I wonder where our priorities lie? This was my opening gambit of Sunday’s sermon. Three texts of the Beatitudes from the Bible, of which two were from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Jeremiah 17:5-10 illustrates a curse as a shrub that is parched that will never see relief and then immediately shows the reflection of one who is rooted in God’s grace. This person is like a tree planted by water that continues to bear fruit. Psalm One is also a collection of Beatitudes. It begins with a positive statement where people who follow God are once again likened to trees planted by water. Whereas the opposite image is likened to the chaff of wheat that blows away when the grain is being prepared on the threshing floor. The Gospel reading from Luke (ch 6:17-26) is part of Jesus’s Beatitudes and as such is the most well-known. It is full of blessings and woes that illustrate the opposite of each other.
Beatitudes were a common way of expressing spirituality in Jewish and Hellenistic traditions. A contrast is drawn between the ways of wisdom and of irrationality. Wisdom that belongs to the Kingdom of God and what happens or can be expected to happen when one steps outside of that sphere of grace. All three texts of Beatitudes can make for uncomfortable reading. However, the two sides of the coin are there to see the choice in following God or not, as the case may be. Regardless of the route chosen, we are all on a spiritual journey and God may or may not be a large influence on that journey at this time in your life.
I come back to the question, as to where our priorities lie. Do they lie in the way that things have always been done? Are our priorities to hold on to the traditions that occurred somewhere in our lives and for some unknown reason, will we hold on to them as if our lives depend on them? Do we intend to keep hold of negativities because somehow, we have become accustomed to the reaction they incite? If we choose to live like those rooted in streams of water, drinking deeply of God’s grace and wisdom, then inevitably, our choice will be to turn to God. Our mourning will turn to joy. Our despair will turn to laughter.
In last month’s Outlook, we were asked whether we can be Christ’s hands and feet and I wonder how this can work with what I have asked in the paragraph above? Perhaps, we each need to make a choice in how we approach God before whom we pray, praise and speak our devotions? Perhaps as we approach Lent, we can consciously make a decision to be rooted more in the stream of God’s grace and allow that to wash over us. Particularly as we begin a time of preparation to renew our baptismal vows.
What are your priorities? Is it to know God more deeply? Is it to see a Christian presence on the streets in your neighbourhood? Is it to share Christ with those around you? Looking once again at the Beatitudes, we see that nowhere in each of the passages does it mention that life will be easy, or comfortable. The way of life that God is calling us to will have its fair share of hardships, but in community we have the opportunity to share those hardships with others. We do not travel on this journey alone. We are part of a community, and as spiritual beings, we find fellowship together. This enables us to grow and deepen our relationship with God.
In Caithness, this does not just occur in the two Episcopal congregations in Thurso and Wick, but will occur elsewhere in the county, such as cafes, supermarkets, pubs and castles. In order that we may grow deeper into who God is calling us to be, we need to ask ourselves what our priorities are. Will we choose to be a people who are outward focussed? Who choose, whatever the cost, to reach out to others? Who choose to help others in poverty, despair or addictions so that they may come to know the love and peace of Christ?
Our priorities should reflect that of Christ, who always reached out to the lost and the broken. He knew that the greatest need was beyond the four walls of the buildings he found himself in, which is why so many of the stories in the Gospels are of Christ as he walks from village to village. To be able to share Christ throughout Caithness requires an understanding that Christ’s model has to be echoed in the here and now.
As our priorities become more like Christ’s we will find solace in God. We will find peace, and we will find rest. Anxieties will disappear because they have no foundation in God. The peace of God that passes all understanding. What is there about this that we do not want to share? So, therefore, I finish this letter with one question. What are your priorities?