July 18, 2004 , P7C
arilyn and I loved the Movie “City Slickers” the first time out, and have watched bits and pieces of it on cable TV, many times since. Our favorite part is where Curly, the grumpy but lovable old cow hand, played by the veteran actor Jack Palance, is hosting a cattle drive for fish-out-of-water city slickers who have paid good money to for a real cowboy's vacation out west. Comedic actor Billy Crystal plays Mitch Robbins, a New Yorker complete with a Mets baseball cap, who seems to be caught in a mid-life crisis slump. Curly and Mitch did not take to each other at all, however Mitch notices that Curly seems to have peace of mind and contentment. The two unlikely buddies are bonded when Crystal is called upon to assist in delivering a calf who is coming into life backwards. After Crystal has washed up the two are seen sitting by a campfire smiling and the city slicker asks the old cowboy how he has found happiness. In what has become one of motion picture's most quoted and philosophical lines, Palance's voice crackles, “One Thing, the secret of life is Just One Thing ,” as he holds up just one index finger.
Strangely enough, and unrecognized my most, Cowboy Curly is quoting Jesus, who in today's story is overhears saying to the older bossy sister Martha; “…there is need for only one thing . Mary has chosen the better part…” (v.42, NRSV)
John Wesley called himself “a man of just one book.” Although he read every book he could get his hands on, authored and compiled many books, pamphlets and translations, and even set up his own publishing enterprise, the Oxford professor found his center in the core book, The Bible . In other words what Wesley meant, along with Curly and Jesus is there is one central truth around which all other things find their appropriate place.
Back to the story; we need to point out that both Martha and Mary were doing their appropriate part in hosting their family friend: Martha was getting the big meal prepared out in the kitchen and Mary was graciously sitting with Jesus in the front room. Martha comes off as the bad girl simply because during this brief period of time before dinner, she was focused on the secondary task while Mary was able to discuss the deeper things of theology with the very Son of God. It is probable that if she had been caught up on her chores, Martha would have also sat in the front room with Jesus and thought on the things that are of eternal significance. Or, perhaps Jesus was chiding Martha for the many times she focused on the secondary instead of the primary one thing. Martha certainly would have remembered Jesus' chiding later after Jesus had called their brother Lazarus from the tomb. We must point out that when Jesus came back to Bethany when he heard that Lazarus was dead, Martha made a public and bold statement of faith, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (Jn. 11:27, NIV) It seems that Martha learned what the real, top priority, number one thing is. We hear folks say that the one thing that pulls all other things together is Jesus Christ.
Paul, once the enemy of believers, had been changed completely by the famous “Damascus Road Conversion,” became the chief interpreter of the faith as the first educated theologian, says this in Philippians 3: 13& 14, “I am focusing all of my energies on this one thing : Forgetting the past and looking forward to that which lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” (NLT)
Paul is pointing us toward the one thing that puts all other things into their places: Faith in Christ which leads to a new life of faithfulness, intentionality and spiritual growth with the ultimate reward of eternal life.
Yet, we all know folks who have been chasing after all of the wrong things: No purpose, no plan no focus. Some just waddle along the roadway of life until they stumble over the corpse of the person they could have been.
Some seek pleasure and titillation in the bottom of a bottle, or in addictive drugs. There is a rundown building in our downtown that has a hand painted sign on a basement door that offers the only hope there is for addicted persons. It is where various Twelve Step Recovery Groups meet. Perhaps they meet in that out of the way spot because it resembles the dives that addicted persons are use to going into. Just last week a wrinkled old boy, who looked like the wrath of the devil had hold of him, came to our church door asking for the door where folks like him could find help. I pointed out the way and added that when he walked through that door those folks would teach him about the one thing that could save his life, and his soul.
The Rich Young Ruler had everything, he thought: Wealth, Youth and Power, but Jesus pointed out that “One Thing you lack…” (Matt. 10: 21) And the soon to be Poor, Old, Helpless man, went away sad.
I have been tempted recently by the compelling television commercial by the young President of Ford Motors, Jack Ford, who says, “If I could have but one car it would be my red Mustang convertible!” He is standing in front of the dream car of all of us kids of the seventies. The One Thing that is the secret of life is obviously not a sporty car. Neither is it found in leading the romanticized life of the cowpoke. Hopefully characters like Curly, Jack Ford and any lost souls who may be here this morning will find it.
Jack Palance had a great career in movies which belied his misfortune. As a World War II bomber pilot he crashed suffering extensive burns. Plastic surgery restored a semblance of his face but it retained a gaunt, stretched look. As he matured he became ambiguously handsome. His disability became his edge that brought fame. The son of Ukrainian coal miners from Pennsylvania he maintains his Christian faith: Cowboy Curly's secret “One Thing” is not a secret with us. The secret is out and it is ours.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor