SCRIPTURES: Gen. 18:1–14; Col. 1:21–29; Luke 10:38–42
Today’s Gospel reading tell us that Martha “welcomed [Jesus] into her house,” just like Abraham in the first reading, who begged the three visitors to turn aside and be refreshed. And everyone knows that when you welcome a guest, it is the host’s job to be “anxious and troubled about many things” to honor the guest, so that the guest may kick back and relax.
So the busyness of Abraham was running to the tent and telling Sarah to get enough bread ready to feed a small army, then going out to the herd to take the “tender and good” calf to give to his young man to prepare. (A whole calf for three men?) All so that, at last, as the three visitors sat beneath the oaks of Mamre, Abraham could set before them a rich feast: curds, milk, the calf (and, one assumes, the bread). And so also the busyness of Martha was rattling around in the kitchen, growing ever more irritated as Mary stayed stubbornly absent, sitting at the guest’s feet and forgetting her duties as hostess.
When it is the blessed Trinity dropping in, when it is the Lord Jesus stopping by, the big deal isn’t what you’re rustling up for Him! The big deal is what He’s rustling up for you. To Abraham and Sarah (cackling behind the tent door), the blessed Trinity offers a promise: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Gen. 18:10). A crazy promise! No wonder she laughed. Even Abraham stumbled at what God was suggesting since his wife was so old and, as the sacred writer puts it rather delicately, “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (v. 11). Yet the promise stood. And a promise is only as good as the promiser. In this case, the promiser had almighty power on His side: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” the Lord says to Abraham (v. 14).
So while the mysterious visitors, who speak as the Lord, munch on the feast set before them, Abraham and Sarah savored a far tastier fare: the promises heaped up and reaching culmination. They would have a son. Just a year from then. The time of the great fulfillment of a promise begun 30 years earlier was fast approaching. And as they pondered the promise, it brought its gift: faith … faith to trust that it is so.
Every path that Abraham had taken to help God keep His promise had turned to a dead end. It wouldn’t be Lot. It wouldn’t be his servant Eliezer. It wouldn’t be Ishmael. Now, when they were helpless to bring about anything, when they could only receive from the Lord’s hand by a miracle, God would give His gift and a child would be born, a child through whom the blessing of the world itself would begin. And they couldn’t take credit for a bit of it!
Back in Bethany, Mary listened attentively as the One whom Isaac prefigured spoke — your Jesus, the true Seed of Abraham, the One who would be the bringer of blessing to every family of the earth. Far better than the yummy smells wafting from Martha’s kitchen were the sweet words falling from His lips.
Mary listened to them, soaked them up, pondered them and wondered. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” Jesus says to Satan (Matt. 4:4). And here sat God in the flesh, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, who had assumed the Seed of Abraham through His mother’s flesh that He might set a feast before a hungry world.
Oh, not a feast of worldly food. He knew how to do that too, of course (remember the feeding of the 5,000?). But you recall how after that miracle, He spoke of having food to eat that His disciples knew nothing about. They wondered who had stashed away the snacks for Him. But He made it clear: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34). That’s what He ate and drank and literally lived from: the will of the Father.
And that will, simply put, was to supply for the world a feast. He had come to be the bread of life that you may eat of and not die, but live in Him forevermore. That’s why Mary chose the good portion and why the Lord was not about to let Martha or anyone else take it from her, just as He won’t let anyone take it from you. He wants you to have a life that doesn’t end, anchored in the forgiveness of your sins, and that’s the gift that listening to His promises and believing them delivers to you.
That’s why you are here this morning, whether you know it or not. You are not here to do something for the Lord, like Abraham or Martha were doing. You are here to let the great Giver of the Feast speak His Words and promises to you. Be still, then. Listen.
You, who as St. Paul said in the second reading, once were alienated and even hostile in your mind, devoted to the doing of evil deeds, you He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death. You He has brought into His Father’s presence and you He waits to present — catch this! — “holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” (Col. 1:22). Seriously? You and me? Yes, seriously! For this is the very hope that the Gospel itself holds out to you, the hope that Christ preached to Mary and wanted Martha to hear and hold to as well. This hope, this gloriously great mystery, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (v. 27).
What your Jesus wants to give you in His great feast is nothing less than Himself — to lay on you the promise that His blood really does blot out all your sin; to lay on you the promise that when you were baptized into Him, He draped you in His very own holy and blameless and above-reproach life; that His perfect, flawless keeping of the divine Law has been done for you and is now credited to you as your very own. Don’t let go of it, Paul exhorts! Don’t let anyone move you from that hope of the Gospel.
So rejoice, people loved by God! Your faith isn’t about you and your doings, but about the blessed Seed of Abraham, our Lord Jesus, and His doing and giving. It’s about Him tending to you, not you to Him; Him serving you, not you Him. “Be still,” says the Lord in Psalm 46, “and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Ps. 46:10). He is exalted, for all the credit goes to Him. From His sinless birth, to His bloody death, to His glorious resurrection and ascension, and even to His coming again in glory, He has done everything and even arranged for that feast to be spread before you through His ministers.
The meal, which you couldn’t put on the table to save your soul, He puts into your ears for your heart to believe and into your mouth with the promise that His body and blood are your forgiveness, life and salvation. From first to last, your salvation remains in Him, His doing, His gift to you. And that is why it remains certain. Rejoice indeed!
As our Synod gathers in convention this week in St. Louis, we do so in the joyful confidence that our faith is not about doing great things for the Lord, but the Lord doing great things for us. The one thing needful is to sit still before Him and listen to His life-giving words and promises. This is the mission that we hold dear: assuring every single human being that there is a welcome, a place for them too, with us at the feet of Jesus where He continues to serve up a life that no death can take away, a forgiveness bigger than all our sin.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him! Amen.