Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
June 30, 2002
The Gospel: Matthew 10:34-42
Sermon: "God is our First Priority"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."
God is our First Priority
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - June 30, 2002
"I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; one's foes will be members of one's own household."
These words sound very hard to our ears. When we think of God and God's will, we do not think of division. When we think of following God we think of honor, glory, and righteousness. Songs like Onward Christian Soldiers and Lift High the Cross resonate in our minds, our heart, and our spirits. We tend to think of being on the right side and everybody will just come over and join us. Friends and neighbors will join us. Our families will definitely be with us. We will all walk hand in hand into the glorious sunset. Sounds like a Hollywood movie or an old western doesn't it.
However, reality is not quite so idyllic. All through the ages people have declared their love for God and the world has turned away from them. For example, listen to the story of a young man named Francis Giovanni. Francis' family was very wealthy. Francis was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and he acted that way. At the age of twenty Francis enlisted in the army. He wanted all the glory and honor that came with being a great soldier. So, he went to war and was captured. After his release he went home where he returned to his old ways while he recovered from an illness. Still wanting glory, honor, and personal prestige, Francis went back to the war. But something wasn’t right. He went home and then went on a pilgrimage to Rome. Outside of St. Peter's he saw the beggars and gave them his money and his clothes. He spent the rest of the day begging with them. This experience affected him immensely.
Francis returned home. He broke away from his friends. He gave away his money and when his parents gave him more he gave that away too. Francis spent his days with the poor and the lepers. He dressed in rags and started to rebuild an old abandoned chapel. His father wanted him to continue in the family business. He was enraged with Francis' activities. As a result he put him in a cellar and appealed to the authorities. He took Francis before the Bishop. Basically, Francis was given a choice. He could obey his father and use the family goods wisely or give them up. Upon hearing these words, Francis gave up his inheritance, gave his father the clothes he was wearing, and left naked into the woods.
We know this young man as St. Francis. We tend to think of him as the patron saint of animals. We often don't hear the story of his conversion or his actions concerning his family and his aid to the poor. Francis responded to God's call in a radical way.
Look at his early life. He was the son of a prominent and wealthy family. He had all the money to buy anything he wanted. He was set to take his place in the family business. He had all these things and yet he wanted fame, honor and glory. His first priority when he was young was to himself. When his priority changed to God his friends and his family did not like it. They could not deal with it. Therefore, the struggle began. The son turned against his own father. Francis did not quit loving his father, but he had to respond to God's call first. He had to decide on his priorities.
We are faced with the same decisions. Inside we all have our priorities. For every person they are different. Usually they include family, career, money, home, God and a host of other things. The question for each of us is, what is number one? Is our relationship with God the number one priority of our lives? Or do we place other things first? Perhaps family is number one or our career? I had a rude awakening one day in Virginia. I was watching Bill Cosby and he was talking about his role in the Huxtebel family. He said he was like Old Yeller, the dog. He was the protector of the family. When someone came around his job was to growl and bark. When a young man came to date one of his daughters, his job was to be gruff. He was to growl at the young man and let him know he was the mighty protector. At this point his TV wife said, "Do you remember what happened to Old Yeller?” He replied, "What?" She said, "At the end of the book the family shot him." I don't know why this sitcom clicked in me. But I realized I saw myself as the mighty protector of Ellen, William, and Daniel. Nothing was going to harm them. I had total say about their protection and their lives. However, we all know I don't. I had my priorities way out of line. I was trying to take God's place as far as my family was concerned. They had become number one on my priority list. The funny thing is how easy they slipped into that position. I was in seminary when this happened. I was studying about God. I was being taught that God is love. I heard about the cross every day. I went to chapel every day. I knew God had plans for my family. And here I was thinking, "That's OK. God can have a plan, but he better check with me first." How did I let this happen? I was like Francis' father.
The truth of the matter is I love my family dearly. Inside I started to believe I knew what was best. I was in charge of their destiny. There is the trap. We start to believe we are in control. We start to believe we know what is best. We try to control other people's lives. We remove loving God from our first priority and we replace it with something else. The fumy thing is we actually trap ourselves. We try to hold onto whatever family or material thing we love so tightly, that we often destroy the love we have. When we give everything to God we are actually free. We are free to see the beauty of the earth around us. We are free to love those around us fully and deeply. We are actually able to see the love of God bloom in family and friends.
If we want to see the full beauty of God around us we need God's help. The world is full of tempting material possessions. We tend to hang onto relationships too tightly. We can ask God for help. We can pray to God to constantly remind us of the love God has for us. We can constantly ask God to lead us and guide us in the true ways of love. We can ask God to remove the blinders and help us to love God first. Jesus promises God is always ready to help us. God is always ready to lead us. God is always ready to guide us. I'm not saying we will all be like St. Francis. I am saying we might find God's ways more beautiful, more caring, and more loving than anything we could have imagined ourselves.
Let us pray.
God, please help us to follow you, to worship you and to love you. Help us to remember to love you first, that you are our first priority. Then help us to love those around us with your unconditional love. Amen.