What do we put first in life? What are our priorities? What really matters to us?
A renowned psychologist, Abraham Maslow, believed that people are motivated chiefly by the satisfaction of their own needs. We become preoccupied by our own needs. They come first.
Perhaps we are governed by very basic needs: needs for food, shelter, clothing, warmth, rest? Do our creature comforts come first? When a person is starving or unemployed then it is perhaps not surprising if food or very basic comforts dominate their thinking.
Perhaps we are moderately comfortable and are governed by the desire for security: a reliable income, sound and caring family life, enjoyable social relationships, a beautiful home and possessions, two cars and a weekender? None of this is bad in itself. But when is enough ever enough?
Perhaps we are well-off and reasonably secure and our life is governed by pleasure and the search for beauty: travel, fine food, culture, the theatre, arts, music, literature? Again, there is nothing so wrong with that. What would life be like without fine art, music, literature, drama, or fine china?
I confess that I could easily be a dilettante and devote my life to beautiful things. -> Arthur Mee. But can such things come first?
There is nothing wrong with any of these needs and desires. They are natural. But it is a question of priorities: what matters most?
Some people, "saints", somehow forego their own needs and devote themselves to service and giving to others. There can be great pleasure and satisfaction in giving. It is admirable. Yet, does even this a life of service come first?
Others are governed by more destructive desires. The desire to accumulate wealth for its own sake: the love of money in itself which I simply dont understand, except perhaps as a means to a luxurious, indulgent life-style. But in the end what does it amount to? We come into the world with nothing and go out with nothing.
Or the desire for hedonism and indulgence, without care or concern for anyone except No. 1 and which may be the road to corruption.
Or the desire for popularity, public recognition, adulation, adoration.
Or the desire for influence, control, power, sometimes gained by force: those who gain power by force are usually destroyed by the force of power.
Put desires for wealth, indulgence, adulation and power together then you have the ingredients for monumental greed and corruption.
The question is: what comes first in our lives? What is of ultimate concern to us?
Paul, as we heard this morning, issued strong warnings about idolatry turning things into the object of our ultimate concern which then possess us.
Virtually anything can be turned into an idol: money, possessions, prestige, status, power, another person (as happens in very destructive cults remember Jimmy Jones, Charles Manson or David Koresh: they were turned into idols), a political philosophy, nationalism.
Some turn the Bible into an idol. For others the Church is their idol.
There are unlimited possibilities for idolatry.
The problem is that people become obsessed and possessed by their idols the objects of their worship. And sooner or later, usually sooner, all idolatry becomes destructive and destroys the person who is possessed.
It has been said: "That which we cannot give away possesses us."
Idolatry, being possessed, is the way of bondage, a form of captivity.
Jesus taught a completely different way of viewing our priorities in life. It depends on a totally different starting point than our needs and desires. It opens the way to freedom.
In Jesus time of testing in the wilderness, desert space, Satan took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the Kingdoms of the world:
"All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.
You can have total control and absolute power."
What a temptation if he had proved to be a crazy, fanatical megalomaniac like Hitler or Stalin? Not to mention some more contemporary figures who may well be tempted by such an offer.
But Jesus responds instantly, "Get behind me Satan! It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."
That is the secret of his way: "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. Put first things first, and everything else will fall into place." So the spirit overcomes flesh. Gods calling overrules personal needs and desires.
As we heard from the Gospel today, Jesus says,
"Do not be anxious, always concerned about what you will eat or drink The Father knows that you need these things. Instead, seek first his kingdom and all these things shall be yours as I will."
Put first things first! Seek Gods kingdom and everything else will fall into place! Theres the secret of his WAY.
Lukes account of the great temptations ends with a curious statement: "When Satan had tested him in every way, he left him until an opportune time."
Satan reappears, in the heart of Judas, on the night of the Last Supper. So Jesus time of testing has not finished. The real testing is just beginning. Now is Satans opportune time.
Putting first things first, putting God and the work of his kingdom first, was to place great demands on the man Jesus. How would he respond?
Putting God and the work of the kingdom first demands that he lay down his life.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggles with his destiny: "Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me." .. Then: "Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done." Worship the Lord your God and serve him alone. (Put first things first!)
Even on the cross, called to make the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus struggles with the experience of abandonment: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" . Then: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Worship the Lord your God and serve him alone. Put first things first! So Jesus offers the ultimate sacrificial gift his life. "Greater love hath no man than this that a man should lay down his life for his friends." Honour your Father God and he will honour you with "the immeasurable riches of his grace".
"Have this mind in yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore therefore God has highly exalted him."
Paul says, Jesus gave all and therefore he has been exalted.
He says to us, "Now follow me".
We cannot tread his path. He did that once-for-all. But we can follow his lead: Put first things first. Seek first his Kingdom and all these things will be yours as well. Worship the Lord your God and serve him alone. This is the way to freedom liberation from all the other idols by which you are possessed.
Put the things of God first. Truly love and honour him then everything else will follow, everything else will fall into place in the right order. He knows what you need and will not abandon you.
This is the challenge before us every day in our struggle between the demands of our personal needs, desires and ambitions, on one hand, and the demands of God and his Kingdom on the other. For Paul it is the struggle between demands of "the flesh" and "the spirit".
It is also a special challenge for us in this Lenten Season, this time of preparation and testing, as we are challenged to reflect on our offerings to God the offering of our time and energy, offering our talents and special abilities, offering our family life, working life and recreation, offering our possessions and money, the offering of everything we have and are as "a reasonable and living sacrifice".
Seek first the Kingdom of God?
Are our gifts to God our first consideration or an after-thought? Are they truly a love-offering or are they given as a grudging duty?
Is the time and energy we devote to worship, prayer, meditation and work for the Kingdom our first consideration or the last little bit of time and energy when everything else has been done?
Are the gifts of our possessions given freely, lovingly and joyfully as our first commitment or is the last few dollars after all the bills have been paid and we have bought everything we want?
"Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing.
Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind.
Your Father knows you need them. Instead, seek first Gods Kingdom, and all these things shall be yours as well."
This is the WAY of Jesus. Put first things first. It is not an easy way: it is the way of the CROSS. But it is the only way to liberation from the idols which possess us.
This is a meditation by Malcolm Boyd, a New York Pastor, in a little book called "Are you running with me, Jesus?"
LORD, TEACH US THE PATH, SHOW US THE WAY.
They say that everyone has his own cross to bear, Lord. And you once said, "Take up your cross and follow me." What do these things mean? I think they mean that every person ultimately has to face up to reality face his own destiny, his own calling, his own nature and responsibilities.
In your own life, Jesus, you faced reality directly and unequivocally. You incarnated the truth as you believed it. You didnt pander to any easy or obvious popularity. You attacked the hypocrisies of the human power structure head on. You rejected the status quo in favour of obedience to the Kingdom of God. And when it came to taking the consequences, you didnt shy away from the most difficult forms of torture and execution.
The way of the cross was your understanding of your mission and your faithfulness to it.
The way of the cross seems to be, for every individual Christian, the reality which dictates his style of life, defines his own mission, and brings him into communion with you.
Help me bear my cross on the way to the cross, Jesus.