Scripture: Luke 21:5-19
Have you ever wondered how people set their priorities? Nearly every day at my other job I see people making…well poor decisions. Many times these people will try to get away from the consequences of their poor decisions by making the claim that they have kids and should not have to face the discipline required. The sad thing is that in probably 99% of the cases the people involved were not making decisions based on taking care of their children but were satisfying their own desires. How do they set their priorities?
When I worked for the Salvation Army in Arkansas City, I would watch people come in for assistance with brand new cars still bearing a temporary tag saying that they did not have the money for rent. The one that really caught my eye was when a new Mustang pulled in, with two kids in car seats in the back. Then there were the countless cars that would make their way to Oklahoma on payday to visit the casino only show up needing help with bills on Wednesday.
Yes I am being a bit judgmental but these are the choices that I have observed as I have worked, choices that are based on priorities that I just do not quite understand. Then there is my own life. I have often found myself eating lunch at work, which is a good thing because one must eat to survive, but there are days where my choice for lunch is ice cream. Yes I hate to admit it, because such a well educated son of a nurse should probably be eating a well balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables but at times ice cream just feels right. That is just another example of a misplaced priority. We could probably spend a good hour giving examples of questionable priorities and make our own judgment on them, but that would be a meaningless and unbeneficial task. I mention it only because in each case I can find a fallacy in their priority, but I am not able to look into their minds to see their decision making process. In most cases I am fully unable to make any judgment because of that, the only case I can make a judgment is in the case of work when poor decisions of individuals have the potential of costing the company money.
Priorities are a way to examine our personal lives. Friends have a long history of asking pointed questions to assist us in determining Godly priorities. That is the point of the Queries in the various Faith and Practices of the Yearly Meetings across the country. These are a set of questions that we ask ourselves that are based on observations and scripture. They are not a set of rules to live by, but instead they are aspects of our lives that have been shown experientially to promote spiritual growth and a more satisfying life. By making it a discipline to occasionally asking and answering these questions in a contemplative state of mind and are honest with ourselves and with God, we can often find what areas in our spiritual life we may need to focus more of our attention.
Priorities are not only found in our personal individual lives, but extend beyond ourselves and infiltrate our communities as well. These corporate priorities can greatly effect how individuals relate and interact with each other. What are the things a community or a company value? The answer to this question, if we are again honest, will often determine how the individuals involved relate to each other. Core values, goals, and priorities are areas we may not often consider as being so important in our lives but if one is misplaced or too out of balance to the others, future choices and decisions will be greatly affected.
The people of God find themselves in one of those corporate priority-balancing acts. They do not even realize that they are struggling with maintaining a good healthy balance in their priorities but as history shows there was something tipping the scales. The people were gathered around Jesus in Jerusalem, in or near the temple. Jesus just finished teaching those around him about giving offerings to God, and they listened. Then they begin to look around and make comments to Jesus about how wonderful the temple was, how beautiful the stones were and the abundance of gifts dedicated to God. It was a beautiful temple. This temple dedicated to the God of Israel was considered the greatest monument in the Roman Empire.
We cannot fully grasp the splendor of the Temple because there is nothing quite like it in our contemporary world. It covered an area about the size of six football fields, the stones used in construction were perfectly smooth, cut, and placed. Stones weighing from two to 100 tons placed perfectly on top of each other to at least one hundred feet above the foundation. The stones themselves are so amazing that legends have emerged saying that angels of God helped place them. Perfect stones, we know that they had to be perfect because to this day you can visit the places where they quarried the stones and see the ones rejected. They have recently found tombs of temple priests buried around a large pane of glass that archeologists have concluded was a piece of glass that was originally made for the temple but was rejected because it had a flaw, this is the largest slab of glass ever found. It had its own water supply, with a system of aqueducts and pipes that stretched for over fifty miles, and the main entryway had a width equivalent to a four-lane highway. Within was the central bank of Jerusalem, with its own currency that would change money for the millions of people entering the facility three times a year. If you can think of the greatest most amazing building you can think of it would pale to the temple of God.
They were proud of their temple, it was the crown of civilization, attracting people from all corners of the world just to look. But Jesus said to them, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” I want you to imagine the greatest building you can, the monument that represents and is the greatest source of pride for our culture. Imagine it in its entire splendor, which is basically a shack, compared to the temple, but still amazing. I recently watched a movie about an invasion of the United States by a terrorist group from North Korea, in that movie they infiltrated and basically destroyed the White House, and even though it was a movie my stomach was in knots and my heart raced. This movie depicted the falling of our nation through the destruction of just a few monuments in one city. That is basically what Jesus is telling them but multiplying one hundred full. The very identity and pride of their culture would fall. How would you react?
