Ninth Sunday After Pentecost August 6-7, 2022
“Only One Thing Is Needed” Psalm 27
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Three weeks ago, one of the great accounts in the New Testament was read, the account of Jesus going to the house of contemplative Mary and busy, busy, Martha. This is how it read: As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister named Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
What is that one thing? Sometimes we can lose focus in life. We can chase after the wrong thing for a long time. Our priorities can get all messed up – sort of like Martha who was so concerned about the details of the house and the meal that she forgot the importance of the guest. Only one thing was needed. The one thing – Jesus. Listening to His word. Trusting His word. I want to talk about faith today. I want to talk about the importance of being people of faith. I want us to know that faith changes how we live every moment of our life. Do you have it? Is it strong? Is it focused? Do you have the one thing that is needed?
Over the last number of years I have witnessed the changes in my parents lives. My dad is 96 and is in hospice care. Soon our Lord Jesus will take him to His side. My mother is 93 and has great trouble remembering things. As I see them now, I think of how things were in earlier, healthier years. I remember our home in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. A big house, with a big yard, for a big family. Then our place in Phoenix – a pool in the back yard and all of us kids lived in it during the summers of 110-degree heat. Then when their kids were gone they moved to Sun City – a smaller place, two bedrooms, with time now to golf or quilt. But that became too much for them to care for, so a couple of years ago they headed to a memory care facility. They had a garage sale, gave stuff to us kids, got rid of the car, and my dad’s prized golf cart, and took just a few items to their small room. When I visit I see two things that tell me about what is most important to them – I see pictures of their family and statements about their faith. I guess life, for a believer in Jesus, becomes simpler as you age. Faith in Jesus becomes perfectly clear.
David, the author of Psalm 27, has a boldness of faith, that, I believe, can speak to our life, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” (Verses 1-3)
It isn’t that David didn’t have fears and troubles and worries and problems. He had a bunch. We think that he had the former king, Saul, whom God had removed from the throne, pursuing him, trying to murder David and reclaim his throne. And he had his own son, Absalom, who had grown to despise his own father and who sought the throne of Israel, who kept David on the run. David talks about the “enemies who surround me” and in his prayer he asks God, “Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.” (See Psalm 27:6, 12) He had many things that were against him but He had the one thing he couldn’t live without.
There were quite a few obstacles to faith. But David kept in mind the one thing that was needed. I bet you have a number of things inside your troubled soul, or the problems that exist in life, that can cause faith to stumble, struggle or become weak. How do you keep faith alive? How can you live life knowing that only one thing, Jesus, is needed?
First, we have to know that faith is God’s gift to us. We don’t create faith. It doesn’t come from within us. It comes from outside – from above – from God Himself. Scripture says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:3) When David was chosen to become king of Israel he wasn’t even in the room when Samuel, who was sent to select one of his father Jesse’s sons to serve as king, arrived. David was in the field, taking care of sheep, while his 7 brother’s were paraded before the prophet. When he waited for the runt of the sons to arrive, Samuel said of this, “The Lord does not look at the things that man looks at. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)
The very first thing you must know about faith is that it is a gift given to us from God. It was begun in Baptism. It has been nurtured by the Word of God. Faith always will direct us to the work of Jesus. Faith is guided by the truth of God through the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. What a gift you have when your insecurity is replaced with the certainty of faith.
Second, faith looks at its object. We don’t have faith in faith. We have faith, trust, confidence in Jesus, in God the Father, in the Holy Spirit. When hunter’s go out, waiting for a bird, a deer, an elk, or whatever they are looking for, to finally show up, they may sit in their blind, or on the top of a hill, for hours, focused on finding one thing. These words display such singular vision and desire, he prays that he would “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and he would seek him in his temple.” (Verse 4c) In verse 8 we read his desire, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek.” Faith has a hunger for the ways of God, for His truth, His salvation, His work. Like John the Baptist said of his perspective, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)
Thirdly – faith replaces what we deserve to receive with what God wants to give us. David, knowing his sin, said, “Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” (Verses 9-10)
Why would God show us such goodness in life? Because we are so pure and holy and keep His ways faithfully? I don’t think so. Psalm 103 says these great words, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Verse 10) Faith looks at its object – Jesus Christ on the cross and then risen in triumph – and realizes we are deeply loved by a good God. Faith is confident that the work to redeem our soul and save our life was accomplished in the work of Jesus.
Faith, then, in my fourth point, takes patience. David, in listing the obstacles of faith, stands in faith in what God has said. He ends the psalm, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14)
At lunch on Wednesday, Mike Zehnder, our Director of Music, told us how he stretched money when his 5 children were just kids. When they went out to eat, they didn’t get to order pop with their meals. Food and water. And they complained. So after hearing their griping for the hundredth time, and demanding that he give in to their need for pop, he lined them up and said, “Listen, ‘No’ is an acceptable answer”. So is “wait”. Faith waits for God’s timing, God’s will, God’s perfect response.
Faith is not always so easy. We believe in things that we cannot see. Hebrews 11, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Verse 1) In II Corinthians, Paul would say of this faith, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (4:18) “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (5:7)
Finally, faith is eternal because the God we worship is eternal. Faith is not so complicated. It is simply taking God at His word. Paul talks about simple faith bringing to us eternal life. He says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
In these first days in August in 2022, in a world that seems to be quite complicated and uncertain, hold to the one thing, the only thing that is needed – faith in Jesus Christ. He is the one needed in life and in death; now and eternally. Amen!!