Linkletter recalls: "We went and went and went and went and went, down through the orange groves. And finally we came to the place where it was going to be, and I couldn't believe my eyes--because it was so far from downtown Los Angeles. And it was so small-the communities in those days were so straggly. And I thought, "My gosh, to put up a bunch of merry-go-rounds out in the middle of a cow pasture is ridiculous!"
As they walked around the property, Walt described in glowing detail the various lands of his park: Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, and more. Then Disney advised Linkletter to buy property around the park and sell it to developers. "You'll make a fortune," said Disney. But Art Linkletter failed to grasp Walt Disney's vision. He said thanks but no thanks. Looking back on that decision, Linkletter calculated that each step he took on that property was worth about $3 million.
All too often we make bad decisions out of fear or worry. A businessperson can make decisions that can result in the loss of both their job and career. Churches, worrying about dwindling memberships or a deficit budget, hunker down, and refuse to embrace a changing neighborhood. Parents refuse to let go of their children as they need to learn how to grow up.
We all have made mistakes. We worry and let anxiety or fear to get the best of us. Our gospel lesson today, going back the past five Sundays, introduces us to the Kingdom vision. Jesus has been teaching us a new way to live, how to see the scriptures and the world through God’s perspective. We have traveled with Jesus as he moved to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee and called his first disciples. We have sat next to Jesus as he proclaimed the blessings-- what we call the Beatitudes – that named human sufferings and declared God’s presence with us, in all circumstances. Jesus assured us of our worth. He proclaimed that we are salt of the earth and light of the world, and that we must aim for righteousness in all we do. In stark terms Jesus demanded our lives be focused on reconciliation and right relationships – and that we must practice love – even love for our enemies. All these things make us children of our God in heaven.
Today, Jesus reinforces his teachings of the past month by telling us how to put into practice his powerful teachings – teachings that can transform our life, teachings that reveal the heart of the ancient law to us. We must seek first the Kingdom of God. We must follow that first commandment God gave so long ago-- “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other God before me.” We cannot serve two masters: We are not created to be divided. Who will it be – God or wealth, mammon, the Aramaic which means possessions, money, and wealth. Jesus warns us how mammon, wealth, becomes an idol in our lives, leaving us divided, consumed by an obsessive worry that is opposite of faithfulness.
Jesus fundamental teachings these past six weeks are to lead us to righteousness – right living -- to be whole in body, mind and spirit, and to be just. Jesus focuses so much on worry in our passage today because worry means to have a divided mind; in English it comes from the root meaning to chock. Worry gains a foothold in our life when the things of the world consume us and consume our time. Worry divides us, diminishes us, it chokes the joy and happiness out of our lives. It is said that 92% of what we worry about is needless. Yet our lives are enslaved to worry, because we believe that only money and wealth can keep us safe and worry-free.
Jesus seeks us to be healed of a having a divided heart. Jesus has laid out for us how we are to commit to the God’s Kingdom, and engage God’s vision of a more compassionate, equitable and peaceful world. If we desire to live a whole life, a free life, then we must seek God’s Kingdom before all else. First things first. We need to embrace our identity as disciples who live out Jesus’ teaching in all the ways the Sermon on the Mount has laid out for us this past month. We are to be blessing in the world. We are to be light in the world. We are to salt the earth. We are reconcilers and peace-keepers of God’s kingdom. We love our neighbor and we love those we call enemy.
This comprehensive vision comes into focus only when God is first in our heart. We are like Art Linkletter, looking at the straggly landscape of our lives – the cow pasture our world has become – and Jesus’ vision of righteousness doesn’t fit. Yet Jesus shows us the plan with the words of the prophet Isaiah -- say to the prisoners “Come out,” – to those in darkness—show yourselves. There will be food – the bare heights will become a pasture -- they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.” That’s the kingdom. That is what is possible when we make God first.
Jesus has given us the hard tools to manifest this kingdom in our midst. Not the Disney kingdom. The kingdom of God. Discipleship. Righteousness. Of Light. Of Salt. Reconciliation. Unconditional Love. Single-hearted devotion to God.
We have the tools, the teaching of Jesus laid before us these past weeks. Now with the Season of Lent starting this Wednesday, we are given the opportunity to spend 40 days in reflection, repentance, realigning our lives with these powerful teaching of Jesus. In Lent we are made aware of the cost of the Kingdom. The price we pay to listen to God. What discipleship implies. Lent leads us to discover the spiritual depths in our heart to love, forgive, to remove whatever stands in God’s place, so we become salt and light and blessing in the world. These are the tasks that lay before us this Lent.
Lent reminds us of the stark questions we need to face: the purpose of our lives. our mortality. What are our priorities – how do we fritter away our time – is it of value? Do we make a difference? Jesus faced his mortality as he journeyed to Jerusalem to face his death. Jesus was prepared. Will we be?
To give us some perspective, there have been many studies about how the average person spends their life. There is one study that states, if we live to 70 years, on average we will spend:
It is clear that this chart is already outdated. It is now estimated that the average adult spends 3.2 hours in social media each day. However, notice however what is last – and hasn’t changed much in recent years. If this chart is correct, the average person spends 7/10s of one percent of their life in matters of religion. That 6 months over 70 years. About 180 days. 4,320 hours out of life-span of 613,200 hours. That comes to 10 minutes a day.
Also missing from this chart, and ones similar to it, are the hours spend in charity work or volunteering. While none of these studies can be completely accurate, it does tell us overall trends. Religion and spirituality are not high on the to-do list of most Americans in this increasingly secular society. We are assured that we are high on God’s list – our names are carved on the very palm of God.
As we approach Lent, our task is to put God first in our lives. Not just for ten minutes a day. God is looking for ways that we turn to prayer while traveling or waiting. God is looking for the Christ-like attitudes we assume at work, at the fast-food counter, on the highway, in raising children, in engaging our neighbors. Perhaps unmeasurable in human terms, but not in the kingdom of heaven. The attitudes and actions that Jesus asks of us are woven in to fabric of our daily life – that form living building blocks of God’s kingdom, here and now, in the same way that Walt Disney had a vision in a cow pasture. We just need to know what comes first.
So this Lent, what do we need to change to put God first? How will we shift the hours we spend or the money we give? This Lent, let us transform that vision of the straggly cow pasture into the blueprint of the kingdom of heaven – through our loving, forgiving caring, shining and salting. First things first. God is first. Seek the righteous kingdom. We will gain fortune – treasure forged in heaven. Amen.