Instantly the people hearing this entered panic mode, and rightfully so, the temple was not just a small structure that could be easily toppled. There are not many fortresses build more solid than the temple. For the temple to fall it would mean that the entire nation would basically be eradicated. Fear gripped the people; Jesus was saying that the end was near. They ask when it will be? And He tells them not to be led astray.
The fact that fear entered into their hearts is a sign that these greatly religious people had their priorities out of balance. They based everything on the temple. Their hope, their security, their future all found their foundation in that great monument. To even think of life without that symbolic building shook them to the core. Their faith was found in the temple and not in the God that was worshiped inside. Their priority was to maintain the temple, because without that they would be lost.
Misplaced priorities. The Titus, who was the son of Emperor Vespasian, destroyed the great temple of God in 70 AD. The destruction was complete, the great treasury that minted the temple currency was emptied, and all the wealth of the Jewish people was carried to Rome. This great wealth was used to fund the great building projects of Rome; the most notable was the Colosseum. The wealth of Israel left the people. The gifts dedicated to God instead went to honor the perverse lusts of Rome.
Misplaced priorities. This was not the first time this sort of thing happened, it was not even the second time, but the third time this sort of thing happened. Three times rulers from a foreign land entered the Temple of God and desecrated it, and twice it was destroyed. Three times the gifts dedicated to God were taken from the people and given to others. Three times. The prophets of old gave them warnings, warnings that were not listened to. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and Micah all spoke of justice and mercy as being more important to God than sacrifice. Each of these prophets spoke prior to the first temple falling. Daniel warned them of the second instance of desecration, and Jesus speaks of the third. Justice, mercy and love are what God desires.
This is a passage of judgment to all mankind not just the people of first century Israel. Where are we placing our priorities? Jesus did not condemn the fact that the temple was so beautiful but that the temple was so adorned at the expense of mercy. Jesus came to live among mankind to bring them back to God. He came to show us a new way of life. A life devoted to worship, prayer, and service to others. He made it his custom to worship at the place of meeting where ever that place was, he did not care if it was the greatest and best, but instead that it was real. He withdrew often to the isolated and desolate places to pray alone, to personally spend time with His father, taking only His closest companions to share in this time. And he dedicated his life to ministering to the needs of those around him.
This lifestyle of worship, prayer, and service keeps our priorities in balance. The temple fell because the people focused too much of their efforts on one area, they focused all their time and treasure on worship and neglected service. They neglected service because they failed to truly engage in the conversational prayer, where they would be lead by God to do His will. They failed to show mercy in their great efforts to honor God in worship. They failed to live the love of God with others and God took all they had and gave it to the ones that outwardly displayed what was corrupting the souls of the people claiming to serve Him.
I have spoken often of this lifestyle, the lifestyle I believe that Jesus is calling us each into. I speak about it because it is so important. Jesus said later in this passage that the people would face persecution from those around them, even those closest to them, but he says that it will give them an opportunity. It will give them an opportunity to live the lifestyle Jesus is calling them. It will give them an opportunity to testify and to speak, that He will give them the wisdom and the words to speak when that day comes. We will see those opportunities only if we keep our priorities in balance. We will be able to engage in those conversations only when our spiritual lives are in balance. If we neglect one aspect of this lifestyle no matter how strong we think we are we will fall and all we have will be given to others. We find our strength in worship, we find our purpose and calling in prayer, and speak it in service.
This is a hard passage to speak on, because it speaks of the failure of mankind. But there is hope. The temple fell to Babylon but it was rebuilt. Antiochus desecrated the temple but Judas Maccabee restored it. The Romans tore down the great temple of Herod and crucified Christ, but Jesus rose from the grave and sent the Spirit of God to make his new dwelling place in the hearts of mankind. We may and often fail but we have a God of Grace, he lifts us back up and gives us yet another chance. He is calling us each to take the chance, to join Him in what He wants to do in our community, He wants us to join Him in making all things new, and to bring the kingdom of God to those around us. We do this by Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of Christ with others. Through worship, prayer, and service.
As we enter into this time of open worship, let us consider in who, what, or where we are placing our priorities and consider if maybe we have misplaced them. And let us consider what Jesus is calling us to in our future as members of and as Willow Creek Friends.