Monday, July 19, 2010

Sermon on Luke 10:38-42 for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, "Serve Me the Good Portion!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s sermon comes from Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha, and how Mary found the “good portion.” My prayer today is that you would regularly and often be served by God’s good portion! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and
from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The scene at the house of Mary and Martha raises the question of who is the host and who is the guest? At first glance, Jesus is the guest, and Martha dutifully takes on all the work of a gracious host. Busy doing the cleaning and cooking, making the home presentable for the master teacher. She’s distracted by doing all the serving, preparing a meal. But Mary takes on a whole different view, and sees that there is a different host, and that Jesus is that host. Even more importantly, He is serving them with better “portions” than they could offer Him. While Martha was distracted preparing a meal, Mary was sitting down to a feast of a whole different kind, and was being served good and healthy portions by Jesus. What was being served? What’s to eat? Mary dined at the rich feast of Jesus’ teachings and His Word. She was taking generous helpings of the words of grace which flowed from Jesus’ mouth, and savored and treasured the words of eternal life. And Jesus calls Martha from her distractions and serving, to sit down and join them, and also dine at this feast. He invites Martha and us to receive the good portion!

When we gather for worship in the Lord’s house, it is a privilege and blessing that He is the gracious host who comes, not to be served, but to serve by giving His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). There is much good service and active hospitality that we can do in service to God’s kingdom, but on Sunday morning when we gather for an hour each week, we should set aside all distractions and activities, and practice the passive hospitality of listening to God’s Word. Start by hearing those words of Jesus to Martha and us: “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.” Jesus wants to serve us, and feed us with good gifts. He wants us to desire the good portion, and to receive it often, because this is the one thing that is necessary—to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His teaching. Put aside everything else and ask to be served the good portion!

We do this by regularly gathering for worship, and receiving the good gifts that Jesus has prepared. We receive His forgiveness spoken to us in the absolution when we confess our sins. We receive His Truth in the hearing of His Word. We’re taught in preaching the application of that Word to our lives, to know that we too have God’s forgiveness and promises. We join publicly in prayer, to the Father who opens His heart and ears to our requests. We receive His true body and blood given in the Lord’s Supper, for the forgiveness of sins. When we gather in worship, from start to finish, we are receiving a rich feast, a meal that Christ serves us—with plenty of good portions. Any hungry person should know where the meals are!

But unless they can avoid it, hungry people usually don’t go a week between meals. And it’s my hope and goal that you will increasingly hunger after the Word of God, and build a regular diet of God’s Word and prayer. Since we have worship services only once a week through most of the year, I want to encourage you all, if you haven’t already, to make personal or family devotion time a regular part of your week. We should desire to receive God’s good portions as often as possible, and one additional way we can do that is by daily study and devotion to God’s Word. And yes, during the week just as much as on Sunday morning, there are all kind of competing interests, activities, and distractions to keep us from the study of God’s Word. So I’d like to encourage every one of you to begin this week to set aside time to study the Bible and pray. And I’m going to give you a simple, practical format to follow.

Now some of you may already have regular devotions and prayer, and that’s great, and please continue to do them. You may decide to add this format to your study if it’s helpful. Martin Luther’s barber had asked him for some simple advice on how to pray and study the scriptures, and Luther wrote back with a simple, four question format to guide him. He wrote that prayer should be the first business of our day, and also the last, and that there will always be a million reasons and distractions that tempt us to postpone or put off prayer. But we shouldn’t put it off, or we’ll never get around to praying. And we should try to minimize or eliminate as many distractions as possible. Don’t try to study the Bible while the TV is on, the computer is running and people are messaging you on your cell phone, or you’re listening to the radio, whatever. Create a quiet and peaceful setting by turning everything off and allow yourself to concentrate and have a single focus.

So to help you remember the 4 steps or questions, I have a simple acronym: TARP. It stands for Thanksgiving, Ask, Repent, and Prayer. Say that back with me: Thanksgiving, Ask, Repent, Prayer. So here’s how it works: each letter represents a question. Begin by reading a section or chapter of the Bible for the day. If you need someplace to start, begin in the New Testament with one of the Gospels, like Matthew or John, and just keep reading a chapter or more a day. Let’s use our epistle reading for today to see how it works: (read Col. 1:21-29…) After you read the chapter or passage, the first step is “T,” Thanksgiving. As you reflect on the text, ask yourself the first question: “For what does God’s Word inspire me to give thanks?” What about the reading should we be thankful for? In Colossians, we can give thanks that God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ. Thanks that His Gospel has gone out to all creation, and that we too have heard it. We can give thanks for God’s great riches of His glory that He has made known to us. If you are reading as a family, let each member identify something in the reading they are thankful for.

