PrioritiesPosted: August 21, 2016
SLIDE 3: WHAT ARE OUR PRIORITIES
On August 7th we discussed the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. And Jesus prompted us to ask ourselves the question, “What do we really want? What are our priorities?” Our scripture this morning also talks about priorities, but today we are focusing on the priorities of faith.
SLIDE 4: WE HAVE LOST SABBATH OBSERVANCE
In our story this morning Jesus was being criticized by a leader of a synagogue for healing a woman on the Sabbath. And let me begin by acknowledging that in 21st century American we have completely lost Sabbath observance. We are constantly on the go, hardly ever stopping for rest. We live in a culture of 24 hour Wal-Marts, and factories and convenience stores that never close.
SLIDE 5: SABBATH AND STRESS
Workers in the past fought for a 40 hour work week, and now by manipulating employment practices we have “contract” workers who are supposedly salaried and who are expected to work 50 and 60 hours a week with no overtime. Having lost the blessing of Sabbath we abuse ourselves by pushing and pushing and never resting. No wonder we suffer from stress related illnesses — high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, obesity, migraines, depression and anxiety, gastroenteritis, arthritis, several forms of cancer and dementia. Becoming more conscious of Sabbath observance would be a good corrective in our society.
SLIDE 6: WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT?
So let me be clear this morning, our purpose is not to denigrate Sabbath observance, rather the point of our story is to help us focus on the issue of spiritual priorities. What is important in our faith? Jesus also confronted this issue in the gospel of Matthew chapter 23: “23 “Woe to you, scribes and teachers of the law, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin to the Temple, but you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” So don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, but learn to prioritize and focus on what is important.
SLIDE 7: PRESERVE LIFE ACT COMPASSIONATELY
Now to be fair, first century Judaism taught that the first priority of faith was to preserve life and to act compassionately. In verse 15 of our scripture, “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?” Jesus was citing a provision of the law, where acts of compassion took precedence over Sabbath observance. If your donkey falls into the well on the Sabbath, you are permitted to pull the poor animal out of the water, rather than allowing it to drown.
SLIDE 8: FORMS OF FAITH RATHER THAN SUBSTANCE OF THE SPIRIT
I think the synagogue leader in this story was a kind of religious detail person, who allowed himself to be distracted by the forms of faith rather than the substance of the spirit. Religious folks who focus on the minutia of pious observance often become caught up in memorizing the scriptures and finding obscure passages and rules they elevate to primary importance, like the tithing of their spices, in their faith observance. William Sloan Coffin had a name for this — irrelevant righteousness. Jesus kept encouraging people to focus their faith on love. Love is of first importance, love of God, love of neighbor, love yourself, and all the rest is secondary.
SLIDE 9: LOVE IS FIRST IMPORTANCE
Religious groups who have used the Bible to justify the oppression of gays and lesbians, go right ahead and eat shell fish and pork, and the hind quarter of the beef, that are also prohibited in the law of Moses. So, we also encounter the problem cherry picking among different forms of religious observance according to our own particular likes and dislikes. Love is of first importance, love of God, love of neighbor, love of self all of the rest is secondary.
“But,” asked the lawyer, “who is my neighbor?” And so Jesus told the story of the “good Samaritan,” a parable that established our enemies as our neighbors. So love God, love yourself, love your neighbor and love your enemy, and all the rest is secondary.
SLIDE 10: AUGUSTINE’S HIERARCHY OF LOVE
So are we ever confronted with situations, where we have to prioritize love? Good question! And here I would begin by putting forward St. Augustine’s theory of disordered love. Augustine suggested that all sin is the result of disordered love.
According to St. Augustine the greatest commandment is to love God, and so the first priority is love of God. Although I John 4:20-21 might dispute placing love of God before other people: I John 420-21 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. Love for God is principally manifest in how we treat other people.
SLIDE 11: HEALTHY LOVE OF SELF
Now Augustine offers us another insight when he then claims, that because Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself, the second priority is love of self. We cannot really love others, unless we love ourselves. So much of the evil that is done to others, in the name of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, actually arises out of self-hate and loathing. There is some evidence that perhaps the murderer at the pulse night club harbored deeply repressed homosexual feelings that may have driven him to commit those terrible murders. He committed a crime of great evil against others in part out of his own self-hate. So Augustine maintained that the second priority is love of self. If we have a healthy love of self, love for the other, even the other who is different from us will follow.
SLIDE 12: LOVE OF NEIGHBOR — WE ARE ONE
The third priority of Augustine is love of neighbor, that also extends to love of enemy. Love God, love yourself, love your neighbor and your enemy. We are all one. The God I can see in you is also the God in me. Embrace ourselves and each other and we have found God.
SLIDE 13: LOVE GOD’S CREATION
Now Augustine goes even further in this hierarchy of love by claiming that it is O.K. to love God’s creation and the material things of the world. Augustine’s spirituality was world embracing, rather than world denying. It’s O.K. to love the fresh produce from the garden, the taste of peaches and cream, the beauty of a rose and a good glass of wine. It is even O.K. to love your new car. The only problem with loving the material things of the world is when our love for them becomes more important than our love for God, or our love for ourselves, or our love for other people.
SLIDE 14: IT’S ALL GOOD, BUT KEEP YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT
For instance, if we have to exploit other people in order earn the money to purchase our new car, that would be a case of disordered love. If we are sitting down to a table full of food that is more than we can eat, while our neighbor doesn’t have enough to eat, again we have a case of disordered love. Eating so much food that I become obese, develop diabetes and heart disease, again is disordered love, because my love of food has taken precedence over my love for my own good health. Another interesting example of disordered love is burn out. When we go around taking care of others to the exclusion of self-care, we burn out, we get sick, sometimes fall into depression — disordered love. So Augustine’s hierarchy of love even helps us keep the importance of self-care in perspective. Love of God, love of self, love of neighbor, love of creation. They are all good, so long as we keep our priorities straight.
SLIDE 15: SPECIAL CONCERN FOR FAMILY
This idea of prioritizing love, helps me in addressing another issue in loving other people, and that is family. Now I’m not sure Jesus would approve of what I am about to say. After all when his family asked him to come outside and talk to them he said, “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters, but those who do the will of God.” In context we can acknowledge that Jesus’ family was seeking to pull him away from his ministry, because they thought he had lost his mind. I think first century Israel was a culture in which extended family in a tribal village context provided much more communal care for people, than we experience in our world today.
SLIDE 16: CHILDREN NEED PARENTS
The point I want to make is that in our modern world, where extended families become separated by geographical distance, we are the only people who can be the parents of our children. Friends and other family can help, but we are the only people who can parent our children. I can still remember a time, when kids went out to play in the summer and there was a network of responsible adults, who functioned as a communal care team. If you skinned your knee, someone else’s Mom would put Bactine or Iodine on it and a band-aid. In a time, when extended families were still geographically close, I remember my father saying, that he got his loving from his grandparents, rather than his dysfunctional parents. But now that we live in a world, where we cannot count on communal care or extended families who live together that can provide back-up, we are often the only source of parental care for our children.
SLIDE 17: PARTNERS & SPOUSES NEED EACH OTHER
We are also the primary source of care for our partners and our spouses. In an economy that moves people for employment maybe multiple times in a life time, long term friendship networks may not be available, and so spouses and partners become especially important for emotional support. And while friends can be helpful, there are some things that only children and family members can do for aging parents, especially when serious illness or death draw near.
SLIDE 18: KEEPING OUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT
When it comes to love and care, we need to give some priority to family. And we have to be very careful that family does not become a closed system, that prevents us from extending love and care outside of the family circle. But just as we need to give some priority to self-care, given the realities of our modern context, we also need to be able to give some priority to family care.
So, let us love God, love ourselves, love our families, love our neighbors and our enemies, also love God’s wonderful and beautiful creation and keep our priorities straight. Amen.