38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are distracted by  many things; 42 one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10: 38-42)


In the past few years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend.  Fewer and fewer of our young people attend church on a regular basis.  Attendance has been pretty steady (although still not as high as we would all like), but the average age of those attending seems to be growing older.  This is not a good sign.


Before I offer my observations on this trend, I will offer a couple of dis-claimers.  First – this is not a problem reserved for Bethlehem and St. Paul alone.  In general, all Christian churches have experienced a decline in attendance, and a decline in the attendance of our young people in particular.  (In Europe it is even worse.)  So we are not alone.


My second disclaimer is this:  I am not criticizing our young people, nor am I blaming them.  We have great young people here at Bethlehem and St. Paul, from grade school through high school and college.  They are well-mannered, kind-hearted, and generous; which is a credit to the parents and grandparents.  I would add, for the most part, they are faithful Christians.  Many of them still attend church on a regular basis; and those who don’t usually have a very good excuse.


But that’s the problem.  They have a good excuse.  Our young people have very busy schedules: school (and homework), sports, music, speech and drama, and work.  All these things are good things.  They are important things, things that should be done.  Indeed, school work must be done.  You might call them legitimate excuses for missing church.  But they are still excuses.


In the lesson from Luke 10, Jesus would call them distractions.  In that lesson, Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to Jesus.  She was “in church”.  But Martha wasn’t.  She was not sitting with her sister and listening to Jesus.  Oh, she had a good excuse.  She was busy preparing dinner for Jesus and His disciples.  That was an important job.  After all, someone had to do it.  But Jesus, out of His love for Martha, rebuked her.  “Martha, you are distracted by many things.  Mary has chosen the good path.”  Jesus was telling her, preparing dinner was an important thing; it just wasn’t the most important thing.  Martha was “distracted” from the most important thing, sitting and listening to Jesus, like Mary did. 


Some would say, Martha had a legitimate excuse.  That she had every right to finish dinner.  Jesus would still be there after dinner, and Martha could listen to Jesus then.  That is true, but that turns it upside down.  It makes listening to Jesus the “distraction”, and preparing dinner the “good path”.   It is just as true that Martha could have listened to Jesus, and left dinner for later.  Then she would have “chosen the right path”, recognizing that listening to Jesus is the most important thing; even more important than preparing dinner.


I believe our young people have faith.  They believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  The Devil knows that.  The Devil knows he cannot attack our young people directly, or try to get them to reject Jesus.  So the Devil distracts them in stead.  The Devil says, “you know church is important.  But there are so many other important things for you to do.  Church will always be there for you, and the church will forgive you for missing church, especially if you have a legitimate excuse.”  There’s a lot of truth in that.  Our church will always be there for our young people, and of course we will forgive our young people (and everyone else) for missing church.


But let’s not be distracted by the Devil’s words or temptations.  Let’s not forget what’s most important.  Let’s not forget that Mary “chose the right path”, not Martha.  What Martha was doing was important, but listening to Jesus was the most important thing.  Our young people have busy schedules.  They have important things to do.  But never forget, the most important thing is listening to Jesus.  Sometimes we have to makes our excuses to others.  Sometimes we should say, “We can’t make this event, we have to go to church.”  For that’s the most legitimate excuse of all.


Your friend in Christ,  Pastor Ron