This is for all of you who, for one reason or another, didn't make it to worship this morning. (A side note: There is nothing better, more superlative, than being with other Christians to receive God's Word and Sacraments!) You'll get it once you listen to the message for today.
Lutheran Hour Ministries
Sermon Text for July 21, 2013
"A Superlative Savior for a World in Need" #80-46 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 21, 2013 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Australia) Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Luke 10:38-42
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, hallelujah and that one thing makes all the difference in life, yours and mine. Amen.
Okay, let me take you back to grade school days, alright? Do you remember in English class talking about adjectives? Okay, okay, I know this might be bringing up some bad memories, but here it goes. An adjective is a describing type of word, one that modifies or explains another word. And it can do it with greater and greater force or greater and greater clarity. When they do, they call those adjectives, comparative adjectives and superlative adjectives. For example, something could be good, that's the base adjective, or something could be better, that's the comparative adjective, or, here it comes, something could be best! That's the superlative! Good, better, best. That's easy, right? And the best is better than them all. When you've got a superlative, as the commercial goes, "It just doesn't get any better than this!"
Here's another example. For all of you basketball fans out there. Do remember last spring's March Madness NCAA basketball tournament? Now I'm showing a bit of my bias here, but here it goes. The Ohio State Buckeyes were good. They made it pretty far in the tournament. The Michigan Wolverines were better. They made it all the way to the Final. But, the Louisville Cardinals, as hard as it is for me to say, they were the best. They won it all. Good, better, best, and for many of us fans, that game was the best thing on TV that night, that's for sure!
You see, we love those best things, don't we? We can't get enough of them. And when the best thing presents itself in life, everything, and I mean everything, takes a back seat to it for that moment. I remember when I was young. We used to take trips to Northern Michigan in the summer. There was a phenomenon there called the Northern Lights. All of the sudden, in the dead of night, the sky would come alive with color. When it comes to night show entertainment, there's not much better than the Northern Lights. Rivers and waves of color; of greens, reds, and whites would dance playfully through the stars. Now, I'm thankful that we didn't have TV or Nintendo in the cottage back then, because I can't even imagine someone saying, "Come look at this" and then having that invitation ignored while staying glued to a TV set or wanting to keep playing for a Nintendo high score. No way! When the superlatives present themselves, that's the time to drop everything, to rearrange your schedule and make sure that you don't miss out. Otherwise, you might find yourself missing out on the one thing that really mattered for that moment or, truth be told, for the rest of your life.
So, the question for today, "Are there things in life that are drop-everything-don't-miss-this type of things?" Are there cancel-all-of-your-plans-so-that-you-can-be-here type of things that you shouldn't miss, that you can't miss out on? And is there one thing above all else, one thing necessary, that you don't want to miss most of all? Jesus says it.... "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and you're troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.] Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
What a day it must have been in the lives of Mary and Martha. Think about it, Jesus comes to their home. He comes to grace them with His presence, to encourage them with His teaching, and His love and blessing in action. And there is no one like Him. The superlative Savior, the beyond all expectations Teacher, He's here. He's at their home.
Mary takes her seat before Him, and Martha gets busy. And, even though she's doing some sacrificial, hospitable things, these things get in the way of her relationship with Jesus. Now, let's not be too hard on her, though, we probably would have done the same thing. She was merely fulfilling the duties of a good host. The Middle Eastern culture in that day was a culture of hospitality. She did what was always done and more, knowing that it was for Someone as special as Jesus. She did some very good things. She invited Jesus into her home. Good. She cooked dinner for him. Good. She was trying to make things as comfortable for Jesus as possible. Wonderful. But even good things can get in the way of the best thing, and that's the problem.
Martha was distracted by her preparations, distracted and even dangerously disconnected from the very One she needed to be connected to the most, Jesus. When good things get in the way of the best thing, that's the time to set even those good things aside.
Do a little self-reflection with me right now, will you? Have you ever experienced that Martha Syndrome? Have you ever been over-occupied with doing something good that it actually became burdensome and distracting to you? Have you ever felt hostage to being overly occupied, then developing that poor-me syndrome, which fuels resentment and even anger against those you are actually wanting to love and serve. It's so easy to get side-tracked from a "Good, Better, Best Life" to one that becomes "the good, the bad, and even ugly." For when we're disconnected from God, even our good works can become destructive.
You begin to understand the very power of the Good News of Jesus when you realize that His message is not merely a good message, or a better message than other philosophies in this world, His is the only saving message, the best message, because it's not about what you and I need to do or not do; it's about what God has done for us all by grace, mercifully in the Person and work of Jesus.
And when you further realize that Jesus' mercy isn't just for the bad things that we all do, but that His forgiveness also covers the inadequacy of the good things that we do that don't measure up either; that's a message that really saves. One of the hardest things in ministry is to convince people that there really is hope when their best efforts have failed, when their good isn't good enough and they know it. That's the toughest temptation of all, the resignation of thinking that one's best is all there is in life, that one's best is all there is with love. It can blind us to the fact that even when our best fails, that God's best is still in play and that God's finest is still available for us even then.
Jesus invites you and me today to set aside that Martha Syndrome, to unload that burden and bitterness. He's saying, don't let anything, even good things, get in the way of receiving His best for you; His forgiveness, His life, His salvation. It's Jesus who says, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:28-30). Amazingly, He wants us to receive from Him first. He wants to be that eternal Anchor in our lives that holds, so that we can then live as He has already loved us. Doing things for others is good. Being a parent, being a child, being a student, being an employee or employer offer wonderful opportunities to do good. But those things are at their very best when they flow from our faith relationship to God in Jesus Christ. "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about so many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen that good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
So, Jesus invites us all to assume the position, to first and foremost sit at His feet, and learn from Him, receive from Him. Sit at the feet of the Master. Listen to His message of rest for our souls. Come to the best Messenger, the best Mediator, and be re-fueled to serve.
In our text we see that Mary chose what was better. She chose the good portion. I find that phrase ironic, don't you? When talking about a good portion, one is usually talking about a part of dinner. Jesus seems to be contrasting the serving of the food prepared by Martha with the food of His own teaching, His own message. He's telling Martha, He's telling you and me, when this better than best food is available, when this Savior is in your midst, set everything aside, give Him your full attention because there is eternal life in His words, and in Him God's promises are literally in action for your abundant life of faith, now and forever. Don't miss it, Jesus says.
One of the best things I loved to do as a pastor was to teach all the Confirmation classes to the adults and the kids. It was my don't-miss-this moment with everyone who joined our church. I didn't want them to miss the fact that all that we are and do is centered in Jesus Christ, the One the Father sent in the power of the Spirit to save us. I wanted them to be awed by our Superlative Savior, to rejoice in His grace for their lives, and to live as forgiven sinners to others who needed to know that Jesus, too.
I used to love seeing them come to know the uniqueness of Jesus and His message for them, some for the first time. Many had thought that going to a church that preached Christ, was like going to any other church. You went there to learn about doing good things and avoiding bad things, you know, trying to be the best person you could possibly be. Now, those are good things, don't get me wrong; but remember, even good things can sometimes distract us from receiving the best thing.
When they first heard the main teaching at this church was about God's best for them, about God's work in the world, in their lives, about a love that was there for them even in spite of themselves at times, about a life that was a gift for them that would change the way they lived, now and forever, there's nothing like seeing the changed face of one who is either burdened with guilt or exhausted with the Martha Syndrome, who then gets to know this Superlative Savior as their very own!
