#First is the reflection for February 14, 2016. How does Vince Lombardi’s quote, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing” help us during Lent? Mark Kurowski reflects on a deeper Lent. Listen here in this reflection: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay #Sermon #Homily #VinceLombardi #GreenBayPackers #USC #UCLA #GreatCommandment #Win #Holiness
First: A Reflection on Deuteronomy 26 and Luke 4
For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 2/14/2016. The 1st Sunday of Lent.
Please pause this audio and read Deuteronomy 26:1-11.
Who here remembers who came in third place in the 1980 Olympic Men’s Hockey finals? We remember that the United States won the gold, the Soviet Union won the silver, but who won the bronze? It was Finland. Firing Line was the second place finisher in the 2015 Kentucky Derby behind American Pharoah. If you said that at a party, I am sure people would look at you and say, “Who cares?”
If there is one thing that we Americans understand it is being first. We love to be first. There is a quote that is attributed to Coach Vince Lombardi, but was actually first said by the 1950s UCLA coach, Red Sanders, that sums up our feelings about coming in first. It goes like this, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the ONLY thing.” That’s not even Sander’s most ridiculous quote. Sanders once said, “The rivalry between USC and UCLA isn’t a life and death thing. It is more important than that.”
Tithing is simply giving to God what is first because by doing so we are saying that God is first.
To Americans, winning is important because it means that we are first. We like being first. First means that we are the most important. First means that people should look to us and follow our lead. First means that we did whatever it is that we are doing better than anyone. First means that we have greater value. Our ideals become better when we are first. Our strength is better when we are first. At least, that is what we think, whether it is true or not.
If something is first to us, we will sacrifice just about anything for it. We will tell family members that we are sorry, but we cannot do what they want us to do because we HAVE to this first thing first. We will put aside all other obligations of the day to do the thing that will make us first. In fact, we think that being first is so important that it means that the person who is first should get paid the most, get the biggest contract.
When something is first to us, all other things seem to have no value, like remembering that Finland came in third and played some excellent hockey in 1980. Or, we forget that Firing Line actually won money for those who placed a bet on her at the Derby. I am sure that you could place even more observations on how much we value the concept of “first.” It cannot be denied, we place a very high value on what it means for someone or something to be first.
So, I am always a little baffled by the response whenever the Scriptures speak of tithing. Deuteronomy today speaks of how God has given us so very much and in response, we are to give the first ten percent back to him by giving at the Temple. Over nearly 30 years, whenever I speak of tithing to churches or to pastors, they get fidgety, sometimes indignant, and look at me like that is some kind of pie in the sky notion. Tithing is simply giving to God what is first because by doing so we are saying that God is first.
I once served in a church of nearly 1,600 families. That is not people, friends, that is families. I was on staff and the pastor was fretting over how we were going to support the building of the new Church. I mentioned to him that we probably should just ask people to tithe. I might as well have been asking him to cut out his kidney without anesthesia and put it on ice right there. Was I crazy?! It’s not right to talk to people about their money!
Ah, true, true, I would never want to tell someone what to do with their stuff. The problem is that as Christians, we recognize that we don’t have any stuff. When we are baptized and receive Communion, when we lift our hands to pray, or ask for forgiveness for our sins, we are making a bold claim about the whole structure of the Universe: everything is God’s. How do we know? We know because God is first. As Americans, we should understand more than anyone the importance of rewarding those who are first, right?
In Deuteronomy, the Lord has led them out of slavery in Egypt. The Lord parted the Red Sea. The Lord has kept them alive through giving them mana from heaven to eat every morning for 40 years. The Lord has been faithful and has delivered them into the Promised Land. The Lord has given them life. So, it just seems appropriate and natural that they should place God first and give him the first fruits of their crops. It just so happens that our crops come in the form of electronic deposit.
As we see from the Gospel Lesson taken from Luke for the First Sunday of Lent, all of the responses by Jesus to Satan are saying one thing: God is first. Even over hunger, God’s words are first. God is first in our worship. Because he is the First, then we must not play around with him in ways that disrespect him, like testing his power to make the First prove it to us that he is the First.
Lent itself, all the talk of giving up something, fasting, etc. All of the spiritual practices of Lent are about reorienting our lives to ensure that the Father in Heaven is first in our lives. Do you recall the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to get to heaven? Jesus tells him to keep the commandments? The rich young man says he has always done so. So, Jesus, then, asks him to follow the first commandment, to have no other gods before the Father, in a radical way: sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow him. Ah, that is when the rubber meets the road and the rich young man walks away sad.
It is something as old as the Garden of Eden, but we seem to be able to keep all kinds of commandments, but putting God first because he is First, that one is a hard pill to swallow. In our minds it puts us on par with the 1980 Finland Hockey Team, or Firing Line in the 2015 Kentucky Derby. Yes, this might be true, except that when it comes to putting people first, God is the winner. He is the winner because there are winners and losers when there is scarcity. With God there is no lacking. He puts us first by sending the Savior of the World to renew all of creation, with us first in line.
So, as we struggle with “giving up stuff for Lent”, let us remember that the key is not the deprivation, but the reorientation. Lent is the evaluation of all things in our lives to ensure that the right order of the Universe is in place: that God is first in all things (even our money), that the Son’s sacrifice is central to who we are, and that we are listening to the Holy Spirit to follow his lead in making sure and certain changes in who we are to better glorify God and bring peace to us, our families, and our communities.
Lombardi and Red Sanders were only partially right, the First should be placed above all else. The First is God. So, putting God first isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Let us all take inventory and adjust accordingly. Amen.
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