Monday, July 21 by Pastor Ho Lee
1. Sermon Plan: Lectionary (Book of Luke)
Today is my second Sunday to preach as your new pastor. I knew that the first Sunday is very important for the ministry in various ways so I prepared the sermon several weeks ago. In fact, preparing the first sermon was not very hard for me because I had preached one of the most important principles of the Bible I had found from my long theological studies and ministry experiences. That is God is relational and the church should be the relational. However, after the first sermon, I struggled to find what kind of messages would be beneficial for our church members’ spiritual life. I used to preach my messages according to some themes, which, I think, is necessary for the spiritual growth of our church members. However, since I just got to our church and need more time to get to know all our church members, theme preaching would not be a good option now. Thus, after much consideration, I decided to preach the sermon based on the lectionary. Do you know what the lectionary is? The lectionary is a pre-selected collection of scriptural readings from the Bible, in particular, from four different parts, The Old Testament, Psalm, Gospel, and Letters in New Testament. The lectionary follows the church calendar with a three-year cycle and is mainly used for the worship service. So, if I follow the lectionary, I do not have to pick the Bible passage, but Bible passages pick me. As I said before, the lectionary consists of four different parts of the Bible passage. From these four different parts, I will focus on the Gospel. This year, the lectionary focuses on the Book of Luke, so I plan to preach my sermon based on the Book of Luke until I find some good themes for our church members. The main reason why I plan to focus on the gospel is that the gospel is the basis and foundation for our spiritual journey. By the way, according to lectionary, today’s Bible passage is the story of Mary and Martha.
2. Better Part?
I believe if you are one of the long-standing church members, you are very familiar with this story of Mary and Martha. However, for those who are not very familiar with this story, I will explain this story. The story is very short and simple. One day, Jesus and his disciples entered a certain village on the way to Jerusalem. Then, one of village folks, Martha welcomed him and his disciples to her house. When Jesus and his disciples got to her house, Martha was so busy with a lot of tasks. If you experienced inviting some people to your house, you can imagine why she was so busy. There are a lot of things to do such as cleaning the house, preparing the meal, setting up the bed, and so on. Considering the fact that Jesus’ disciples, at least, more than twelve, there are a lot of things to do for Martha. However, when Jesus got to her house, Mary, the younger sister of Martha, sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his story instead of helping her busy sister, Martha. As you can easily imagine, Martha was upset with her sister, Mary. So she came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” If you put yourself in Martha’s shoes, you easily understand her feeling and expect Jesus to say something to Mary to help her sister, Martha. However, surprisingly, Jesus sided with Mary, saying, “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.” That is the story.
How do you understand this story? What is the main point of the story? What kind of message can you hear from this story? Some people might say that what Mary did, listening to the Word of Jesus, is the right thing to do, but what Martha did, showing the hospitality to Jesus and his disciples, is less important than listening to the Word of Jesus. You maybe heard this interpretation of the Bible passage before and it seems the right understanding of the main message of the story. However, I do not believe that that is the right interpretation of the passage. If we accept this understanding of the Bible, it means that listening to the Word of God is much more important than hospitality. But, is it true? Hospitality is the one of the main messages the Bible teaches us throughout the Bible. Even, right before today’s passage, Jesus emphasizes the importance of hospitality, sharing the story of the Good Samaritan. From a certain point, we can see Martha as the one who acts out Jesus’ word and teaching. From this understanding, the previous interpretation, listening to the Word of God is much more important than hospitality, could be reinterpreted as listening to the Word of God is much more important than acting out the Word of God. Do you agree with that understanding? No, we do not. Nowadays, I have met with several church leaders and found out that a lot of church leaders have devoted themselves to the church community beyond my expectation. Certainly, I believe that these church leaders would be exhausted and frustrated from time to time due to the responsibilities and work they take on. When they are tired and exhausted due to many tasks of the church, will you go to them and say, “I think you need to take the better part, listening to the word of God instead of working for the church?” Will you say that? Certainly not. What our church leaders need to hear would be encouragement and appreciation for their work, not the advice to choose the better one, listening to God.
In fact, for our spiritual journey, we need both of them, Mary and Martha. For our spiritual health, we need to listen to the Word of God. At the same time, we need to act out the Word of God. For deepening our relationship with God, we need to practice spiritual practices, but also we need to do mission for the church, community, and the world. We cannot choose one over the other between Mary and Martha, Listening to the Word of God and Acting out the Word of God, and Spiritual practices and Mission. We need both of them for our spiritual health. If you only focus on Mary, listening to the Word of God, and spiritual practices, you would be the hypocrite like the Jewish leaders Jesus criticized. If you only focus on Martha, acting out the Word of God, and mission, you would be the workaholic who despises the importance of spirituality and ultimately grumbles about the unfairness without giving thanks to God.
Then what is the point of today’s passage? Why did Jesus side with Mary more than Martha? I think the main reason why Jesus sided with Mary over Martha was the motivation behind their actions. The main reason why Mary listens to Jesus at his feet would be her love for Jesus. She would like to get to know him and to deepen the relationship with him. That is why she chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and focused on Jesus’ story instead of working for him. Certainly, Martha started her work for the same motivation, love for Jesus, the relationship with Jesus. However, while she worked for the radical hospitality for Jesus and his disciples, the motivation had changed. She started comparing herself with her younger sister. Then she felt unfairness between her sister and herself. She started grumbling about the situation. As the Bible says, Martha was distracted by her many tasks. If Martha sticks to her original motivation, the relationship with Jesus, love for Jesus, she would be happy and satisfied with what she is doing. However, somehow, she started focusing on her work instead of her relationship with Jesus. Then, she even dragged Jesus into the siblings’ argument by asking Jesus to scold her sister, Mary. That was the very opposite of her original motivation. The story of Mary and Martha teaches us that we need to focus on the intimate and loving relationship with Jesus whatever we do.
3. Better Part in Our Lives
1) What is the main reason for attending the worship service?
Our Old Habit or Desire for Deepening the Relationship with God?
2) For administrating the church through various meetings, what do you try to find?
Will of People or Will of God?
3) When we make the plan for our life, what do you consider most?
= For Our Well-being or For the intimate relationship with God
1) When you participate in the worship service, have you ever thought about the intimate and loving relationship with Jesus and with God? If not, what was your main purpose to join the worship service before? If so, how did you pursue an intimate relationship with Jesus and God?
2) What will you do for developing an intimate and loving relationship with Jesus in your daily life this week?