Sermon by Fr. Gordon Kamai, July 21, 2019
One Thing Needed
Let’s face it, wouldn’t you rather be a guest in Martha’s house than Mary’s? I remember
visiting a friend of mine in Washington D.C. After a long flight from San Francisco, he
greeted me at his apartment and asks. “So, what should we do for dinner tonight?” When
it was time for bed, he went scrounging through his linen closet to put together a set of
sheets and then graciously helped me make my bed. He’s a great friend and successful
businessman, but a little lacking in the hospitality department.
Not like another friend of mine who so Martha. When I arrive at her house, her husband
takes my bag upstairs to my room. I’m smelling dinner cooking as she brings out snacks
and drinks. At the end of the evening, I retire to the guest room to find a chocolate mint
on the pillow of my bed with the turned down covers. Oh yes, it’s much better to be a
guest of a Martha.
So what about the bad rap that Martha gets in this morning’s Gospel passage? Martha
breaks her neck to prepare a gracious dinner party for Jesus while Mary does nothing to
help. But it’s Martha, not Mary, who gets the lecture from Jesus. On closer look, though, I
believe Jesus couldn’t have been more loving to Martha.
Luke tells us that Jesus and his disciples came to a village and a woman named Martha
“opened her home” to them. When he says, “opened her home,”that’s more than just
saying “cmon’ in.” Middle Eastern hospitality is legendary.Any guest could expect a
luxurious banquet prepared for him. And we can expect no less for Martha’s guest.
Now let’s give Martha her due. She wasn’t trying to put on airs. She wanted to honor
their friend, Jesus, and the entourage he traveled with. Martha could have hired servants
for the occasion. But it was important to her to personally tend to the hospitality of her
Meanwhile, sister Mary is lounging in the living room with the men. They all take in the
gifted teaching that Jesus shares with them. That really wasn’t the place for women.
Mary’s place was in the kitchen with Martha, but Mary doesn’t seem to realize this.
So enter Martha with a look of frustration and she says to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care
that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me” And Jesus
answers, “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
I wonder how Martha felt. I wonder if she felt troubled by his words. I wonder if she felt
chastised. I wonder if she felt punished for doing the right thing?
What gives Jesus?
Remember the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis? Joseph was the Jacob’s 11th son.
And the Lord favored Joseph with a prophetic dream. When Joseph shared his dream
with his brothers, they grew envious of him. So much so that they plotted to kill him.
But then they have a better idea. They sold him into slavery to some merchants heading
toward Egypt. In Egypt, Joseph was sold to Pharaoh’s top administrator named Potifer.
And then Potifer’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. But Joseph did the right thing. He
hightailed it out of her presence. Nevertheless, Joseph gets falsely accused and finds
himself in prison. Joseph did the right thing, but ended up in a miserable Egyptian prison.
What gives God?
David was another who suffered for doing what he thought was right. King Saul found
his throne threatened by the Philistines. The Philistines put up a giant named Goliath to
take on Saul’s champion. But no one in all of Israel stepped up to fight for Saul. Then a
young shepherd boy took the challenge and miraculously killed the giant. He saved the
day and secured Saul’s throne.
You would think the king would rejoice and reward David. But no, Saul grew jealous of
David. David did the right thing, but ended up as public enemy #1.
What gives God?
Ever do the right thing and end up in the wrong place? You stand up for traditional
marriage – we have to qualify that term today. You stand up for traditional marriage and
you are denounced as homophobic. You stand up for the lives of unborn children and you
are shunned as oppressors of women. You stand up for the bible, and the courts throw you
out of your church.
I wonder if Martha felt a little perplexed by Jesus comment to her. Maybe unappreciated?
Devalued? Dismissed by Jesus?
But Jesus did not chastise Martha for her service. The Lord commends us to serve one
another. And Martha’s hard work was admirable. Martha’s problem was her priorities.
Luke says that the preparations for the meal distracted her from the Lord. All that
preparation pulled her away from Jesus.
Jesus wanted to spend time with his friends. It should have been a time of joy and
pleasure for Martha. It should have been a time of drawing closer to each other – a time
of rejoicing in their friendship. Instead, Martha is anxious and agitated. She’s troubled to
the point of distraction.
Jesus had come to spend time with her, but she was preoccupied. At that point she began
to feel sorry for herself. She became critical of her sister. And now she’s making demands
on her guest. “Martha, Martha, there is need of only one thing”.
What do we really need in this life? The first time I read through this passage, I thought
Jesus was chastising Martha. You could read it that way – Jesus lecturing Martha. Or you
could read it a different way.
“Martha, only one thing is needed.” You see, Jesus wasn’t lecturing Martha, Jesus was
liberating Martha He was liberating her from all the expectations that the culture placed
on her. The expectation of lavish hospitality shown to all guests. The expectation of being
the consummate hostess. She thought it was expected. She thought that was what she
needed to do.
