Year C, Proper 11, Luke 10:38-42, To will one thing
To Will One Thing
A prayer by Søren Kierkegaard
"Father in Heaven, what are we without you?
What is all that we know, vast accumulation though it be,
But a chipped fragment if we do not know you?
What is all our striving?
Could it ever encompass a world,
But a half-finished work
If we do not know you?
You, the One who is one thing and who is all.
So may you give
To the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing,
To the heart, sincerity to receive this and this only,
To the will, purity that wills only one thing.
In prosperity, may you grant perseverance to will one thing.
Amid distraction, collectedness to will one thing.
In suffering, patience to will one thing.
You that gives both the beginning and the completion
May you early, at the dawn of the day,
Give to the young the resolution to will one thing,
As the day wanes, may you give too the old
A renewed remembrance of that first resolution
That the first may be like the last
And the last like the first
In possession of a life that has willed only one thing,
To know God."
(Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing)
"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 her."
Mary sat at Jesus feet, and there came to know God.
Martha, on the other hand, was distracted by her many tasks.
Are you a Mary or a Martha?
This is the question that often has guided our understanding of this text.
Primary, I think, it is asked by the “Martha’s” of this world who have devoted themselves to lives of service, and who,
Feel more than a little bit slighted by Jesus.
Martha is the one who was the hostess.
She had invited Jesus into her home.
It’s no small task to host Jesus,
And the disciples that followed him everywhere.
That she wanted Mary to help her was a reasonable request. At the very least, there was probably a meal to prepare. There were many tasks, all the result of having Jesus as a guest in their home.
But rather than being understanding of this,
Jesus tells Martha, that Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.
After all he says, there is need of only one thing.
“Yea, well,” the Martha’s of the world cry out, “that may be true, unless of course you want to eat.”
But Mary chose the better part, to sit there at Jesus feet.
Mary, according to Kierkegaard, had a pure heart.
She wanted only one thing.
To know Jesus.
To know God.
I think that as a Church,
As a congregation,
We are most often like Martha.
There are many things to do.
We are constantly in need of volunteers.
There is just so much involved in being a congregation that is hard to imagine being able to come together as a Church without an abundance of “Marthas” to make that possible.
Often we measure our success as a congregation through the eyes of Martha.
It’s all about the serving.
How much are we doing?
How many ways are we reaching out in Christian love to the community around us?
What programs are thriving?
The pride and joy of my former parish was that we built a senior housing ministry. That’s where my wife still works. It was my own “baby”. And day after day, they tend to the needs of the seniors who reside there.
It’s the epitome of “Martha Work”.
The congregations of our Church do many things.
Preschools, daycares, food banks, and clothing rooms.
We host things like twelve step groups,
And provide meeting space for scout troups.
There are lawns to mow.
And bathrooms to clean.
People bring cookies to church,
And prepare “hot dishes”, or casseroles, depending on which part of the country you’re from, for church dinners.
Someone will prepare the bulletin.
Others will set the table for communion.
Choirs will rehearse.
In many of our congregations quilts are made and sent throughout the world.
There are Sunday school classes to teach, and youth groups to lead.
And the list goes on, and on, and on.
In many cases, we have become very good at “being the church”, and it’s a credit to the Martha in all of us.
But “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
“Purity of heart” is to will one thing, and that one thing is to know God.
We live in a world in which people are becoming increasingly “unChurched”.
“I’m a spiritual person, but not very religious.”
“I don’t believe in “organized” religion.”
“I believe in Jesus, I just don’t have any desire to be part of a congregation and all the Church politics that go along with it.”
And yet, there is a hunger in our world for those things that truly matter.
Thinking about Mary sitting at Jesus feet,
And Kierkegaard’s prayer,
And all the years I’ve spent in ministry –
I find myself asking a “what if” question.
What if we were to scrap everything?
And do only one thing?
What if our entire ministry plans, and purpose statements, our organizational goals and objectives, were all set aside, and instead all of our effort was to do just one thing?
And what if that “one thing” was simply this:
To know Jesus.
And what would it be like if the one and only thing we were known for in the community is that “we know Jesus”?
Alan Jackson wrote a song, “Where were you when the world stopped turning” in the wake of the Sept 11th terror attacks. There’s a line in it I particularly love:
“But I know Jesus, and I talk to God, and I remember this from when I was young,
Faith, hope and love are some good things he gave us, and the greatest is love.”
Martha had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.
Perhaps the “one thing” we should be doing, is sitting at the feet of Jesus, and listening.
And if we do that,
If we sit with Mary at Jesus feet,
We will also find ourselves with Mary
Standing at the foot of the cross.
For to know Jesus,
Is to see him on the cross,
Giving himself, his body and his blood, for you and for me.
To know Jesus is to experience this love,
Offered freely for all.
To know Jesus, is to choose the better part,
And it will not be taken from us.