samaritan” by Eugene Burnand

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Jesus told this story: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

Jesus asked the young man who wanted to define “neighbor”: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:30-37).

A remarkable act of kindness!—especially from such an unexpected source!  

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

A young couple was at the hospital for the birth of their first baby when tragedy struck. The doctor had terrible news. The baby’s umbilical cord had twisted around her neck, depriving her of oxygen, and leaving her alive but with severe brain damage. “What can we do?” the parents pleaded. “I hate to even suggest this,” the doctor began, “but you could choose to do nothing.” “What do you mean?” they asked. “The damage is irreversible,” he went on. “Your daughter will be profoundly handicapped as long as she lives. If we do nothing now, she’ll die. You have to decide, of course, but that might be better for everyone.”

Not sure what to do, but wisely realizing it was a decision they did not want to make on their own, the young couple called their pastor and asked him to offer them some scriptural guidance in seeking God’s will.

Several hours later, a social worker stopped in. After gently expressing her sympathies, she came to the point. “I admire your decision to save your daughter’s life. Let’s talk now about what comes next. You realize, I’m sure, that she’ll have to be institutionalized. There’s nothing you’ll be able to do with her at home. It will just be too overwhelming.”

The little girl’s parents knew that it might become necessary to find help. But first, they thought, they would try to care for her themselves. “Dear Lord,” they prayed, “be with our Angela. Give her a life that glorifies you and give us the patience and strength to love her and give her whatever she needs.” They knew Angela already belonged to Jesus, for she had been baptized in the hospital the moment the crisis had been discovered. God had adopted Angela as one of His own dear children. Now, her mother and father counted on our Savior to continue to provide for His tiny sister.

It was more difficult than they could’ve imagined. More than once they wished they had taken the social worker’s advice. Special equipment, training, and countless trips to therapists were expensive and exhausting. And Angela was always different from other children. But they got help—their family was behind them, their pastor and congregation supplied spiritual support, and an endless stream of volunteers and fund-raisers.

In answer to their prayers, Angela did live to glorify God. Each day of her life was a precious witness to God’s grace. Oh, she would never be on her own, get a job, or raise a family. But she exuded joy and zest for life. She smiled, sang, chatted endlessly about Jesus… and those close to her knew that someday she’d also enjoy endless health and wholeness in heaven.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

A young boy was going to school in the United States for the first time. He had been a good student in Mexico, but now his father had come to work in the States, and the boy knew almost no English, leaving him anxious and feeling very much alone. Ruben wondered how he’d know where to go, what to do. Even more, he wondered if anyone would talk to him or invite him to play with them.

The morning was all right. He sat in his desk with all sorts of things happening in front of him. He didn’t really understand most of what was going on, but then no one actually expected him to. Not yet. He’d catch on eventually, his father said before he left the house that morning.

Then came recess. Now everyone was running, playing, laughing, having fun—with their friends. Not Ruben. He wished someone would be playing soccer. He could do that without talking, probably better than most of these kids. These boys played American football, and they didn’t invite him to join them. He realized he didn’t know how to play, but it still would have been nice to be asked.

Lunch was worse. Ruben’s class went through the line together, but as soon as they got to their assigned table, Ruben felt alone again. Nobody seemed to notice as he looked for an empty seat. Someone must have said something funny, because everybody laughed, and one boy’s milk came out his nose—but Ruben couldn’t get the joke. So he sat at the very end of the table and just ate his lunch, wishing he could have had one of his mother’s home-cooked meals instead.

The afternoon dragged on. He spent most of the time daydreaming he was back with his friends in Mexico. Finally, it was three o’clock. A teacher led all the children to the front curb. Students piled into waiting buses and cars. What? There was no bus diez, the one Ruben had ridden to school in the morning! “Diez! Diez!” he shouted. The teacher didn’t understand. In a panic, Ruben wondered how he would ever get home.

“Ruben,” came a voice behind him. “I know where you want to go. You were on my bus this morning.” Ruben didn’t understand, but he went along as Joshua took him by the hand. “Bus 10 doesn’t go in the afternoon for some reason,” he tried to explain. “We take bus 32.” Ruben shrugged, but grinned, and took the seat by Joshua.

