Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me."  But the Lord answered her, "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." Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)
“But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
A few years ago I was visiting a a church, and during Bible Study a woman posited that she likes to evangelize not so much by talking but by how she lives her life. And by this she meant as people saw how pious a life she lived they would be drawn to become Christians. I was left with the thought that this woman has an awful high opinion of herself. It wasn’t her fault for this confusion. It is the religion of man setting itself up in the temple of God. It is man’s paganism disguising itself as Christianity. It has been done for a long time. St. Francis of Assisi for instance is often quoted (though there is debate concerning whether he ever said some such thing) as saying “preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.” more recently in Campbellite “Church of Christ” (which movement gave rise to Mormonism) and other Baptist sects you find the phrase Deeds not Creeds. Meaning it doesn’t matter so much what you believe, but what you do. Such religion is not Christianity. It is paganism, it is the religion of man. The Gospel is not something you can communicate without words. Romans 10 assures us faith comes from hearing, not seeing, not doing, but hearing. Christianity is about creeds, creeds being the expression of faith that needs to be heard and believed.
One this is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.
It is kind of an odd story. Martha invites Christ to her home. And he all but chastizes her for fretting the whole time and serving him and his disciples. Mary sits at Christ’s feet and listens intently. She does not occupy herself with the “women’s work” but is engrossed by the teaching of Christ.
Meanwhile Martha is doing. She got what she asked for. Christ has come to her home. Now she is busy cooking and cleaning and otherwise making the guests comfortable, and in the process perhaps making the guests feel a bit uncomfortable. Here they are in her home and they can’t even talk with her she is so busy.
Nor Mary. Some how in all the buzz of work, the drone of a beehive surrounding Martha, Mary heard something, and the concept totally captivated her. Without thinking she sat down to listen. And that was it. The disshes would wait. The linen for the beds would wait. This was too important. This teaching needed to be heard. She was engrossed. The same might have happened to Martha, but Martha was too caught up in her own world to hear. She thought she knew everything already. She invited Christ into her home so that she could serve a man of God, not be served by him, not taught by him.
For how many of us is this true?
Church is supposed to be a place where we enjoy our Sabbath rest. Where we like Mary sit at the feet of Christ and listen and learn become refreshed. But we have a tendency to turn it into something else. There are legitimate concerns. Things that do need to be done. But there is one thing needful. And the good portion ought never be taken away from the church or her members. There is one thing of prime importance, that is the teaching of Christ the gospel be heard.
Law you can get anywhere. You don’t really need to come to church to get law. The religion of man and deeds, doings. Well you don’t need to go to church to be told to do good deeds or be guilt tripped into them. A walk in downtown Salt Lake and you will find plenty of guilt tripping. Watch the news and you will find plenty of incentive to do good things with your life. And all of it meaningless without the one thing needful, the forgiveness of sins, the gospel, THE teaching of Christ which has captured Mary.
The Gospel. There is a reason the church is about creeds, there is a reason the church has creeds, and not just deeds. There is a reason creeds come first. The rest is meaningless without the gospel and the gospel needs to be heard, for faith comes through hearing. What is the gospel? Just a point of fact. Gospel means “good news” It was a word the ancient world would use when hearing a report that there army was victorious. Or slaves would use concerning a report that another slave had been granted freedom. Good News is heard, not done. Good news it is when we slaves of sin are told that we are now free. When our sins are forgiven. When we are no longer chained to death, imprisoned by the grave. The Gospel is that which we hear in the Epistle lesson today, Colossians 1:21, “You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (like trying to earn your way to heaven with so-called “good” deeds) he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, inorder to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” That is the gospel! Jesus reconciled you in his flesh by his death. Christ crucified! That is the gospel. But Paul goes on, “of indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…
And this is why the church dare not lose sight of its purpose. Oh sure, there are things to be done. Things perhaps that need to be done. And we can lose ourselves in all of it. There are plenty of good works to occupy our time. Martha wasn’t doing bad things in themselves. She had just lost sight of what was most important. The church is about hearing the gospel. The church is about proclaiming the gospel that we don’t lose sight, that we don’t shift from the hope, that we continue in the faith, stable and steadfast. This is the whole purpose of the church. That the gospel might continually be heard anew, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution that Christ’s sheep always hear his voice, and like Mary find a place to sit at his feet. So you too can hear that your sins are forgiven because Christ died for them. A message that cannot be communicated with the mere deeds of men. But has to be confessed by the church before the world. A message then that gives everything we do in life meaning, because it robs death of its sting. You have been reconciled in his body of flesh by his death. You a holy. You are blameless. You are above reproach, no longer a slave to sin. And now your deeds are not evil, but holy and blameless in his sight, just as you are holy and blameless in his sight.
For you cannot have deeds, not good deeds, without also confessing Christ as your lord and savior. For it is with your heart that you believe and are saved, and with your mouth that you confess and are justified. That is creeds not deeds save us. But the forgiveness of sins gives our deeds meaning, because Chris robbed death of its sting, the way death robs life of meaning. So it is that the one thing needful for the church, for you and I is the gospel, to hear that our sins are forgiven, that you are forgiven.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.