What are the priorities in our lives and how do we express them?
When the young man in today’s gospel lesson approaches Jesus, telling him that he has kept all the commandments, and asking Jesus what else he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus looks at him with love and tells him to go and sell all that he owns and then come back and follow him.
In other words, Jesus is saying, reorder your priorities. Don’t just live by your head and the letter of the Law, but with your heart, remembering who you are and remembering whose you are.
I was baptized at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Woodstock, NY. I’ve never asked my parents, but I am pretty sure that having me and my siblings baptized was a priority for them. I do remember years later, when one of my cousins was a bit slow in having their own child baptized, that our grandmama – daughter of a Baptist missionary on the border of Mexico and Texas, called him up and said, “Get that baby baptized. Just get it done.” In other words, make it a priority. Remember who you are and remember whose you are.
On the same day that I was baptized years ago (or as my kids might say, “so many, many, many years ago!”), another infant by the name of Thoi was also baptized. Thoi’s family was there because Christ’s Lutheran Church had made it a priority to support the resettlement of his family here in the states after they fled the ravages of the Vietnam war. The community of Christ’s Lutheran was able to see that because of who they were – that is a community of people claimed in love by Christ in their baptisms through the power of water and the Holy Spirit - that they had a calling, a holy opportunity, to try and share this love of God with others in tangible ways, such as helping this refugee family.
Today - on this same day that Annabelle has been baptized here at Redeemer, New Paltz – we will be gathering food to support those in need through our local Community Partner, FAMILY of New Paltz. We will also be giving away free fresh vegetables to anyone in need this afternoon as part of an ecumenical partnership with the Episcopal and Methodist and Reformed Churches. This gathering in and giving away is part of our remembering God’s freely given grace and love poured out to us in our own baptisms, and responding to this free gift by serving others.
So, the question of what our priorities in life are, and how we express them, is an important one, and as Christians – striving to be Christ followers – we probably can’t really answer that question without reframing it in this way: Since I have been claimed in love by God through Jesus Christ, how will I respond with God’s help in the ways in which I live my life?
You see, the young man didn’t need to sell his possessions because having money and possessions are bad. Money and possessions are what make it possible for us to help feed others in need the way we will this afternoon! Money and possessions are what made it possible for the people of Christ’s Lutheran Church and many other faith communities that have done similar work, to help those Vietnamese refugees.
The problem Jesus saw in this young man was not his possessions, but his priorities. How Jesus could see into this young man’s heart – well, this is Jesus we are talking about! Jesus looked with love and saw that this despite all of his living life by the letter of Jewish Law, this person’s possessions were his priority – his small “g” god. And look, if we’re honest, we all have small “g” gods, don’t we?
Maybe there’s a car that we fastidiously clean, or a house or closet full of clothes or gaming console or movie collection or pet or even family that we put the majority of our time, attention, and devotion towards in our lives. This is our small “g” god. I spent several years when my kids were younger somewhat obsessively collecting a winter Smurf village that we set up around Christmastime. There were certain Smurfs, like the one on the sled or the skiing Smurf that I searched and watched for and finally bought with a single-minded devotion that somewhat embarrasses me to admit. No one is outside the temptation of the small “g” gods.
And Jesus – looking at us with love – tells us that if we really want to know the fullness of God’s mercy and grace and yes, love poured out for us and this world, then we must, with God’s help, let go of our small “g” gods. We need to let Christ carry us and our false preoccupations to the cross so that all that does not hold God central can be put to death and we can rise to new life so as to see and serve this world according to Christ’s vision and priorities.
We have been brought to the cross and the water and gathered at the table so that we might receive new life, and with Christ as our single-minded and heart-centered devotion, learn how to serve others and this world with love. Amen.