Putting God First

This meditation is based on Luke 9:51-62.

What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?  Okay, not that, I mean the second thing you do.  Or, if you were to log all of your activities, every single one of them, for the past week and you do this for a year, what do you always find time to do every week, no matter what?  The answer reveals your true priorities.

Our priorities are not what we say they are but by what we actually do.  We can say that exercise is important to us, but when our mornings are full with ten other things that come before the half hour on the treadmill, is exercise really that important?  We can say that saving money is crucial for our family, but when we buy a flat screen TV on impulse at Best Buy because the deal is just too good to pass up, is saving money really that important to us?  We can say that spending time with family is the most important thing a father can do, but when we golf three times a week is spending time with family important?

Businesses and churches are encouraged to create mission statements and a list of values.  We create these statements so that when tough decisions have to be made there will be some goal or principle that guides the leaders.  This week Nancy, the President of our congregation, Ron, the Treasurer and I had a three hour meeting to discuss what cuts in our budget to recommend to our council.  Our goal was to cut $21,000 out of our budget for the second half of the year because our giving for 2010 has been down by about 9% from last year.

This was not fun to be sure.  These are big cuts for a church our size.  Underlying our discussion was an awareness of the priorities that Messiah must keep. Things proposed were shot down because one of us thought it violated how we understand ourselves as church. It is not enough to say that worship, outreach and families are central to who we are at Messiah.  If these are our priorities when push comes to shove our choices must reflect this.

In the lesson from Luke today, Jesus is not teaching us the burial responsibilities of children for their parents or the honor one should give family and friends.  It is a teaching on priorities.  When Jesus teaches he often uses exaggeration to make a larger point. In Matthew 5:29, Jesus taught that if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  There would be a lot of eye patches worn by the men in our churches if we took this literally.  I know what those right eyes are looking at.  Jesus doesn’t want us to leave our dead parents rotting on the side of the road any more than he wants us to claw our eyes out of their socket.  His teaching is meant to shock us and ask what do we put before God?  Because what we put before God is our priority regardless what we proclaim.

Sometimes, I’ll run into a parishioner at Kroger and I’ll say something like, “Susan, I have missed you in church the last few weeks.”  I am just stupid. I don’t know why I say this because I always make Susan really defensive and she says, “I really want to come to worship but between the overtime demanded by work and junior’s travelling soccer team I can’t.”  I end up making people feel guilty like this too, when I give a sermon about the good gift of sharing our money with the ministries of God’s church. After church, someone will tell me that between house and car payments, the financial demands of raising kids and cost of living increases at work being a thing for the history books, no matter how much they would like to share an offering on Sunday morning, there is simply nothing left to give.

I feel bad that I have made them feel bad and I don’t want to make them feel bad. I became a pastor because I like people and I want to make them happy.  So I usually say, Susan don’t worry about it.  I know like can get busy.  Come back when it gets less or crazy.  Or to the other, no problem, we appreciate any gift you bring. Your presence is the greatest gift that you can bring.

Jesus it seems is not nearly as nice as me.  He told these three with great excuses, the guy had to bury his father for a crying out loud, that nothing, nothing should come before God.  There is no good excuse, period. Jesus’ call to us if we follow him is to create priorities in our life that put God at the center.

We can’t do all things.  We can’t be all things to all people.  Our time, our money, our talents and our opportunities are not unlimited.  We have to make choices.  The question Jesus is asking, do our choices reflect God at the center of our life or do they reflect something else that has been given priority?

The Good News is that Jesus is not asking us to sacrifice.  We don’t have to say no to golf, parents, flat screen TVs or bowling leagues when we say yes to God.  In order to enjoy the good things of creation, including flat screen TVs, God must be first on the list not seventh or eighth or even second.  I can’t be the father, the son, the husband or the friend I long to be until I am first the child of God I am meant to be.  Saying yes to God will bring us the best possible life. Life is lived fully when God is our top priority.

For us to live lives that put God first is honestly not rocket science.  When we prioritize our time, first we make time in the week to worship God.  Second, we use our gifts God gave us in the vocation God led us.  Third, we need time to rest and enjoy our family and friends without pressure or activity.  Now, how can we create a week that meets these priorities?  Regarding finances, first we need to share faithfully the good gifts of wealth God has given us.  Second, we need to support, protect and love those we are responsible for by providing food, clothing and shelter.  Third, we need to use our wealth to bring joy to us, our friends, family and strangers.  Now, how can we create a budget that meets these priorities?

Jesus is not trying to whittle down the disciples to the few crazy, obnoxious, bible thumping committed.  The point of today’s teaching is not to fill us with guilt or send most of us home glum except the few destined to be the next Mother Theresa.  This is not a call away from something. It is a call to something, life.  We can not be the best son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, neighbor or friend until we are first the child God we are meant to be.  To live life as a child of God, we first must put God first.  Amen

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