“Priorities”


Pentecost 9

July 17, 2016

 

Text:  Amos 8:1-12; Luke 10:38-42; Colossians 1:15-28

 

    Today’s Gospel lesson is one of the more familiar stories from the life of Jesus.  As Jesus and his disciples were traveling, they were welcomed into the home of two sisters, Martha and Mary.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to him teach.  Martha, meanwhile, was bustling about preparing the meal.  After a while, Martha comes over to Jesus and says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself?  Tell her to help me.”

    Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  One thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the better part.  It won’t be taken away from her.”

    I imagine that Martha was stunned by this reply.  I’m sure she went to Jesus believing he would take her side.  We need to remember that in those times, sitting at the feet of a rabbi listening to him teach was not considered to be an appropriate place for a woman.  Women were expected to attend to domestic duties like cooking and cleaning and childrearing.  Listening to rabbis teach about the things of God was considered to be appropriate for men only.  

    But Jesus did not take Martha’s side.  He asserted that Mary was right where she belonged.  Mary had chosen the better part.  For women as well as for men, the things of God have priority, even over one’s daily activities.

    I find it easy to identify with Martha.  I am involved with many things.  I also know this to be true for many of you.  I find it is easy to become worried and distracted about these things.  I need to be constantly mindful of my priorities in order to keep what God wants ahead of whatever else I have going on.

    Now missing out on Jesus to cook dinner may seem relatively harmless.  Missing out on worship or other church activities because you or someone in your family is involved in another activity may also seem harmless.  We do not always notice the subtle decay to our spiritual lives that can result from not giving priority to God.  But it is there.

    Not giving priority to God can also have a much uglier face.  Amos prophesied against those who couldn’t wait for the new moon and the Sabbath, the appointed times for worship in those days, to be over so they could go back to cheating the poor, using false weights and measures and selling dirt and chaff as wheat.  God was not their priority.  Getting rich at the expense of the poor was their priority, and it was an evil priority.  They were going through the motions of worship, but were not allowing worship to transform them into faithful people.  Because of this, God swore to take his words away from the land, and although they would seek his words when things got bad, they would not be able to find them.

    I imagine we have all known or heard of people who were regular participants in the life of the church, but you’d never know that from the way they act outside of church--mean-spiritedness, bigotry, dishonesty, philandering, and gossiping are just some of the attitudes and behaviors that come to mind.  And there are times that you and I have also failed to live up to what God wants of us, times that we have behaved hypocritically, times that we have not allowed being in God’s presence in worship to transform us.  But how are we to be about our God-given mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” if we are unwilling to let God continue to change us?  After all, I am not a completely formed follower of Jesus Christ--I still have plenty of room for improvement.  And so do we all.  If we think we have arrived, we are only fooling ourselves.  If we are to be the people God wants us to be, we need to give God top priority in our lives.  This means not only that we are to give priority to loving and serving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength by loving and serving our neighbor as ourselves, but also that we allow God to work in our lives to change us into the kind of people he wants us to be.

    But we also need to ask ourselves why Christ should have priority in our lives.  In the church we often assume this is so, even if we don’t always do a very good job of living it.  Therefore we need the reminder Paul gives us in today’s lesson from Colossians, in which many scholars believe Paul is quoting a hymn of the early church:

The Son is the image of the invisible God,

       the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:

       both in the heavens and on the earth,

       the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.

           Whether they are thrones or powers,

           or rulers or authorities,

       all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,

       and all things are held together in him.

He is the head of the body, the church,

who is the beginning,

       the one who is firstborn from among the dead

       so that he might occupy the first place in everything.

Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him,

        and he reconciled all things to himself through him—

       whether things on earth or in the heavens.

           He brought peace through the blood of his cross.

    In other words, Jesus gets priority because God gave him priority.  God made Jesus greater than all other things in heaven and on earth.  Through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead we are forgiven our sins, put in right relationship with God, and receive life with God in this life and for all eternity.  No one is more deserving of first place in our lives than Jesus Christ.  There is no person or thing that can compare with him.

    Therefore, in order to have our priorities right, we need to place Jesus first and nowhere else.  Although we are busy people with many things going on in our lives, let us remember that if we are followers of Jesus Christ, priority belongs to him above all else.  Let us listen to him and do what he calls us to do--love God and neighbor in all we do.  Amen.

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