They went a few blocks and the bus pulled over to the side of the road. “That’s my stop,” Joshua said as the bus pulled out again. “I’ll stay on with you this time and get off on the way back. He makes a loop.” The bus ride went fast, even though neither one of the boys could catch much the other said. Then Ruben recognized his street. “Gracias!” he said as he got off. “See you tomorrow!” said Joshua. Ruben didn’t understand those words, either, but he understood the smile. Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

Trudy planned to celebrate her 83rd birthday on Tuesday, but she had nowhere to go. Age had robbed her of her strength and was slowly stripping away her mental capacity too, leaving her helpless in a nursing home. As she sat in her wheelchair, an attendant read a card aloud: “To my Mother: A son can never choose his Mom and perhaps that’s just as well. ‘Cause if each son could choose, I know you’d be one busy gal! Have a great day, Mom! You’re the best! Love, Dean.” “That’s so sweet,” the attendant said as she put down the card. “Be nice if he stopped by once in a while,” she thought to herself. “My Dean travels,” Trudy said. “Travels all around.”

The telephone rang. The attendant picked it up. A voice on the other end said: “Hi, this is Dian Wilson, Trudy’s daughter. Could you wish my Mom a happy birthday for me? We told her we were going to come by tomorrow, but it turns out we can’t. She probably won’t remember anyway, but if you could tell her. Thanks. We’ll send flowers or something. Thanks so much. Bye.”

“Diane just called to wish you a happy birthday, Trudy,” the attendant said. “Diane’s coming over tomorrow. Tomorrow’s my birthday, you know. I’m going to be 83,” Trudy said. Perhaps by the next day Trudy didn’t remember. Maybe she wasn’t disappointed that no one came. But when the noon meal was over and the other residents had all been wheeled back down the hall, she asked to stay in the dining room. The room was empty, quiet. For a long time Trudy sat alone.

Then, bouncing into the room came a pretty girl, about 13 years old, with enough energy for both of them. “Hi!” she said. “I’m Tara. I just started today as a volunteer. Are you Trudy?” Trudy nodded. “I hear it’s your birthday!” Trudy brightened up. “I’m 83.” But suddenly Trudy was 13 again, telling stories about that birthday. And as she spoke, you could almost see candles glowing in her eyes.

“Heh, just a second!” Tara said as she jumped up from the table. In a minute she was back, carrying a little dish of banana pudding topped with one flickering candle. “I think we need to have a party! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Trudy, happy birthday to you…” Tara didn’t ask what Trudy had wished for when she blew out the candle.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

I was going downhill fast and didn’t even know it. Even before I was born, I’d fallen into the clutches of sin. My enemies—the devil, the world, and my own sinful flesh—beat me down mercilessly, leaving me spiritually dead. I was just lying there, helpless. Nothing I could do could save me. Neither could anybody else, because everyone who passed by me had been beaten by the same enemies. Each one was wrapped in the same selfishness, the same sin, as I was. Unless someone had done something fast, I’d have perished forever in hell. But then along came my Good Samaritan, who took pity on me, picked me up in His arms, and delivered me to safety. He even paid for my care Himself and promised to come back for me. Now, I’m bandaged, healed, and loving life.

Who was the neighbor? The One who showed mercy. Jesus!

The story of the Good Samaritan is actually every person’s story. But the story is not, first of all, about anything we are to do. That’s secondary. It’s really about what Jesus has done to save us in our need.

All of us by nature were dead in our sin and thus helpless to save ourselves. Seeing our great need, Jesus had mercy on us, and came down to us to bind our wounds and touch us with His healing power. Throughout His life, Jesus carried our burden of sin. In His passion, He was spit upon, mocked, stripped, whipped, and beaten mercilessly. Half dead, He was forced to carry His own cross to Calvary. On the cross, He paid the penalty for all of the sin of all the people of the world. Jesus purchased us and redeemed us, not with silver or gold, but with His own holy and precious blood.

In Baptism, Jesus picked us up in His arms and delivered us from death and the devil into eternal life. Then Jesus left us in the care of His Church, promising that one day He would return for all of His own. Until that day, Jesus left us to care for one another, to comfort one another with the oil of joy and wine of gladness. To show mercy to those in need. To love our neighbor as ourselves.

As members of His body, the Church, we look after one another in love. We continue to pick up fellow travelers who have robbed and beaten by sin. And Jesus continues to “come back” in His Word and Sacraments. Through His means of grace, our Good Samaritan lavishes us with forgiveness and daily care until, finally, He will return to take us to heaven.

Who is the Neighbor? Jesus. The One who showed mercy. In Him you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for His sake, you are forgiven for all your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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