One Thing Needful

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 9C, July 21st, 2013

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“But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”” [Luke 10:41]

Martha, Martha, why do you worry so much?  Have you never heard the saying that worrying is like a rocking chair; it will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.  You know, if  you keep stressing over the little things in life, your liable to get an ulcer.  Someone has also said that ulcers aren’t necessarily caused by what we eat, but often times they’re caused by what’s  eating us!

All of us can be Martha(s); we know what needs to be done to achieve our goals, and if we don’t do it, well… experience has taught us that it just won’t get done!  And to those of us that can  become overwhelmed with all that needs to be done, Jesus reminds us that without the one thing needful, the one thing that is necessary, all of our planning and all of our work is like trying to  shovel smoke!

So what is that one thing needful; is it something we can develop by following a strategy of easy steps towards a goal?   In our epistle reading, Paul calls it a mystery, but it is only a mystery to  those outside of the church.  Please get out your Bibles or your bulletins, and let’s look at our Epistle reading this morning (Colossians 1:21-29).

How many here this morning love reading mysteries or watching a good “Who done it” on television?  Well I don’t!  When I am reading a mystery, I’ve been know to skip right to the end after the  first two or three chapters, just to find out who did it!  And that is what Paul does for us who call ourselves Christians; He tells us who did it.  Turn with me to vs. 26, where we read: “the mystery  hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in  you, the hope of glory.” [vs. 26, 27]

So there’s the answer to who done it, but the answer to why is still unanswered to you unless you go back and read, as Paul Harvey says, “the rest of the story.”

The reason God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ is because you needed Him.  Or as Paul says in vs. 21, “You were alienated and hostile towards Him in your mind, doing all kinds of evil deeds.”  In other words, you were lost in sin and helpless, doomed for destruction.

Ok, that explains why you needed God, but it certainly does not explain why God decided to help you.  So why did God send His Son to die for a world full of sinners?  Because God is love.  God does not want anyone to die in their sins, to be separated from Him, but instead, He desires that all of us should repent, that is turn to Him for forgiveness and have eternal life.  [1 Peter 3:9]

But some may ask, “How can it be that simple?  How can God just erase all of my past, all of my sins and say I am forgiven?  I mean, what about my next great fall from grace?  Who am I kidding?  There may be some “good” church people who can walk that narrow path to heaven, but I know me like no one else and I can tell you, I am going to screw it up again!”  And to this, Paul in vs. 22 gives us an answer: “Christ has now reconciled (us, or made us right with God), in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.”

Do you hear that good news?  Christ has reconciled you forever, through His suffering and death upon the cross.  His death is your death; the death that you should have died but now you don’t need to, because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for the worlds sinfulness.

Sing with me the first two verses of that wonderful hymn, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” (LSB 427) and let the words minister to you:

  1. In the cross of Christ I glory, Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time.  All the light of sacred story Gathers round its head sublime.
  2. When the woes of life o’er take me, Hopes deceive, and fears annoy, Never shall the cross forsake me; Lo, it glows with peace and joy.

So there is the answer to the “Who done it”, the “why He done it”, and the “how He done it.”  But the lesson is not over; no Paul still has more to say, and it comes to us by way of warning.  Let’s turn to vs. 23, where Paul says this salvation is completely yours, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

Now I know that some of you are thinking, “Yes there’s the rub.  That is exactly what I was talking about before.  You see, there is a way for me to screw it up, and where there is a way, trust me, I will find it!”  And to this, Jesus in our gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42) speaks to Martha and Mary, and He speaks to us.  He tells us that we must look for and hold onto the one thing needful; the one thing necessary, that absolutely guarantees our salvation… Himself!  He is always there ahead of you, all you need to do is turn to Him and trust Him.  It is Jesus upon the cross suffering and dying.  It is Jesus body not dead in the tomb, but alive and reclining at the table eating and drinking with you; you who are no longer alienated from God’s love as an enemy, but reconciled as His own dear child.

And the good news is, Jesus has done all of the work for you.  He began it in your baptism when He gave you Himself; the one thing needful.  He gave you the fruit of the cross; the forgiveness of sins so you never need worry about whether His Father’s love and mercy are truly yours.  And to make sure that you never loose this wonderful gift, He promises that He will never leave you nor forsake you, nor take away all that He has done for you!

Now, I don’t want you to get the impression that St. Paul thought that life is just one good time after another.  He wasn’t ignorant of life’s challenges and heartaches.  Let’s start reading again in vs. 24 and let Paul speak for himself: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known.” [Vs. 24, 25]

What Paul is telling us is that in this life we will have troubles; he had plenty of them!  In fact, he is saying he had more than most of us, because he was a minister of the gospel; an apostle who was constantly under the attack of Satan himself.  But through out all of those hardships and heartaches, he (Paul) never lost sight of Christ’s suffering and death for the entire world.  He never forgot the empty tomb or the waters of his own baptism.  He never forgot that he was called to continue following Jesus and then allow others to see through his own life, that no matter how many times he fell down under the burden of life, Christ always picked Him up.

That same Jesus Christ who was given to you as a gift from the Father in your baptism is still with you.  In a few minutes you will feast at His table of forgiveness and receive His body and blood which will reassure you that no one can take you away from Him, not even your own sin.  All you need do is receive Him and seek after Him where ever and when ever you need Him!

Our life in Christ can be compared to an aqueduct, the stone waterways that brought water from nearby mountains into parched cities in Italy and Spain, and that are still used in some countries today.  The objective foundation of our spiritual lives, Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, is like the huge stone aqueduct itself. The subjective elements, our daily experience with Christ, are like the fresh water flowing through it.

Some Christians neglect the Word and seek only the subjective experience. But without the solid Word of God to contain and channel that experience, the experience itself drains away into error and is lost.  Other Christians boast about well-engineered aqueducts based on extensive knowledge of the Bible, but they are bone dry, lacking no experience, which brings help and refreshment. Strong spiritual lives require both a strong knowledge of the Word of God and an intimate daily experience with Christ.  And that dear friends is precisely what Jesus offers you here in this house of worship, and anywhere else you need Him, if you will simply turn to Him and allow Him to speak through His Word.

May we with Paul continue to trust in Christ and His cross, proclaiming the mystery of the one thing needful, which is Christ in us, the hope of glory!  Please stand and sing verses 3 and 4 of the hymn “In the cross of Christ I Glory.”

  1. When the sun of bliss is beaming Light and love upon my way, From the cross the radiance streaming Adds more luster to the day.
  2. Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure By the cross are sanctified; Peace is there that knows no measure, Joys that through all time abide.  AMEN!

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