Readings: Hosea 11:1-11; Colossians 3:1-17; Luke 12:13-34
I don`t know about you, but I`m a great believer in making a shopping list and sticking to it. I`m sure that`s the only way to go shopping. Unfortunately I can`t put it into effect! It is too easy to drop extra things in the shopping trolley. Oh, I`ve been meaning to try that! Oh, that`s on special! Oh, I forgot to put that on my list, I`ll grab it now.
With shopping it may not be too much of a problem, if your budget can cope with a little stretch, but for many things in life we can`t be wishy-washy, we have to sort out our priorities and live by our choices.
Now the Bible may have some limitations as a road sign, but provided we are prepared to do some thinking it has some really helpful hints for how to make choices and sort out priorities.
Hosea gives us a wonderful picture of a loving God. Talking of the Israelites verse 4 of chapter 11 says `I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.` Isn`t that a wonderful picture of a loving God?
But Hosea pictures this loving God having trouble making his mind up. `The more I called them, the more they went from me,` he says. He thinks to give up on them: `They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to listen to me.`
Then Hosea`s God realises that he can`t do that. It is against his compassionate nature. `How can I hand you over, O Israel? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.`
Now your idea of God may be different from that, but that image carries a very important message for us in our everyday lives. All of us are faced from time to time with a dilemma. Torn between two or more possible ways of responding. And each of us has the spirit of the God who is love within us.
If you are having trouble making up your mind on something, choosing which way to go or what to do, the message from Hosea is connect with that indwelling loving spirit and make the choice that is consistent with that compassionate nature.
Notice that the story doesn`t deny the reality of anger and the tendency we all have to react without thinking, but it pictures God doing a double-take! Hang on a tick. Wait a minute! Let`s think about that. The first reaction is put to the test - is it consistent with God`s compassionate nature?
Chapter 3 of Colossians continues the theme. `Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.` Obviously we wouldn`t share that dated view of Heaven above and Earth below, but a stark choice is presented. Jesus is the role model. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:16, `We have the mind of Christ`! Well, maybe not all the time, but we do have the mind of Christ as a standard, a measuring stick to help us in the difficult decisions of life.
The lectionary ended today`s reading at verse 11, but I couldn`t leave out the next few verses. Verse 12: `As God`s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.` Verse 13: `Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.`
And you can`t leave it there - verse 14 has those wonderful words: `Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.` Now, once you are fully dressed like that, with Christ`s mind in you, when you make your life`s decisions on that basis what happens? Verse 15: `Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts ... and be thankful ... with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and spiritual songs to God`. It is another beautiful picture.
Hold that picture and think about Jesus` parable of the rich fool., more guidance for how to make life`s decisions. Jesus puts it this way, `Be on your guard against greed, for life doesn`t consist in the abundance of possessions`. And then he gives his example of one who got his priorities wrong.
Here again you may not accept the picture that God goes about picking people out and saying, `Tonight your soul is required of you!` But that`s not the point of the story. The point is that we don`t know how long we`re here for, so storing up things excessively for a future that may not eventuate suggests we`ve got our priorities wrong.
Bill Loader in his thoughts on this passage points out that, somewhat surprisingly, the focus is not on `don`t be greedy because it takes things away from the needy` but rather on `if your life is centred on getting things you`ll miss out on the really important things in life`. Verse 21 concludes, `So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.`
Bill offers a clarification that `rich towards God` was probably not intended to suggest building up Brownie points with God to be cashed-in in Heaven, but rather, as Bill puts it, `living the kind of life which God values` which is its own reward.
At this point I again found the need to add a few more verses because maybe one reason the rich man gathered things was as a sort of superannuation. The next section in my Bible is headed `Do not worry` and is all about getting your priorities right.
Jesus starts off `Therefore`. I remember once many years ago hearing a preacher say, `When you see the word `therefore` take note of the words that follow and think about what they are there for!` Well, let`s do that.
Jesus says `Don`t worry about your life, what you`ll eat or your body, what you`ll wear. Life`s more than food and clothing.` Just like Jesus to over-state things! I can imagine Mary saying, `Jesus, I`ve told you a million times, don`t exaggerate!`
Of course there are some people for whom food is a matter of life or death, but they weren`t in Jesus audience. Looking back a few verses we find that Jesus was speaking to the crowds, including a fair smattering of scribes and Pharisees.
One of the Pharisees, presumably someone pretty well off, had recently invited him to dinner, where he declined the ceremonial hand-washing. Despite him saying some pretty harsh things about Pharisees I`m guessing he ate the meal!
So probably when Jesus starts speaking to the crowd they aren`t all poor and needy and Jesus himself has a full tummy!
We seem to have grown out of the habit of learning scripture passages by heart. It has become a bit tricky when there are so many translations to work with, but it still seems a pity to me. One of the scripture passages I learnt by heart many years ago comes next in verse 27. In fact I learnt the version in Matthew 6 which is almost identical - `Consider the lilies how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.`
But the message is not to spend your life thinking about flowers! It is all about getting your priorities right. As Matthew puts it in another well-remembered text - `Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.`
Putting it very simply, don`t spend your life worrying about tomorrow or gathering things, spend your life building God`s kingdom of unconditional love for all here on earth.
So there you have it. Hosea describes a God whose anger at us imperfect humans is overcome by God`s overwhelming unconditional love and compassion for us all. Paul tells us to reorient our lives with that same love at the centre, and Jesus calls us to live out his vision of God`s kingdom of love.
Those are our priorities. Amen.