What’s Really Important – October 30, 2022
Psalm 84, Matthew 6:1-4, 25-34
October 30, 2022
In a time of crisis, one thing that often happens is that people get a different perspective on “what’s really important.” Isn’t that true? When “The Greatest Generation” returned from World War II, they came home with a renewed sense of what was important. They valued people. They built solid family lives and homes, and they filled churches.
I think, at least to some extent, the current “crisis” – the pandemic – has helped many people to see “what’s really important.” When they couldn’t be with family, for instance, many people realized how important family really was. And it’s the “how important” that’s the operative word there. “How” denotes the magnitude of importance. What is more important? What is less important?
Life is all about that “perspective.” Every day, we’re called by the many tasks and issues before us to make decisions, to prioritize, to decide what’s more important and what’s less important. And we are often called to decide what’s the most important – what’s really important. And that’s hard, because sometimes all of the tasks and issues before us cry out that they are the most important, don’t they!
And then, when all those voices and tasks and issues are calling us – all at once – that becomes the source of much of the stress we experience. We say, “our heads are spinning!” That’s because we’re looking all around at things that are calling for our attention from every side! That’s stressful! And stress, as you’ve heard me say before, is one of the most pervasive “diseases” in our world today! And no, it’s not a communicable disease, like a virus. But then again, maybe it is. Because sometimes we cause stress in each other, don’t we?
Now, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. We’re all well aware of the stress in our lives, and we aren’t surprised when we’re told all the bad things it can do to us. Stress can change our body chemistry. It can change our brain function. It can weaken our immune system. It can lead to other infirmities. It can rob us of the peace we so long for. And it can cause rifts in relationships. It can make us “snap” at someone, where we may not have done so otherwise.
I think it’s great that Jesus spoke to this subject. And he spoke to it in one of his most famous speeches, “The Sermon on the Mount.” And a lot of what he said in that sermon came down to this question we’re dealing with today. A lot of it came down to us seeing “what’s really important.”
“Do not be anxious about your life,” he said. In other words, “Don’t worry.” “Don’t stress.” Now, I know it’s been said, “You can’t tell someone how they should feel.” And there’s some truth in that. You can’t make them “choose” their feelings, or “turn off” feelings. What you can do is show them different ways of thinking about what it is they’re feeling or what they’re stressed about. And Jesus does that here.
“Think of it this way,” he says. “Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.” Then he asks, “Are you not of more value than they?” Now, that does sound a bit simplistic, I know. Birds don’t have to work. They don’t have to go shopping. They don’t have to surf the internet! Although they do spend a lot of their time searching for food! So maybe it’s not a perfect comparison. But what his statement does do is it turns our attention to God. And that’s a good start. In thinking about the worry and the stress in our lives, it’s good to ask, “How does God fit into all of this?”
Then Jesus gives us a practical thought. “Which of you, by worrying, can add a cubit to his span of life?” That’s a very good question, isn’t it! Because we can’t, can we! And, in our day, we’ve come to know the further extent of that question. We know that stress can actually subtract cubits! And hopefully what he asked makes us think! “Which of you, by worrying, can add a cubit to his span of life?”
Then he gives another simple, yet profound example. “Consider the lilies of the field.” (Starring Sidney Poitier! Remember that movie? “Sisters, I done laid my last brick!”) “Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these!” Again, that might not be so practical, but it is a wonderful statement about God, and it turns our attention to his power in creation.
Then Jesus gives them this big statement at the end! “Seek ye first the kingdom of God. And all these things shall be added unto you.” In all these things – the things we worry about, the things that cause us stress – in all these things, remember God. Think about his kingdom.
A couple of weeks ago I read the words of the psalmist, who wrote, “the years of our lives are three-score and ten, or if we’re strong, four-score.” Do you remember that? Well, the end of that sentence says, “But those years are all toil and soon they’re gone.” That’s a wise perspective on this life. Life is short. So, remember God’s kingdom. That’s what’s really important!
Again, many things pull on us in this life. Many things want our attention. Many things tell us they are the most important. Many things make us forget what’s really important, and that is God’s kingdom. And Jesus nails one here. Right before the last big section in this chapter, we read this. “No one can serve two masters.” And “serve” is the operative word. It means “being devoted to, being loyal to, spending your life and your energy in service of.” Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon – or material wealth.”
I think that statement compels us to ask ourselves, “Who do you serve?” After his religious conversion, folk singer Bob Dylan told us, “You gotta serve someone.” Do you remember that song? So, who do you serve? Do you serve the “master” of material wealth? Many people do! Many people have made that to be “what’s really important!”
Notice that Jesus is very specific here about this subject. He doesn’t leave it out there for people to wonder what he was talking about. No, he was very direct! “You cannot serve God and mammon.” And then he went on to this part we read. “Therefore, do not be anxious…” I wanted to be sure to read verse 24, because that’s how he leads into this section we’re dealing with.
And then, in a part we also didn’t read, (Because it would have been too long!) Jesus is talking about how things of this earth are only temporary. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” And he compares that to “treasure in heaven,” which are permanent. I wonder if Paul knew those words when he said that “We look to things that are unseen, because the things that are seen are temporary…”
And in this, Jesus is asking us to think, not just about treasure we “store up,” but about what we “treasure” – using the verb. And then these profound words. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Now he’s talking about what’s in our heart! And Jesus often spoke about the heart. Because that’s where we find what’s really important!
So, what’s all this got to do with Stewardship? Well of course Stewardship is about the “Three ‘T’s” – our time, our talent, and this word Jesus used, our treasure. And my sermon today is about the perspective Jesus gave us on those things – in his sermon! Here, he asked the people – and us – to consider what’s really important. And he says the most important thing is God’s kingdom.
In everything in our lives – and not just stewardship – Jesus asks us to remember that it’s God’s kingdom that’s really important. And I think we need to recognize that that’s something that’s easy to say, but it’s not so easy to take to heart! It’s so not easy to mean it! Because we have many important things in our lives! And they seem very important! And I think every day we need to hear these words of Jesus in our heads, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…”
Because, as I said, there are many things in our world that call to us, that plead for our attention. There are many “sirens” that call to us, to borrow an image from Greek mythology. Do you remember Odysseus? In “The Odyssey,” he had to sail past the island of the temptresses, called the “sirens?” Their beautiful song would lure sailors to their deaths on the rocks near the island. Odysseus made it past that “peril” by having his crew stop their ears with wax so they couldn’t hear the sirens, and having himself lashed to the mast of his ship so he couldn’t steer it off course.
We don’t have to be that drastic. We don’t have to stop our ears and lash ourselves to the mast. But Jesus would tell us that we do have to do something – something that reminds us of his kingdom, something that moves us toward that kingdom in our lives. Otherwise, all we will hear is the “siren song” of all the many other influences in our lives.
So, let us be determined that we will think about God’s kingdom every day. Let us think about the many things we do each day, and ask ourselves how each of those things relates to the kingdom. And as we think of our Stewardship, both now in this emphasis month, and throughout the year, let us do so knowing what’s really important.
Eternal God, we ask that you would help us to see this life from your perspective. Help us to see what’s really important. Give us thoughts and visions of your kingdom, the kingdom in our midst. And help us to know the joy that is ours, being part of that kingdom every day of our lives. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.