Saturday, July 27, 2013

Valerius Herberger on the Feast of St. Martha (July 29)

Unum necessarium, 
  Principalis cura credentium.
Pars optima, qua cum Maria 
  Elegit sibi ecclesia,
  Quae non auferetur ab ea.

One thing's needful, one indeed—
  God grant us what we need.
Mary chose the better part—
  God grant us such a heart.

IN THE NAME of Jesus Christ (the lover of all solicitous, active Marthas, the willing, tender Heart-guest and House-guest of all those vigilant, dutiful Christians who, particularly with Mary, neglect no less than their own sustenance the best and most needful Part, and eagerly sit in devotion at His feet , and in addition suffer patiently all that they encounter), most blessed and adored with God the heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.

Devout hearts! Let us examine the beautiful Gospel concerning Martha and her sister Mary. And that we may happily learn from this text what is the most needful thing in our whole life, let us pray heartily: "O God, show us loving-kindness and faithfulness which preserve us; so will we always sing praises to Your name, and daily perform our vows" (Ps. 61:8–9).

Hear with devotion the beautiful Gospel which is appointed for the commemoration of Martha, from Luke 10:38–42.

It came to pass, when they . . . not be taken from her.


THIS GOSPEL account is worthy of all glory, for it makes plain and clear that the Lord Jesus certainly is a gracious Friend of man, and that it is His particular delight to stay in our house and heart; as He also declares, "My delight is in the children of men" (Prov. 8:31). At the same time, we also see how He is best entertained: with a devout heart that eagerly hears His Word and takes pleasure in being corrected from it. He Himself demonstrates this: "I have a food of which you do not know" (John 4:32). Such devout hearts are to Him the most pleasant friends on earth. Blessed forever is the one who gives Him similar reception.

Besides this we are shown what all devout hearts will get for their godliness. The Lord Jesus will earnestly take up their cause when they are met with any need, whether of body, soul, or death. He will be their advocate and defender before God the heavenly Father (1 John 2:1). He will defend them as He defended Mary in this passage when she was scolded by Martha. Now that is glory, that is comfort!

But let us briefly expound this account, and then pluck these two heart-leaves {i.e., the vital inner leaves of a plant, fig., "the best or dearest part"; the feast of St. Martha was popularly associated with certain leaves –MC}:
 1. What the best toil, trouble, and care under the sun is that a man can ever have in his life.
 2. What benefit and fruit are gotten from it.

God bless the beginning, middle, and end of our thoughts and words. Amen.

 . . .

NOW FOLLOWS the Two Heart-Leaves from this Gospel account.

The First: What is the best, most important toil, trouble, and care that a man can spend his life involved in? Answer: Above all things, receive with Martha the Lord Jesus into your house and heart, and let Him be the dearest to you. "To love Jesus is better than knowing all things" (Eph. 3:19). Open the door of your heart, that He may come in and sup with you (Rev. 3:20). The ancient doctors of the church ask, Why would the Lord Jesus not have a house for Himself on earth? (Matt. 8:20), and answer: First, that we might have our own dwellings in heaven (John 14:2); second, that we might see that He is most fond of dwelling in the houses of men's hearts. This is why He says, "Dear child, give Me your heart" (Prov. 23:26). O blessed are those hearts and houses which receive Jesus! Salvation will certainly come to such hearts and houses (Luke 19:29). "Indeed," some say, "if the Lord Jesus came to me, I would certainly receive Him!" Answer: O how many lips do lie! For the Lord Jesus does come to you in the Word and most blessed Sacraments, and through many poor people who have need of you. Why then are you so slothful and lazy? Change your ways! After that, let your heaven on earth be to sit with Martha at the Lord's feet and listen to what He says. "One thing I ask of the LORD," says David [Ps. 27:4]. "I had rather keep the door in the house of the LORD than be a great prince in the world," says Psalm 84:10. Whenever the Gospel is sounding, string every word on the cord of your devotion, thread every word in the eyelet {lit., "earlet"} of your memory, fill the vessel of your heart to the brim. Even if the children of the world are impatient with you, as Martha was with Mary, pay no regard. Let them scoff and scold. Endure it all with patience and do not depart from Christ's feet. Remain faithful to Him as long as you draw breath (Rev. 2:10; Matt. 10:12; 24:13). Seek all your comfort in Him in life and death. Always remember where His feet went in pursuit of your salvation. Finally, let no one in the world convince you that other things are more important, as Martha thinks on this occasion. This one thing is needful to be saved. Mary chose what was best. You would not be in your right mind if you were to reject the box of gold for the worst box of lead.

Now examine your heart and see what kind of guests have been welcomed there. Turn out the devil, the world, and your own deluded will, and make room for the Lord Jesus alone. Do not wash the Lord Jesus' head {i.e., do not find fault with Him}, do not undermine His Word like Jeremiah's obstinate hearers (Jer. 44:16), like unbridled drunkards, gamblers, and fornicators. Do not break faith with Him like Demas and Julian [the Apostate]. Do not run off after every foolish thing, or it will be like saving the spoon and breaking the bowl, or digging for coal instead of treasures.

The Second Heart-Leaf: What benefit is derived from undertaking this most important of tasks? The Lord Jesus says it: "Mary chose the good part, which shall not be taken from her." That is, she will benefit from it in time and in eternity. You also will derive certain benefit from it. When you pray, God will graciously hear you. When cross comes, God will comfort you. When you fall into tribulation, you will have protection from heaven. Your doings and dealings with be blessed. When you need an advocate with God, Jesus will speak the right word for you, as He does for Mary here. When your last hour arrives, you will not see or taste death but pass through to life. It will usher you into heaven. Therefore Jerome says, Discamus ea in terris, quorum notitia perseveret in caelis. "Let us learn on earth that which abides in heaven." You will not be forsaken in any trouble. If you have received the Lord Jesus with His Word into the house of your heart, He will take you into His house of heaven on the Last Day, "where there are many dwellings." Thus our forebears say, Martha recepit Dominum in domum cordis, et recepta est ab eo in domum aeternitatis! "Martha received the Lord into the house of her heart, and she was received by Him into the everlasting house."

Therefore when the church bells ring, don't just stand or lie there, but go to the sermon. Say with Christ, "One thing is needful." Necessaria prius. "Needful things first."

When you see the world running after money and wealth, and saying, O cives, quaerenda pecunia primum, etc. "O citizens, to the money first!" then say, "I'll stick with Mary, who chose the best part." Valeat pecunia, valeat vita, [=Valeat vita, pereat pecunia,] said a godly martyr [Julitta and Blandina], famula Christi sum. "Away with money, away with life! I am a maidservant of Christ" (v. Basil). Worldly possessions are not the best part, they are the least part. That cathedral canon could find no consolation in his piles of ducats when he was on his deathbed.

When you see the arrogant works-righteous confiding in their sham works, say, "O what a useless, decrepit, worm-ridden part!" Wandregisle and Dr. Kreutzenach learned this in their final distress.

When you see certain blind men choosing sin, scandal, drunkenness, gluttony, fornication, lying, and stealing, think, "Keep me from that part, O God! That is not the best part but the worst and most harmful of all!" Those people will have no part with Christ. Ignis et sulphur pars calicis eorum. "Fire and brimstone . . . will be their reward" [Ps. 11:6].

In this way approve what is best (Phil. 1:10), choose the good, the best part, that will not be taken from you, and you will have succeeded here. Amen.

(Translation © 2013 Matthew Carver; from Valerius Herberger, Evangelische Hertz-Postille, ed. Leipzig, 1721; vol. 2, pp. 263–267.)

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