Someone near and dear to me gave me a most thoughtful gift. The donor was mindful that I spend time with words, preaching and teaching and writing. The gift is a refrigerator magnet. It reads: I am silently judging your grammar. It’s helpful to have that warning in front of me each morning, though the judgment is not always silent.
Admittedly, I am inclined to make errors that come in great variety, and a variety of folks in my life point them out. Like when I tell a congregation that we will say the psalm in unison, together. (An example of repeating myself redundantly). Or when I say something is very unique. I’m reminded that something either is or is not unique. It can’t be very. Or when I pluralize the word priority. Numerous priorities undermine the meaning of a priority.
Let’s pause to consider that last egregious error. It’s related to something on my mind since we’ve been reading Jesus’ parables this summer on Sundays. These parables, some lengthy, some succinct, describe the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. With transformative power, parables stay with us, having a life of their own. Just when you think you’ve figured out the meaning, they come at us again, asking us to think about them in some new way.
(As an aside, I remember my first New Testament class in seminary. I expected we’d dive into dense theological study. Instead, at the end of the first class, the teacher gave this homework assignment: Go home and write a parable. It was one of the most difficult homework assignments I ever received, triggering ever deeper respect for Jesus as divine teacher, as I produced a pathetic parable. Give it a try this week.)
One parable in particular, recently read on Sunday, has been on my mind. Here it is, in its entirety:
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)
This parable made me think about my priority. Not my priorities. Okay, I’m not entirely sure that priority needs to be singular, but it has made me think: Is there one great pearl I value above all else? What is it? There are other ways to frame the question: What would I live for? What would I die for? Is there something, one thing, that would lead me to give up everything else?
What is the pearl of great value for the church, its singular priority? As I travel around the church, I’m aware that one of the challenges these days for faith communities is our culture: They don’t really know what they are about. They’re often not entirely clear about purpose, not always clear on where they are headed. Sometimes they appear to be about everything, and so sometimes end up being about not much at all. Mission statements can be at once lengthy and lacking.
On an individual level, what is the pearl of great value for my life and for yours, as far as the spiritual journey is concerned? Is there focus, mission, purpose? Maybe it is a call to be of service. Maybe it is to become more like Christ. Maybe it is to live into the simple but not easy commandment Jesus gave to his followers: to grow in love of God and neighbor.
Once we have identified the priority, for ourselves and our community, how do we live into it? What distractions pull us away? I doubt I’ll ever totally get away from living with a plurality of priorities, numerous vocations sometimes competing with each other, marking my spirit with ADD. I know many distractions, diversions, detours on the spiritual path.
But that should not deter from moving toward single-mindedness. Join me by taking a step in that direction this week. What will that step be? How would you describe your pearl of great value?
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘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.”
Purity of heart is to will one thing.
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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