Next is “A,” Ask. The second question is “What does God ask of me to do or believe?” Does the reading encourage us as disciples to do anything? To believe something that is taught there? The Colossians reading calls us to continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not to waver from the hope of the gospel we’ve heard. We are asked to hold fast to the truth, so that we aren’t lead astray by some other “gospel.” Paul says he labored hard, using his strength and energy to warn and teach people about God’s Word. So we’re called to believe in the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ and to hold to it against all errors, so that we might grow up mature in Christ. Some passages may be easy to find what God asks of us. Others may be more difficult, especially if it is narrative describing the events or experiences of some Bible character, like Abraham in the Old Testament reading. But even if there is no direct instruction or command to disciples in the reading, we can look for what Godly traits and characteristics should we see and model after those saints in the Bible? Or, if it was describing a bad situation, what things are we asked to avoid? “A” for Ask should lead us to apply the Bible to our own life and situations.

Next is “R,” Repent. The third question is: “For what thought, word, or deed am I led to repent?” This is follows after “Ask,” which may lead us to see what we have failed to do. What sin does the reading expose? Does it reveal attitudes in my heart, words that I have spoken, or things that I have done, that have sinned against God or my neighbor? Our Colossians reading describes how we were originally alienated from God and hostile to Him, before we came to His grace. We were doing evil deeds. We can call to mind the sins that we have committed and repent of them. We can repent of the times we lacked faith, and didn’t trust God’s promises. We can repent of our wavering and doubt, or our tolerance of what we know to be false and contrary to God’s Word. Our repentance is never without forgiveness. As we lay these sins before Jesus, and confess them to Him, and receive His forgiveness. We see our failures in the mirror of His Law, but we see also the Good News or Gospel of God’s love, that He has forgiven our sins. We are assured that all the sins we have confessed before Him are forgiven and washed clean, as the reading shows we are presented “holy and blameless and above reproach” before God. When you look for what we must repent of, also see how God speaks of our reconciliation.

Finally, “P” is for Prayer. The fourth and final question is “For whom or what am I inspired to pray?” What does the passage lead us to pray about? How does the passage teach us to pray? What special concerns are found there? Again in our Colossians passage, since he talks about the message of the Gospel going out to all creation, and his work as a minister, we might be moved to pray for missionaries and pastors. Pray that God would send workers into His harvest field, and that the harvest may be plentiful. Pray that God’s Word reaches many hearts. Pray that God may use you to reach someone with His Good News! Pray that you and others may fully know the riches and fullness of God’s grace. Bring in your own prayers and petitions for friends, family, co-workers and personal needs.

Tying the four strands or questions together, after you have reflected on the Bible reading, you can take these four parts into a prayer. Remember: TARP—Thanksgiving, Ask, Repent, Prayer. I like to use Scripture as the lead in for prayers and requests. Here’s an example based on our reading: “Dear Lord heavenly Father, in your Word you teach us that you have reconciled us in the body of Christ, so that we might be holy and blameless before you. We give thanks to you for your great love and mercy to us sinners. You ask us to hold fast in our faith and believe strongly in your Gospel. We repent that we have not always done this. We have strayed from your Word, and we have doubted. We pray for your forgiveness, confident of what you have done for us in Jesus Christ. We pray for missionaries and evangelists throughout the world, that they may boldly proclaim your name to all people, and that many more might believe and be reconciled to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

It's not necessary that you follow that exact format for the prayer, but you can use it like “training wheels” to help you formulate your own thoughts and prayers as you’re led by the Holy Spirit and have reflected on God’s Word. The main goal of this exercise is that you begin to develop a daily study and prayer life in God’s Word. And maybe if you are already doing it, you can make your study more fruitful by asking these questions that lead you to see how God’s Word applies to you.

My hope and prayer is that as you begin to do so, as you daily enrich your prayer life with God’s Word, that you will crave more and more of the “good portion” of God’s Word. That you will develop a healthy and growing hunger for the “fine food” of God’s Word, which is the one necessary thing. The more we are fed with God’s Word, the more that we daily sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him, the more our lives will be filled with His peace, and the less trouble and worry we will give to the many things that make us anxious and troubled like Martha. For the Word that Jesus teaches us will always refocus our eyes on Him, and His great and enduring love for us, and how God carries us through each day of life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Who is the host and who are the guests in the scene with Mary and Martha? Who is host and guest when we gather for worship?

2. What sort of busyness, service, or distraction can take us away from receiving the “one thing needful”, to hear God’s Word? On Sundays? On weekdays? Describe the “good portions” that we receive from God. Make it an intentional goal to set aside that time only for Jesus, both weekly for worship, and daily for His Word.

Learn and Practice the Four Strands of Devotion and Prayer. As you read a Scripture passage daily, use the acronym TARP (Thanksgiving, Ask, Repent, Prayer) to guide your study along four questions:
1. Thanksgiving (For what does God’s Word inspire me to give thanks?)
2. Ask (What does God ask us to do or believe?)
3. Repent (For what thought, word, or deed should I repent?)
4. Prayer (For whom or what am I inspired to pray?)

3. If you don’t currently read the Bible throughout the week, set a goal for yourself to begin doing devotions. If you don’t read at all, try to set your goal to study at least once a week, and set a time and stick to it! Make an “appointment” to sit at the feet of Jesus! If you read the Bible once or twice a week, set a goal to double that. If you already read the Bible and do devotions daily, great! Work on expanding your prayer life.

4. What are the benefits of receiving the “one thing needful/good portion?”

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