An American tourist in Italy met a monk. The monk offered him to show around the monastery where he was staying. On their tour, they visited the monk’s room; the tourist noticed there was no TV and radio, but only one change of clothes, a towel, and a blanket. He asked, “How do you live so simply?” The monk answered, “I noticed you carry only enough things to fill a suitcase; why do you live so simply?” To him the tourist replied, “But I’m just a tourist, I’m only traveling through.” To him the monk said, “So am I, so am I.”
This story tenderly reminds us of how short and transitory our life is. And it certainly helps us realize that we have not much time in this life. We are just traveling through. This is what today’s Hebrew Bible reading also poignantly tells us. Isaiah delivers God’s voice to us, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it” (Isaiah 40:6-7). Yes, our time on earth is limited, and moreover, we don’t know when God calls us back. True. Our life is just a short-term trip.
But in our daily lives, we are not always mindful of this unchanging truth of human life. Why? Because we are so busy and distracted by so many things we should take care of. Competing-time demands are an inevitable part of modern life. And everyone is combatting their busy schedule. But to make our short-term trip more meaningful and valuable, we better be aware of the transient nature of our life always. The Letter of James teaches us, “Come now, you who say, ‘today and tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:13-17).
Like the grass and flower of the field, like a mist that briefly appears and then vanishes, our life is short. So today, the pressing question for all of us is this: “What is the best and most fruitful way to use our limited time?” We can find an answer from Jesus. Here, I am not trying to describe Jesus as the perfect time management expert like in some self-improvement books. Of course, if we look into the Gospels, we can certainly see how Jesus uses his time. But believe or not, what I found last week is that his way of time management is not that different from us. Surprising? Yes, for sure, if you expected a kind of divine or magical way to manage time from Jesus. But the truth is… Jesus did the same thing as we do in time planning.
In fact, Jesus set priorities in spending his time, just as we do. We also spend our time on our priorities right? Look at the grid. Even if we are not aware of it all the time, we try to do the important and urgent things first. We make our to-do list whether we write it down or just keep it in our mind. And we try to keep up with it. Why? It’s simply because we don’t want to waste our time doing not important and not urgent things. Probably for the same reason, Jesus also set his priorities, so that he could accomplish his mission in only three short years of his ministry. Anyway, it is great that Jesus used the same time management method as we do.
But… here comes the difference between Jesus and us. Jesus is different from us in a way that he decided what’s important and what’s not. And here’s an incredible thing. His priorities are not about himself. He prioritized the things that are important to God and to God’s kingdom. But check out our to-do list. We can easily and clearly say that we prioritize the things that are important for us. Yes, Jesus used the same time management method as we do. But his priorities are not quite same as ours.
So what are the priorities of Jesus? From today’s Gospel readings, we can get to know them. Jesus says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). For Jesus, love is the number one priority. And he actually used his precious time on earth for the purpose of love—love that forgives us, accepts us, and saves us. And with this love, Jesus asks us to go and make disciples of all nations, and build the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, peace and liberation, wherever we go. Love God and love your neighbor with all your time. Build the kingdom of God whenever you can. Indeed, these two are the overriding priorities that Jesus focused on in his days.
And it is clear that they should be our Christian priorities as we manage our time. We, the Christians, always say, “We want to follow Jesus. We want to be Christ-like believers,” not knowing exactly what to do. But today, we learn one certain way to follow Jesus. Prioritize what Jesus prioritized and make the priorities of Jesus our priorities.
A couple of weeks ago, one news really inspired me and led me to reflect on my priorities in life. It was the news about former President Jimmy Carter helping people build Habitat for Humanity homes in Nashville. It was just one day after he fell at his home and received stitches above his eye. And he has also had some trouble walking after he had a hip replaced in May. But this 95-year old man insisted on coming out and helping build houses even with his shaky hands. And he insisted on teaching Sunday School regularly. To an interviewer, he mentioned, “I had a No. 1 priority and that was to come to Nashville to build houses!”
What’s your number one priority when it comes to time? In your priorities, on you to-do list today… among many items that are important to us, to our family, to our entertainment, is there anything that is important to God and God’s kingdom? Is there any items that Jesus would have also prioritized?
From this Sunday until the end of November, we are having our annual Stewardship Campaign. This is the right time to reflect on how good we are as stewards of our God-given resources. And among the three important resources, I mean, time, treasure, and talent, I think, time is the most precious resource we have. Then, how are we using this resource? Are we using it wisely enough following the overriding priorities of Jesus? There is no enough time for all things, but I’m sure, there is enough time for the most important things. So from today, on our to-do list, why don’t we include more things that are important to God and God’s kingdom? If you attend worship service once a month, why can it be twice a month or three times a month? If you pray for ten minutes a day, why can it be twenty minutes a day from now on? If you spend an hour for church’s mission weekly, why can it be two hours? Let us use more time to love God and love our neighbors. Let us spend more time building the kingdom of God among us. May we bear much fruits of love as we make the priorities of Jesus our priorities in our short lifetime. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim