Sunday sermon 26 August – at the feet of Jesus

Readings: Psalm 84:1-12;  Luke 10:38-42

So how do you really evaluate what we do here at church? We have our congregational Annual Meeting today. An AGM often has people scattering in different directions. Many of us don’t really like meetings – and often it is the faithful workers who hang around.  Why do we have meetings? Probably because we have to – it’s in the rules. And they are there for accountability – so that we have properly audited financial statements and a report back on how things are going.

So how do you really evaluate what we do here? I guess we are taking the temperature of the church!

The key word is “do”. We’re a very busy bunch.

I think the real word to focus on is “be”. Not “do”. We are human beings before we are human “doings”.

We should be asking – how do you really evaluate who we are?

Listen to the gospel reading again:

Luk 10:38  As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

Luk 10:39  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

Luk 10:40  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

 Luk 10:41  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,
Luk 10:42  but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

Here’s the question – do we get rid of Martha and keep Mary?

  • Is the one more spiritual than the other?
  • Is the one better at prayer than the other?

And is this just a women thing? Are men bad at all of this altogether? The chores – and sitting at the feet of Jesus? Sitting still at all for some men is a challenge.

I suspect that there is a bit of Martha and Mary in each of us.

And when it comes to prayer – I think that both of them exhibit genuine and real prayer. The “don’t you care” prayer is probably more real actually. It’s no coincidence that they call the western wall of the temple in Jerusalem the “wailing wall”. Much prayer is lament.

I was reading a critique of our songs this week actually – and the writer (Philip Yancey) questioned the use of excessively happy songs, simply because so many Psalms are actually laments.

A lot of the real prayers of the Bible are prayers of struggle and anguish, with doubt and complaint thrown in and the desire to punish peoples’ enemies. Never mind complaining about your sister not doing the chores.

I don’t think Jesus loved Martha any less when she got irritated with her sister. I believe that the key thing was Martha speaking to Jesus about it. That’s prayer – in a nutshell. Mother Theresa put it like this – Prayer is simply talking to God; He speaks to us: we listen. We speak to him: he listens. A two-way process: speaking and listening.

What would have been worse for Martha would have been sitting there sulking about Mary – and not spitting it out.


Jesus’s response to Martha is really nice. Listen again:

Luk 10:41  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,

Luk 10:42  but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It’s much better sitting listening to Jesus. And it’s a choice really.

It’s all about time with Him. Listening!  About being. Resting in His presence.

And we are not great at this. We need the desire – the yearning. Maybe Psalm 84 is what we lack:

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

The advantages are huge – this is

  • Jesus the one who made the universe – the one who (from our point of view looking back) has been there and done it.
  • Jesus who has been one of us – understands fully.
  • Jesus who died for us – know what death is like (our greatest fear and challenge really).
  • Jesus who is always with us!

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It will not be taken away from here because this is what really lasts. All our stuff will not last. There will be no trailer attached to our hearse. Our achievements will be forgotten. What will last is the relationship with Jesus – not even death can separate us from Him.


I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing this through the last two weeks. Being sick is often the time when God really works his wonders. When you have to stop doing and striving.

He gets my attention and strips me of my self-sufficiency and self-confidence. There’s a tendency for people to expect miracles from me – that I should somehow be the expert at various things. And many of us when we preach or teach come across just like that – the experts. We need to sit at the feet of the actual expert.

Sitting at the feet of Jesus requires

  • Openness
  • Patience
  • Being a lump – like clay ready to be shaped and moulded
  • Teachability
  • Surrender

Why are many men (and women) so unlike Mary? Because we are DO-ERS – people who like to manage and be in control – getting things done.

And at one level there is much to be done. But to grow to be like Jesus we need to become as him – one who listens. Jesus had a prayerful, listening disposition. Mary had one too!


He speaks into this story in the bible by saying to the busy one: Martha Martha!

I wonder if he is calling your name today? “Only one thing is needed! Choose the better thing!”


About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on August 26, 2012, in Sunday Morning Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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