But, this kind of work takes time, it takes effort, it takes a lot of prayer, and it still doesn't happen easily. One time, I'll never forget this, it happened when I was teaching the Senior Confirmation Kids (these were 8th graders in our church). The lesson for that week was about the Person and work of Jesus. And for some reason, this class wasn't grasping the full impact of this main teaching of the Bible. It could have been my teaching that week, it could have been a tough week for them at school, it could have been many things that caused such a distraction. But, this was really important, so I called a special session, a Sunday morning class during their normal Sunday School time. I said, "Kids, getting to know this Jesus, to trust in this Jesus by faith, it's the most important thing in your life and that's what your Confirmation in this church is all about. Faith in Him, trusting in His Word, it's the one thing that will hold when all else fails. In fact I told them, "this class on Sunday two weeks from now is the most important one of all of our two years in Confirmation. You can't miss it."
Well, the next day, I had a parent of one of my students visit me in my office. She said that her son had a soccer game that Sunday morning. I told her how vital this class was and that there would be times when good things in life would have to be set aside so that we don't lose the most important thing, the best thing, our faith in Jesus. To me, this was one of those times for her son. Now, understand, this wasn't the World Cup, this wasn't even the college, or high school, or even the local junior high soccer championship. So I thought this was a great opportunity for this parent to teach their own child the power of knowing the one thing necessary for life now and forever.
I was shocked when the mother finished our conversation by telling me that she would leave the decision up to her son as to whether he would come. "If he chooses soccer," she said, "he chooses soccer."
I was so anxious for that Sunday to come. That morning, I waited earnestly for all my students, but even more especially for that young man. I so wanted Him to know why Jesus was his Superlative Savior, above all things, and yes, One who would even make future soccer games worth playing. I waited, but not for long. I can't tell you how proud I was to see him walk up the sidewalk with his Bible in his hands, ready for class. He was even early! I still remember that class as one of the best classes of the year for us, pastor, confirmands, and parents. It taught us all about the power of the One thing necessary in life, for life!
Oh, to sit at the feet of Jesus, right? It's the place of a disciple, that's for sure. But, it's the place of blessing and salvation for real and that's what He is offering to you and to me today, my friend. Hear His Good News. For His is the best news for you, for me, for everyone. At His feet you will hear how the Supreme Son of God made Himself nothing and humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. That's how He made salvation from sin, death, and judgment possible for you and me.
At His feet, you will hear how our Superlative Savior Jesus did the opposite of what many of us would do, because of our insecurities or inabilities. Instead of cutting down others, like we would do, or pointing out others inadequacies in order to make us feel better about ourselves, Jesus allowed Himself to be cut off even from His Father, to take the place and punishment of sinners, in order to elevate us to His status, the status of a fellow heir and redeemed child of God. Not just good, not just better than other philosophies or religious teachings, no, the best gift, the best gift ever, salvation by grace!
At His feet, through His Word, you and I are connected to the best message from the Superlative Savior of the world, who even now becomes our source of love and our resource of grace for our service to others in His Name. Now, in Him, there is no fear in doing good, no resentment in service, no self-glory in good deeds either. At His feet, no fear, no need for self-glory, just joyful serving in His abundant grace received.
So, assume the position. Take time to sit at the feet of Jesus in personal devotion and worship. Choose the good portion of Jesus' love for you. Then your good works will have clear and ample opportunity to be motivated by Jesus and His teaching - by the best message from the best Mediator, our Superlative Savior.
Let me leave you with this picture today. Did you notice how in our text the good thing was taking place in the kitchen? But, the better and the best thing was taking place in the living room, the room in this case alive with the Good News of the Superlative Savior Jesus. In many homes, including mine when I was growing up, guests and visitors would always congregate in the kitchen. Maybe later in the evening we'd meander into the living room. Perhaps our text is suggesting that we start in the living room, the room that first finds us sitting at the feet of the Savior Jesus, and then fed by His Word, receiving that good portion, then we move to the kitchen. Start in the living room - God's Church and God's Word, and then move to the kitchen - the world of love, service, and good works. Start with the better posture at the receiving end of the Superlative Savior and His grace, and then move out into this world with a real gusto to serve others in His Name. Now that's a life that was meant for you to live. In His grace. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for July 21, 2013 Topic: Australia
ANNOUNCER: And now, Pastor Seltz shares with us some of his impressions of Australia. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, you visited Australia this past spring speaking at a convention, I believe.
