Just One Thing
Conversations with Jesus Just One Thing Luke 10:38-42 Pastor Pat Damiani March 10, 2019 NOTE: This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript. We’ll begin this morning with a clip from the 1991 movie “City Slickers” in which well-known theologians Jack Palance, who play a ranch hand named Curly, and Billy Crystal, who plays a Manhattan yuppie named Mitch Robbins, introduce the main idea from today’s message. [Clip from “City Slickers” – the “one thing”] We are going to see this morning that Curly is right. The secret of life is indeed “just one thing”. And the good news is that the passage that we’ll look ta today is going to help us answer the question that Billy Crystal’s character asked: “What’s the one thing?” That is a question that has been posed over the years not only by theologians, but by people from every walk of life. In his 2015 book, First Things First, management guru Stephen Covey and his fellow authors asked this penetrating question: “What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your personal life?” They then go on to pose that same question with regards to professional and work life. And then they ask this follow-up question: “If you know these things would make such a significant difference, why are you not doing them now?” I want to ask you to think about those same questions as they pertain to your relationship with Jesus. What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your walk with Jesus? I want you to think about that for a moment and then I’ve given you some space in your sermon outline to write down your answer. Now that you’ve written down that answer, let me ask the same follow up question: If you know that one thing would make such a different difference in your walk with Jesus, are you doing it on a consistent basis? And if you are not, why not? This morning, we’re going to look at a familiar passage which will help us to answer those questions. Although Luke does not identify the location where this event occurs, we can use information that we find John’s gospel account to help us fill in some of the details. Based on that information, we know that this story takes place in the village of Bethany, which is located just a few miles outside of Jerusalem on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. Jesus visits the home of Martha, who lives there with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus, who Jesus will later raise back to life after he dies. This was likely a place that Jesus visited frequently and a place where He was loved and accepted. But as we’re going to see the two sisters express that love in very different ways. Since the passage we’ll study today is short – only 5 verses – will you read it out loud with me. 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 ESV) This is a very simple, straightforward story. So I’m not going to take a lot of time to dig into the meaning of the underlying Greek words or parse every single verb here because that just isn’t necessary for us to understand the main idea. But I do think it is appropriate to share a few words of caution before we consider that main theme. First, I think there is a tendency for us to “take sides” when it comes to this account, often based on our own natural tendencies. But nothing that Jesus does or says here should lead us to do that. So we need to be careful not to make Martha out to be the “villain” or to make Mary the “hero” here. In spite of her shortcomings, it is clear that Martha loves Jesus and believes in Him. She calls Him “Lord”. And she does what she does out of her love and respect for Him. I am convinced that her motives here are pure, even though, as we’ll see, some of her attitudes are not. The other potential danger here is that we could conclude that there is little or no value in service. And it is even possible for some of you to use this passage as an excuse not to serve, claiming that you need to know the Bible better before you serve. But Jesus never condemns or rebukes Martha for her service. He only addresses the fact that her attitude toward her service has caused her to be distracted from the “one thing” that should be her focus. With that in mind, it’s really not too difficult at all to identify the “one thing” that is required in our relationship with Jesus because Jesus makes that crystal clear in verse 42: …but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” And exactly what was it that Mary had chosen to do? Sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words. So here is… TODAY’S GOSPEL TAKEAWAY I’m confident that most of you here this morning agree with that, at least in theory. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you wrote that down earlier as your answer to the question I asked at the beginning of the message. But I would also guess, based on my own personal struggles and what I’ve observed over years of pastoral ministry, that most of us struggle to do this consistently. Obviously, while we are still on this earth we can’t physically sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him audibly speak to us. But we actually have something much better – the Bible. While He was here on earth, Jesus was limited to being in one place at a time and the only ones who could hear His words were the ones who were physically present with Him. But today we have the advantage of having His words in writing in our own English language in a form that we can have with us anywhere and anytime. In fact, with all the technology we have available to us today, we have easier access to the Bible than any other generation in history. On the smartphone that most of us have with us at all times, we not only have access to the Bible text itself, but also to all kinds of tools that can help us read and understand the Bible. For those of you who haven’t already taken advantage of some of those tools, you’ll find information in your bulletin and on our website about some great apps that are available to you. Not surprisingly, recent research bears out this idea that listening to and responding to the Word of God needs to be our “one thing”. A 2011 study done by Lifeway Research identified 8 attributes that consistently were present in the lives of disciples of Jesus who are growing in their spiritual maturity. And guess what was number one? That’s right – what they called Bible