Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 10:38–42
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 17, 2022
When guests come to your home, what do you do to make them feel welcome? Do you bring out a basin, towel, and pitcher of water for them to wash their feet? Do you bake fresh bread and run out to find a calf to serve as dinner? Probably not, but these are acts of hospitality that we hear about in today’s Old Testament lesson (Genesis 18:1-14) as Abraham and Sarah welcome the three mysterious visitors who reveal that Sarah is going to have a child. We hear about hospitality again in the Gospel lesson as Jesus is welcomed into the home of Mary and Martha, both of whom serve Jesus, but in different ways. And so based on the Gospel lesson for today, the message is entitled, “Welcome” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
We didn’t really answer the question that started off this sermon, did we? When guests come to our home, what do we do to make them feel welcome? We’ll take their coat and make sure they are comfortably seated. We’ll ask if we can get them something to eat or drink. But Middle Eastern hospitality is on a far grander scale! That’s what we see reflected in Abraham’s welcome to these three visitors. Church Fathers have identified these three visitors as the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who make themselves known to Abraham in human form. “The Trinity,” also called “The Hospitality of Abraham,” is an icon by Andrei Rublev from the fifteenth century, considered the most famous of Russian icons (Trinity (Andrei Rublev) - Wikipedia). The three visitors appear out of nowhere and clearly know something that’s going to happen even before Abraham and Sarah know it themselves. Who but God could know this? The welcome which Abraham offers is an understatement of what he actually provides: “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant” (Genesis 18:3-5a). “A morsel of bread” stands in stark contrast to what Abraham calls Sarah to whip up: three seahs of fine flour. A seah was a unit of measure equal to about 7 quarts, which means that Sarah is working with 21 quarts of flour. We’re talking over five gallons of flour here! All of that flour is going to produce a giant-sized “morsel of bread,” and that is a Middle Eastern welcome – generosity that far exceeds expectations. And from this, the pronouncement is made that Sarah, though she is well beyond the age of childbearing, will have a son. Though Sarah laughed, the truth of what the Lord can do is held up to us: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14a). We would do well to remember that and ponder it in our own lives today.
Whenever I hear the story of Mary and Martha in today’s Gospel lesson, I always remember a now deceased member of St. John’s, Kate Oderwald. For many years, the church kitchen was affectionately known as “Kate’s Kitchen” because Kate was the go-to person for any kind of event at church needing food, and many did. In fact, my wife’s and my wedding was catered by Kate and the ladies from church with some pretty amazing food. But Kate always struggled with how Martha seemed to get short shrift in this account of Mary, Martha and Jesus. I can still hear her say, “Well, I’ll bet all those people wanted something to eat, and the food sure wasn’t going to cook itself, now was it?” And Kate’s point was certainly valid. We also should bear in mind that when Jesus went anywhere, he was always accompanied by his disciples, so whatever Martha had planned for dinner was going to have to feed more than just Jesus, Mary and Martha. It would be more people; maybe quite a few more. What to do?
I understand Martha because sometimes I am Martha. Maybe you can relate. The problem is Martha’s – and our – underlying anxious concern about how everything is going to come together. Martha wants everything to be the best it can be for their honored guest, but she’s missing the forest for the trees. And that’s how it can be for us as well. We fret and fume about making everything just right, and then we are completely out of sorts and the joy of the occasion can be lost on us entirely. Jesus gently chides his dear friend, Martha, in order to help her see things differently: “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). So what are you anxious and troubled about? We all need that correction from Jesus in our own lives because we can go off the rails so easily. We get wrapped up in our own agenda and lose focus on what is really important. Jesus himself is that one thing which is necessary. The good news is that Jesus welcomes us with open arms, even when we’re anxious and concerned; even when we’re fretting and fuming about things not going our way and spinning out of control. As he did with Martha, so he does with each one of us. He gently chides us, reminding us that when everything else falls away, it is Jesus’ own redeeming love that makes everything new. He reminds us that if he did not spare his own life, but freely gave himself up to death on the cross for us all, won’t he also provide for all of our needs?
The truth is that Mary and Martha are two sides of the same coin. On the one side, there is the quiet contemplation of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening carefully to what he is saying. On the other side, there is the active service of Martha doing the work that needs to be done. It’s not either Mary or Martha; it’s both Mary and Martha. In fact, the context of today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of this truth. As we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), this is certainly about active and loving service; seeing Christ in our neighbor and being Christ to our neighbor. That sounds like Martha. And what we will hear in next Sunday’s Gospel lesson is Jesus’ teaching the disciples how to pray, giving them the Lord’s Prayer as the model of prayer (Luke 11:1-13). This is certainly about quiet contemplation, listening to the Lord and coming before him in prayer. That sounds like Mary. In our own lives, both are needed. If we are to love and serve our neighbor, then we must first sit quietly at Jesus’ feet, listening to his Word.
The Lord Jesus who was fed at Mary and Martha’s home now feeds us today here in his holy Supper. The Lord Jesus welcomes us in all our need to come to the meal which he has prepared where he is host and we are guest. Here, he strengthens us through his very Body and Blood, that we may continually grow in faith toward him and in love toward one another. Come, for all things are now ready. Amen.