SELTZ: Yes, their church convention, their main meeting.
ANNOUNCER: And that's the Lutheran Church of Australia?
ANNOUNCER: ...which is a partner church of the Missouri Synod.
SELTZ: Yes, they are. They have a relationship with us. What's amazing about the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Lutheran Church in Australia is that they really were fleeing religious persecution. That kind of bonds us together. We were from the same basic area in Germany. The problem was, for some reason the ability to emigrate dried up for that group of folks. Their history was they met somebody in London and he paved the way for them to go to Australia. But when you look at why they came, and then, of course, that familial ties, it's almost an identical history, halfway around the world.
ANNOUNCER: And for many folks who have been Lutheran, part of the Missouri Synod going back generations and generations, I guess what you're saying is that we probably have some cousins down in Australia.
SELTZ: I didn't want to go there, but that's probably true. What was really amazing, what overwhelmed me a little bit is we had a guide, his name was Lloyd Pfeiff, and he was just a wonderful man. He took us and showed us the history of what was there and he took us, literally, to the grave of August Havel, one of the first founding pastors. He would be like the C.F.W. Walther of the Church in Australia. It was incredible to be in that cemetery with his grave and then to see all the history unfold and it was all right in front of the church that was still worshipping there.
SELTZ: I would have loved to have been at the sermon that Sunday service where he convinced the people to join him. Get on the ship. It's kind of the same in our history. And then to go so far away and the harshness of dealing with all the things that they had to deal with when they landed. But, again, all for the sake of the gospel; that's still the main motivating factor of their emigration, as well as ours.
ANNOUNCER: And you were there for a convention. And you spoke to how many people?
SELTZ: I guess it was about six thousand folks gathered there. It was at one of the big convention centers in downtown Adelaide. Gosh, I got to be honest with you, I was a bit overwhelmed. And again, not just because of the moment, but when you go to August Havel's grave, you see the saints who have come before you. Then you walk down the aisle of six thousand saints who happen to be gathered at this moment in time. That's when I started getting overwhelmed a little bit. I was like, "Wow! God's been doing this!" And here we are today. And now I'm going to speak His message with these folks.
ANNOUNCER: What was the theme of their convention?
SELTZ: I loved their theme. It was "Love Comes to Life". And what an incredible thing to say as a Lutheran because when you talk about the sacramental reality of the gospel, you're really not just saying love comes to life in my life, you're saying love comes to life because Jesus is really here. And when Jesus is here with His gifts, love is here. It's alive and it's being offered to you. And then, of course, the Good News is we get to take that with us and make it come to life in other people's lives; because we're His people for them.
ANNOUNCER: You spoke about the history of the Lutheran Church in Australia, but it didn't stay just concentrated among a group of Germans, did it?
SELTZ: We sometimes look back in history and say, gosh, why did they stay to themselves for so long? Well, they were just trying to survive. Almost everybody who emigrated was trying to just build a city, build a community, but as time, as there was growth, like even happened in America, then eventually you begin to realize you start bumping into your neighbors and they don't know this Jesus. So again, they started to reach out; in fact, very much so to the Aboriginal folks of Australia. There's a huge contingency of Aborigines who are Lutheran because the gospel crossed cultural barriers. What a beautiful thing.
ANNOUNCER: And I understand that some of these Aboriginal folks also have leadership roles within the church today.
SELTZ: Leadership roles, and then their choir performed for us again at this gathering and it was just a great time for us all; celebrating together the thing that bonds us-our faith in Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"One Thing's Needful, Lord, This Treasure" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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