engagement – which is just another way of saying we need to listen to and respond to God’s Word. What you don’t need this morning is for me to make you feel guilty about the fact that you don’t always make God’s Word your “one thing”. If that’s a struggle for you, you probably already feel guilty enough. So this morning, I’m going to do my very best to provide you with some very practical advice on how to listen to and respond to the words of Jesus with the hope that it will help you to make some good progress in that area regardless of where you are right now. I’m going to begin, as I always attempt to do, with what we can learn from the text itself. But I’m also going to supplement that with some other things I’ve learned over the years from relevant research and from my own personal experience and observation. I will say that I certainly don’t come close to doing this as well as I should, but I do think I’m a lot closer to where I need to be than I was even a couple years ago. So my prayer is that this will be practical and helpful for all of us. HOW TO MAKE GOD’S WORD MY “ONE THING” 1. Make it a delight, not a duty To a large degree, we see that Martha is serving Jesus here out of a sense of duty. In that culture hospitality was very important, so she wanted to make sure that everything was just right for the meal that she was going to serve to Jesus, and likely to at least some of the disciples who would have been travelling with Him. She is focused on the task before her so when her sister just sits down to listen to Jesus teach, she gets frustrated because she is worried that without Mary’s help the meal might not be ready on time or that it might not meet Jesus’ expectation. As a result, Martha got so frustrated that she actually accused Jesus of not caring about her and then she asked Jesus to intervene and order Mary to help her. Mary is part of a book club that meets at our house a couple times of year and I normally cook dinner for them because I enjoy cooking. And often I’m still finishing up the meal when the other women start arriving. As they arrive, Mary naturally engages in the conversation that inevitably takes place when a group of women get together. I can’t even imagine interrupting their conversation and asking one of the other women to tell Mary to come help me with the meal. But that was essentially what Martha did here because she was motivated by a sense of duty. Mary, on the other hand, was oblivious to the fact that Martha needed a hand. She took so much delight in listening to Jesus that all three times we see her in the gospel accounts, she is sitting at His feet. I don’t think she intentionally ignored the fact that Martha could use some help. She was just so intent on listening to every word of Jesus that the thought never even occurred to her. That is what we need to shoot for as we read the Bible. For many of us, and I include myself, reading the Bible on a regular basis may have started more as a duty than a delight. I know that as a young Christian, I decided to read the Bible because I was told that is what a good Christian did. But as I got to know Jesus better through His Word, that began to change little by little until today I can honestly say that I delight in reading, studying and teaching the Bible. I genuinely look forward each day to something new I am going to discover about God and about myself. So if you’re reading the Bible now out of a sense of duty, my advice is to just keep doing that because the more you do, the more likely it is you, too, will come to the place where that becomes a delight. And taking each of the remaining steps we’re going to talk about will also move you in that direction. 2. Have a plan I know that many of you are probably getting tired of hearing me talk about this, but it is just so crucial that I am going to keep emphasizing it. The apostle Paul wrote this about the Bible: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV) So if all Scripture comes from God and it is all profitable for us, then it only makes sense that we need to read it all. And the only way I know to ensure that we do that is to have a plan to read through it systematically. We’re all different when it comes to reading. We read at different rates and have different levels of comprehension. So there is no one plan that works for everyone. I’m the kind of person who likes to vary my reading plan from year to year because I find that helps me see the Bible from different angles and learn new things every time I read it. So last year, I read the entire Bible chronologically and this year I’m reading through the New Testament along with many of you using the “5x5x5 reading plan”. Some of you have your own plan that you use every year. The key is that you have a plan, whatever that is. And just randomly picking out a verse here and there doesn’t qualify as a plan. The story is told of a man who wanted to find out what God had for his future, so he closed his eyes, opened the Bible randomly, and stuck his finger on the page. He opened his eyes and read Matthew 27:5, “Judas . . . went away and hanged himself.” Not liking that answer, the man tried again. This time, his finger landed on Luke 10:37, “Go and do likewise.” Again, not liking that answer, the man tried again. This time his finger landed on John 13:27, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” This is so important, that I’m going to be really direct here and ask you what plan you are using right now and ask you to write that down on your bulletin insert. And if you can’t do that because you don’t currently have a plan then I want to urge you as strongly as I can to find a plan that works for you and get started on it this week. If you need some help with that, ask me or one of our Elders and we’ll be happy to assist you. If you only take one thing away from this message today, please make sure you don’t neglect this step. 3. Minimize distractions In verse 40, we see that Martha was “distracted with much serving”. The reason she didn’t make listening to and responding to Jesus her “one thing” is that she was distracted. We live in a world that is full of distractions. I remember as a kid watching “The Jetsons” cartoon. That show pictured a future in which there would be so much technology to do all the mundane tasks of life that it would leave people with more free time to do the enjoyable