For those of you not in worship, I actually changed the beginning of the sermon and started with this example which is shown on video here.
We talked after the video about how the priorities in our lives get pushed out by the little things, but when we make a point of putting the important things first like God and our families, then God helps us to make room for even the little things.
What’s the answer to this riddle?
It’s from The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien during the scene where Bilbo and Gollum are trying to stump each other. Bilbo makes a deal with Gollum that if Bilbo can stump him, then Gollum has to show him the way out of the cave, because Bilbo is hopelessly lost. But if Bilbo loses, Gollum gets to eat him. Pretty high stakes. So this is one of Gollum’s riddles for poor old Bilbo.
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
Do you know the answer? The answer is time. Time is the thing that devours everything else. It’s the one thing by itself that can grind stone, slay kings, and beat a mountain down. Because time stops for no one. Time is also the one thing we can never get more of. No matter how much money or power we have, time is the one thing we can never get more of. It’s also the one thing we never know how much we have. When we’re young we think we have all the time in the world. We rarely think about what happens “after;” what happens when this existence ends. In our middle years, our lives are crammed with things that eat up our time, and again we don’t seem to have too much of it to think about the “future.” Only in our older years does life seem to slow down to at least ponder it. But even then, do we take it seriously? Sometimes I think it’s such a difficult thing to think about we often push those thoughts away.
When I go to counsel people in the last stages of life, I noticed something.
Those who are most at peace are those who have made their peace with God. Those who are most at peace are those who have made their peace with God. They’ve taken the time to put God first in their life and so they’re able to face what’s coming without the anxiety, stress, and fear that often accompanies those who haven’t. I knew a lady at my home church back in Georgia named Pat Monzo. I’ve told you about her a couple of years ago, how she had terminal cancer yet she would come to volunteer at the church nearly every day. She walked around with a smile on her face when most of us would be torn up or stressed out, but Pat felt totally at peace. When asked it about it, she would simply say, “I’m about to go home to be with Christ and my daughter. I’m looking forward to it. What do I have to be sad about?” Pat had a faith that came about because over time she developed an assurance about God’s presence in her life that made him vibrant and real to her. God wasn’t some amorphous blob or a distant being of light. God was with her. That kind of faith only comes from years and years of familiarity with the Lord. Coming to worship, reading the Bible, participating in different ministries, and keeping your eyes open for God moments; that’s where that kind of faith comes from. When we don’t take the time to make God a priority in our lives, we end up wondering where he went when we need him the most, when the truth is God is always there, waiting for us to come back.
That’s the lesson we hear from our reading this morning.
If you have your Bibles or Bible app on your phone, we’ll be reading from the Gospel of Luke. We’re going to read from Luke 12:13-21. Luke 12:13-21. We find Jesus surrounded by a HUGE crowd of people. The Bible tells us that thousands are there with him. They are literally “trampling on one another” and Jesus is teaching them not to worry about life, but instead to concentrate on God. He says, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows…” You can imagine people are thinking about this. This is some pretty heavy stuff. Jesus is telling them to focus their life not on the worries of this world, but on the God who loves them. And then out of nowhere, this guy yells out to Jesus. And that’s where we pick up the story.
13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18″Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
20″But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21″This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
It’s like that guy who yelled out didn’t hear Jesus at all.
Jesus just gets done telling them not to worry about the things about this world. He tells them they should be focusing on God. And this guy yells out, “…tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Sometimes we’re like this guy. We hear the words in church, but we don’t bring them into our heart. When we have so many things going on, it’s not that we don’t want to hear the words, we just block them out. Could be this guy wasn’t really paying attention at all. Could be he was sitting there arguing with his brother while Jesus was trying to make his point. Could be that this problem was on his heart the whole time and he was just so focused on it that he wouldn’t have heard anything Jesus had said. But when he does speak up, Jesus emphasizes the point again that our priority should be on God and not on our situation here. A person who is prepared is not the guy who builds the bigger barn, but the one who builds a house in Heaven; a house built with prayer and study and generosity and love toward others. Because as Christ said, none of us know when our time is up. We need to have our priorities in line now and not wait until later when it may be too late.
Stephen Covey had some great advice about this.
As you know, he’s the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and in that book he writes, “The key is to keep the main thing the main thing.” You’ve probably heard that before. The key is to keep the main thing the main thing. We know this intellectually, but we don’t always do a great job of executing it. We know we should put God first, but we skip church for more “pressing” matters. We know we should put family first, but we are worried that there are too many things to do at work. Covey addresses that also, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. Unfortunately, that’s true. We find ourselves in firefighting mode and we end up responding instead of planning. Or we allow the urgent things to move ahead on our priority list, not because they are more important in the long run, but in the short. So how do we get around that? Covey says, “The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. If family time is important, make sure you spend that time with family. If God is important then carve out time for God. It’s as simple as that. But do you have the courage to do it.
Truett Cathy did.
For those of you who don’t know, Truett Cathy was the owner and founder of Chick-fil-A – home of the tastiest chicken biscuits this side of the Mississippi. Man, I can almost taste it now. The flakiness of the biscuit as its buttery warmth crumbles in your mouth as you take your first bite. The explosion of flavor that comes from the chicken coated with a mouthwatering array of herbs and spices. Each bite more juicy and flavorful than the next until you get to the very end and wish you had one more! Too bad for you that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday. Every single one. Chick-fil-A closes its doors every Sunday so that their employees can go and worship God even though Sunday is the biggest sales day for restaurants all over the country. More money changes hands in the restaurant biz on a Sunday than any other day of the week, but everywhere you go, Chick-fil-A is closed. But I wouldn’t worry. Chick-fil-A which is the company with the highest average sales per store and made over $4.2 billion last year. Could he make even more? Sure, but as Truett Cathy himself said, “I was not so committed to financial success that I was willing to abandon my principles and priorities. One of the most visible examples of this is our decision to close on Sunday. Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business.” When Mr. Cathy came to share his story at our church, he was in his late eighties and still teaching Sunday School every week.
We simply have to make the commitment.
Like Truett Cathy did with his business, we have to be willing to sacrifice what’s important for what’s really important. It’s easy to sacrifice the meaningless for the important, which we still sometimes fail to do, but it’s another thing to have the courage to sacrifice what other people think is a priority for what we know is. If you choose God in your life and you want a relationship with him that will sustain you through thick and thin like it did for Pat Monzo, you have to take the time to make God a priority. That means reading the Bible and going to church and taking time for prayer, even when the day is stacked against you. Because in the long run, those are the things that will sustain you and help you in the tough times. It won’t be your boss who is holding your hand at the hospital. It will be your family and friends. It won’t be the trophies or awards or accolades that will comfort you in your last days, it will be your relationship with God. Your challenge this week and for the rest of Lent is to recommit yourself to the things that are important. Get to know God, spend time with your family, and be at peace knowing that you’ve kept the main thing, the main thing. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.