But Jesus didn’t need all those dishes. He fed thousands with a couple of fish and a little
bread. All that preparation competed with Jesus for Martha’s attention. It pulled her away
from spending time with the Lord. The Lord of Life walked into Martha’s home, and
she’s worried about the hummus! “Martha, only one thing is needed.”
This lesson is about priorities. Where was Martha’s priorities? Martha was fretting about
things that might have seemed important, but they really took second priority to spending
time with the Lord.
Jesus freed Martha. He freed her from striving to meet other people’s expectations. He
freed her from the distractions that would keep her from spending precious time with
him. He freed her from the societal expectations that women could not sit and receive
rabbinic teaching right along with the men.
It’s about priorities and putting the Lord first. In an orthodox Jewish home, the Sabbath
rest is a priority. Sabbath begins on Friday night. So all day on Friday you can find the
homemaker busy preparing meals.
At sundown, meal preparation and all other work will cease for 24 hours. The Sabbath
rest is the priority. So they will make preparation ahead of time. Sabbath will not be spent
with busy preparations. Sabbath will be spent resting. It’s all about priorities.
When it comes to our money, is the Lord’s tithe the first priority? Many people spend on
the things that they want and then the things they need. Wants take priority. If there’s any
left, well that’s s available for the Lord.
But Jesus says, there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part. So many
people get into a financial prison not because they aren’t making enough to live on. But
their spending priorities are messed up. And so they get deeper into and are spending
their lives fretting about money. What would happen if they put the Lord first?
When it comes to time, what is the priority?
Is church on Sunday morning the priority? We each get a limited time on this earth. Do
we spend our time doing what we really need to do? How much time do we spend on TV
or social media and how much time do we spend at the feet of Jesus reading his word?
The Lord has gifted everyone with certain talents that are unique to them. How do we use
those talents? Are they used first for the Lord?
Go on Youtube and watch Whitney Houston sign the Star Spangled Banner to open the
Super Bowl. A remarkable talent! Whitney developed that talent singing in a church
choir. Indeed, that’s why God gave it to her. But her priority for that talent changed from
church to fame and fortune. And look where fame and fortune left her. The same might be
said for Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Prince. How do we spend the talents that God
What if instead of trying to haul Mary back into the kitchen, Martha took off her apron
and joined her sister sitting at the feet of Jesus? What would have happened? Dinner
might have had to wait a little bit longer. One of the men might have given her a funny
look. Someone might have asked, “Whose taking care of dinner?”
Who knows how the guests might have reacted? But we know how Jesus would have
reacted. He would have warmly received her into the company of the rest. And Martha
would have been blessed by his teaching. And when it was time for dinner, I have no
doubt that Jesus himself would have put on an apron and helped Martha get the meal on
the table, wouldn’t he? It’s a matter of priorities. Making Jesus your first priority frees
you up for his blessings.
Eric Liddell knows something about priorities The 1924 Summer Olympics were hosted
by the city of Paris. Eric was a devout Christian and part of Britain’s Olympic team. He
hoped to compete in the 100-meter race, but chose to withdraw because his heat was held
on a Sunday. And in Eric’s priorities, Sunday was the Lord’s day and not a day for
Olympic competition. So even though the 100-meter race was his best event, Eric
withdrew. Instead, he practiced for the 400-meter race. Unfortunately, his best time for
that race was a modest 49.6 seconds. On the morning of the 400-meter final, someone
handed him a folded note from one of the team masseurs. It read: In the old book it says:
‘He that honours me, I will honour.’ Wishing you the best of success always.” Eric drew
the outside lane and lost sight of the rest of the runners after the first 200 meters. He
figured he had no option but to sprint the second half. Inspired by the Biblical message,
he continued to race around the final bend and held on to take the win. He set a new
record which stood for 12 years.
Joseph was one of the bible’s greatest heroes. But he lost everything and ended up in
prison for doing what was right. Yet that loss did not change Joseph. It did not distract
him from his relationship with the Lord. And the bible says that through his prison years,
the Lord showed him kindness and granted him favor. The Lord would free Joseph from
prison and Joseph would rise to be Pharaoh’s viceroy for all of Egypt. And his brothers
who sold him into slavery would one day stand before him seeking his help.
David also lost everything for doing what was right. But David had a heart for God and
would not be distracted. During his exile, the Lord continued to protect him from Saul’s
armies and to provide for him. Then one day, David succeeded Saul to become Israel’s
greatest king. He put the Lord first in his life.
I think Martha learned the lesson that day and received a blessing. Because a few days
down the road, her brother, Lazarus, died. But this time, when Jesus came to her home,
Martha didn’t run to the kitchen, she ran to Jesus. She had learned that one thing that
mattered above all else. So even when Martha lost her brother, she was able to look into
Jesus eyes and say: “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who has
come into the world.”
I close with Jesus’ words of blessing to Martha when he said, “Martha, Martha, you are
worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen
the good portion which will not be taken away from her.
Let us always choose the good portion. Let us always chose to grow closer to the Lord.
Jesus promises that it is something that will never be taken away from us.