things in life. Unfortunately, while a great deal of that technology is actually a reality today, to a large extent it has actually led to more, rather than less, distractions in our lives. So we have to do like Mary and be intentional about listening to the words of Jesus. Notice what Jesus said in verse 42: Mary has chosen the good portion… Mary did not just end up at the feet of Jesus by accident. She made a conscious choice to be there where she could be free from all the distractions that prevented Martha from giving that same kind of attention to Jesus. This is going to look different for all of us. It’s a lot easier for me to find some quiet time to read the Bible than it is for those of you who have young kids in your home. But I’m convinced that if we really want to, all of us have the ability to set aside some time that is free from distractions to read the Bible. For those of you with young kids, it might mean that you set aside a time when your spouse will help make sure your kids don’t interrupt you. Since I know how easily I’m distracted, I’ve found a couple other practices that are helpful. • Don’t have my cell phone or computer available, or, at minimum, make sure they are silenced and notifications are turned off. • Have a note pad where I can write down things that come to mind. Once I write them down, I know I won’t get distracted by trying to remember them until I’m done reading. And taking notes can actually also help me with the next steps. 4. Listen to the text As Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, she is “listening” to His teaching. The verb that Luke uses there indicates that Mary was listening intently with the idea of obeying what Jesus was teaching. We need to approach the Bible with that same attitude. We should listen expectantly as God speaks to us through His Word. We don’t have time to dig into this step in detail this morning, but let me suggest a coupe of things you can do to listen to the text more effectively. One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is to pray a simple short prayer before I begin reading, asking God to reveal what He wants me to learn about Him and about myself and committing to Him that I will obey and apply whatever He reveals. And those of you who are on the 5x5x5 reading plan that many of us are following this year are alternating each week between 5 different simple ways to listen to the text: • Underlining or highlighting key words and phrases • Putting the text in your own words • Asking and answering questions • Capturing the big idea • Personalizing the meaning 5. Take the next step Sometimes, what I learn from God’s Word might require me to make only some minor changes to my life. Maybe God will bring to mind someone who I have wronged in some way and I need to ask that person for forgiveness and maybe even make restitution in some way to make things right. At other times, it might require a major change that will take some time to implement. Maybe I need to do something significant like change jobs or make significant changes in my schedule or get out of debt – things that I can’t do all at once. In either case, the most important thing I can do is to just take the next step in obedience to what I’m hearing from Jesus as I listen to His words. Most of us who want to know God’s will for our lives would love for him to lay out His whole plan for us. But God rarely does that. Most of the time He just shows us the next step and then once we take it He reveals the next one. And most of the time if we fail to take that next step we never even see the one after that. 6. Do it in community We frequently talk about the fact that Jesus created us to live in community. And our ability to listen to and respond to the words of Jesus is greatly enhanced when we involve others in the process. Every week, I get a better understanding of the Bible because I spend an hour on Monday mornings with a group of men who share their insights and sometimes challenge my thinking and understanding. And if you’re part of a small Bible study group, I’m confident that is true for you, too. Although it’s been really slow to catch on, I’m also working to develop some other platforms where we can engage with each other regarding the Bible. If you’re familiar with our church Faithlife group, or are on Facebook or Instagram, you may have noted that Ryan Fregoso posts some thoughts about his daily Bible reading every day, and I usually post 4 or 5 times a week. We’ve done that because we’d love to generate some discussion about those passages. But for the most part, what occurs most days is that I like Ryan’s post and he likes my post and occasionally someone else, usually someone who is not a part of this church, will like or comment on one of our posts. As much as I enjoy reading Ryan’s posts every day, I know both of us would love to have some more interaction with all of you, even if it’s just clicking the “Like” or “Agree” button so we know that at least someone is reading what we’re writing. And if you would take time to leave a comment, that would be even better. You don’t have to do it every day. Maybe just start with once a week. I know that I’ve thrown out a lot of ideas this morning and I don’t expect anyone to implement them all. But I am convinced that each one of us could improve the way we listen to and respond to the words of Jesus by picking out just one thing that we will commit to doing this week. So would you ask God to show you what step He would have you to take and then write that down? Just as a quick reminder, I’ve listed a few possible steps you can take on the screen. • Have a specific Bible reading plan • Pray before I read the Bible • Find a quiet time and place to read the Bible • Obey what I know • Interact with others in person or online Curly was right. The secret of life is “one thing”. And when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. Discussion questions for Bible Roundtable 1. How does this account of Mary and Martha teach us about the gospel and how we are made right with God? 2. What are some practical steps we can take to make our Bible reading a delight rather than just a duty? 3. What are some common distractions when it comes to reading the Bible and what are some practical steps we can take to overcome them? 4. What are some practical ways to really “listen” to the Bible text?