DPC 2021-22 Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living

Welcome All – Know Your Gifts and Encourage the Gifts of Others

Luke 10:38-42

October 17, 2021


Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Last weekend, Melanie and I were hosted in the mountains of Colorado    by our dear friends and former neighbors, Megan and Darin Olson.  We were reminded on our several days’ visit that there is truly an art to being good hosts,  and Darin and Megan have nearly perfected it.

 A good host is aware when it is time to go outdoors and do something. A good host is aware when the time has come for everyone to get something to eat.  And a good host realizes when it is time simply to sit down and talk and rest.  We had a wonderful long weekend hiking in the Vail Valley of Colorado, fully enjoying the bright yellow aspens at their peak color and the beauty of the golden cottonwoods along the riverbanks. But mostly, we enjoyed being spoiled by the generous welcome and hospitality of friends. Somehow, that was just what we needed this October, and we were grateful for it. 

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, verse 51, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  This was no “get away vacation” for Jesus and his disciples. He was on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to conflict, on the way to danger, on his way to death. On the way toward his death, Jesus sent his disciples before him, two by two, to prepare the way. On the way toward his death, a lawyer stood up to test him, and Jesus ended up telling him the Good Samaritan parable about loving your neighbor, finishing with: now you “Go and do likewise.” 

On the way toward his death, only two miles away from Jerusalem, Jesus entered a certain familiar village named Bethany, and there he entered the home of his good friends, Mary and Martha. Martha, being the good host, wanted to celebrate Jesus’ presence with a clean house and sumptuous meal. She wanted to display her wondrous hospitality and make another grand impression. But it seems that Jesus – in this situation – simply needed to sit and talk. 

Can you imagine the enormous inner struggle of Jesus as he sought to bend his will toward God’s will? This was just days before he prayed in the garden:  “not my will, O God, but thy will be done…” 

Mary and Martha’s home may have seemed to Jesus a potential place of calm away from the storm, an oasis away from the needs and demands of the crowds, a respite from the conflicts and questionings.

Jesus may not have been in the mood for all the fuss of a big dinner; he may have just needed to sit and talk. Now, to be clear, both women’s actions were forms of hospitality.

Martha prepared the home, cooked the meal, set the table, cleaned up after dinner. Martha provided for the comfort of her guest. Martha’s actions were necessary and contributed to Jesus’ welcome in her home.

But Mary provided the one thing Jesus needed at that time. Mary sat and listened to him.  (Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, 1975, pp. 143-144)

To whom do you most relate in this story? Do you relate more to Martha? Are you welcoming sort, but tend to become distracted by many things? When guests are coming, do you worry about whether the house is clean and meal is grand? One of the discussions from our Follow Me curriculum asks:

Have you ever felt the pressure for everything to be “perfect” when hosting a guest or throwing a dinner?  If so, from where does that pressure come? Is there someone else in your household who looks very differently at these things? Is there someone else in your household who does not feel the same pressure? 

One of the best gifts of hospitality that we can give – at home or at church – is to be fully present, to be fully attentive, not only to the physical, but also the spiritual and emotional and relational needs of our guests.

We can learn from Mary about being fully present for the people in our lives. And we might be reminded to seek to be fully present not only for those special guests who arrive on special occasions, but also fully present for family members and friends whom we see each day.

In our text for today, verse 42 is unclear. Jesus tells Martha that she is worried and distracted by many things, then he continues, “there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Is Jesus saying that Martha prepared too many dishes? That only one simple dish was needed that evening, and that what he most needed was their friendship? 

Or was Jesus saying that the one thing Mary and Martha both needed that evening was the Word of God, spoken through him? As Deuteronomy 8:3 suggests: “We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The Greek is unclear as to “the one thing.” What is clear is that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to die on a cross and thus transform the world.  Sitting at his feet and listening to what he had to say was the portion that Mary chose, and it is clear that this should not be taken away from her, even for the sake of a clean kitchen. Now, the needs may have been different on different occasions, but on that evening, the one thing needed was a simple supper with minimal clean up so that the lion’s share of the time could be spent listening and learning and sharing.

Fred Craddock says: Let’s not be too hard on Martha or too complementary of Mary. There are times when it is best to get up and go and do, to plan and prepare and cook and clean; and there are others times when it is best sit and listen and reflect, to give one’s full attention to another.  (Craddock, Fred. Interpretation: Luke, 1990, pp 151-152)

Friends, this pandemic has been extremely difficult for many people who live alone. I am aware of many persons who live alone for whom this pandemic has been exhausting. And this pandemic has been extremely difficult for many marriages. Whatever problems may have existed prior to the pandemic have been exacerbated. I am aware of more couples going through rough patches or even separations and divorces than I have ever witnessed at one time through my decades in ministry.

All of this means that there are many among us who are hurting and alone and perhaps in need of your hospitality. What will matter most is not the extravagance of the meal or the beauty and cleanliness of the space. What matters most in these challenging times of life is real presence.

No matter what your spiritual gifts may be; no matter whether you tend to be a “dynamo of activity” or the more contemplative sort, there is likely someone in your life who would appreciate you being present for them, one human being to another.

The bicentennial goal of Decatur Presbyterian Church is: “Every child of God – belonging, engaging, being transformed”.  What if every child of God who participates in our worship and ministries gained a greater sense of belonging to God and to others in the coming months?

What if all of us engaged more deeply in the mission of Jesus Christ through learning and service?  What if this church began to experience transformation by the grace of God through the power of God’s Holy Spirit? All of these things begin with a warm human welcome and genuine hospitality.

All of this begins when we focus – one on one – upon the needs of those around us, when attend to the people around us.  Each of us has gifts we can use to welcome others. The Bible urges and models a kind of hospitality that requires us to stretch ourselves, to greet not only brother or sister, but to welcome the outcast and to love the enemy, and to provide for the needs of the orphan and the widow.

 Biblical faithfulness calls us to extend hospitality in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable or personally challenging, especially to people who are different from us or who are difficult to love.

Some of us will find it easy to talking to strangers and people we don’t know. Others among us will be wonderful at planning events that will enable a warm welcome.  Some will find it easy to cook an entire meal for a whole community of folks, while others will enjoy writing notes of care to individuals.

Some will excel at serving behind the scenes, staying out of the limelight, while others will step forward and make the stranger feel welcome and put the guest at ease. 

In today’s culture, we have become so worried and so distracted by so many things. Let us remember the one thing that is most important – to sit at Jesus’ feet, to engage with him and others in listening and learning and sharing.

 Let us let go of some of the daily tasks and responsibilities in order to choose the “better part”.  This was a critical element of the mission of the early church.  This is a critical element of the Church today.

Whatever our spiritual gifts may be, our primary task as disciples of Jesus Christ is to love our God,   and second, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, especially the neighbor who happens to be right in front of us. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia