Priorities

Sunday, November 18, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 13:1-8

In last week’s gospel reading we heard about poor widow who threw in all the money she had into the offering at the temple. This really caught Jesus’ attention. It spoke to his heart as he could feel the woman’s faith. But the disciples didn’t notice her at all. Yet, immediately after they came out of the temple one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” They didn’t notice the poor woman, but the large elaborate building caught their attention. That’s what they noticed. That’s what impressed them. And Jesus’ response was “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” The disciples were distracted by this amazing building, but Jesus was trying to get them to understand that nothing physical is permanent. That great temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, and that caused fear in the disciples. They wanted to know when, they wanted to be ready, and needed a sign for assurance. But Jesus didn’t give them assurance. He continued with words that caused their fears to increase even more – wars, the threat of wars, earthquakes, and famines would happen. And Jesus added, “This is but the beginning…”

That’s not the comfort they were looking for, and it’s not the comfort we are looking for either. When you read this passage, it’s hard not to feel a bit fearful too. Especially because all of these things are taking place now. Actually, they’ve been taking place for centuries. And every so many years certain people and groups start telling us that the end of the world is coming. These alarmists try to strike fear in people. And it works, at least for many. But as Christians, we are to look at these events through a different lens. We are to keep our focus on what really matters. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell the disciples then, and us today – “Keep your eyes on what really matters, and don’t let others lead you astray.” Jesus said, there will be many who will try and do just that. They will say, “I am the savior.” “I’m the one you can turn to who will get you out of this mess.” Jesus says, “Don’t believe them. Don’t be alarmed.” There’s only one Savior, and that is Jesus, the Christ.

But Jesus knows it’s not so easy to stay focused. It’s easy to be distracted by so many things. It might not be large buildings like what the disciples pointed out, but it might be large homes, or cars, or presents. We can get caught up in the drama of all the fear that is spread around both in the media and through individual conversations where power struggles happen because of a lack of listening to one another. We can become drawn into a constant battle of competition as to who is right and wrong, instead of what is God’s way. We live in a society that encourages a 24/7 distractions of electronic devices, entertainment, and constant drama that actually encourages fear. It’s easy to be led astray.

So what do we do? The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” That is what the Church is called to be – the people of God who provoke one another not with fear and intimidation, but with love. The poor widows in last week’s story – both at the temple and at Zarephath – didn’t know when they were going to die – very soon – but just because the end for them was coming they didn’t lose faith and that gave them courage. They didn’t react with fear, but instead relied on the permanence of God’s grace and faithfulness. We are called to do the same.

None of us know when our last day will be. I recently read an article by Matt Fitzgerald, a pastor in Chicago, who talked about the WeCroak App. Has anyone heard of it? He begins his article with, “It feels ridiculous to say that a smartphone app changed my life. I’m not that shallow. But it happened. A smartphone app changed my life.” The WeCroak app is inspired a a Bhutanese folk saying to be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily. Each day, they send you five invitations to stop and think about death. Our invitations come at random times and at any moment, just like death. When they come you can open the app to reveal a quote about death from a poet, philosopher, or notable thinker. The app encourages you to take one moment for contemplation, conscious breathing or meditation. They believe that a regular practice of contemplating mortality helps us accept what we must, let go of things that don’t matter and honor the things that do. I’m not sure everyone wants to sign up for the WeCroak app, but it’s message is what Jesus is talking about in this Scripture passage. We need to focus on what really matters instead of all the things that distract us. If we really thought today was our last, wouldn’t we be kinder? Wouldn’t we show more forgiveness and compassion?

None of us know when Jesus will be coming again. But what we do know is that God is true to all the promises God makes. And God has promised to be with us always. God’s covenant has been written on our hearts. It is eternal. Since God’s love is permanent, we can let go of fear and any other distractions, and live with courage. Through faith we can live each day as if it were our last focusing on what really matters – God’s kingdom, God’s will, God’s mission for the world. We can live each day with thanksgiving in our hearts because of God’s great love for us. We can live in a spirit of generosity – a generosity of kindness, a generosity of compassion, a generosity of love. When we focus on God, we shine like the brightness of the sky and lead others to Christ who is our guiding Light. Amen.

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