Steven Covey wrote, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." It’s a great expression, it talks about the importance of keeping focused on those things that are most important. The question is, What is the main thing?
This passage is based on Mark 12:28-34.
There is an expression that most of us are familiar with, and it goes like this: Keep the main thing, the main thing. It’s a great expression, it talks about the importance of keeping focused on those things that are most important. We can get so easily distracted that it’s easy to fall into loosing sense of those things are most important.
What is important? I mean really important? I suspect that for most of us the answer to that question might depend the situation. It might depend on where we are at the time, or what we’re doing. Let’s face it, there are times that it’s really important to get dinner on the table at a certain time because you have a meeting that night. Or if the kids are running late, it might be really important to get them going and off to school. If we’ve lost our jobs, and have been looking for while, it might be really important to find something, anything, to bring in some money and put food on the table. All those things are important. And they all seem really important at the time, but in retrospect, I think we can agree that none of them are the most important.
Let me give you an example from about ten years ago. Ten years ago the top news story was the H1N1 Virus, more commonly known as the Swine Flu. Every time you picked up a newspaper or turned on the TV news, you heard about Swine Flu. Every day you would hear about how serious this was, and how important it was to take precautions to limit our exposure and reduce our risk of getting infected. And even churches were taking precautions. I remember in Almond we had installed hand sanitizers at every entrance. And it was important to do what we could. And at the time, many were saying it was the most important thing we could do. But here we are ten years later and I can’t remember the last time I heard about H1N1. Was it really the most important thing? No, I think we can all agree that in retrospect, it wasn’t.
I did some research, and I found that in the 1970’s, approximately 16,250 people died of the influenza flu every year in the US alone. The flu vaccine was developed in the mid 1970’s. In the mid 1990’s, twenty years after the vaccine, the death rate had actually increased to approximately 65,000 per year. Twenty years after the introduction of the vaccine, the number of deaths jumped fourfold over what it was before the vaccine. In the late 1990’s, some medications were developed to help treat the flu, and today the annual death rate is somewhere around 36,000 per year, here in the US. Now this is really hard to track, and depending on the web-site you look at, these numbers can vary a lot, but just for some background, these numbers will work.
Why do I share this? Because I want to put H1N1 in perspective. Swine flu started in Mexico in September of 2008. It went over four months before we heard anything about it, but then we started to hear a lot about it. And pretty soon, it was all we heard about. Now during the first year, starting when the first US patient was discovered, when the media really talked it up a lot, about 1300 people in the US died from it. That’s important. I’m sure we all agree that every life lost is a life too much. But to put in perspective, during that same year, about 36,000 people died from the influenza virus. Why weren’t we far more worried about that? To put that further into perspective, nearly a million people a year die from heart disease, a little over a half a million die each year from cancer, so the 1300 deaths from H1N1 was a pretty far cry from the biggest health risk we face.
Yet, that’s all we heard about. Every time we turned on TV we see a story about the H1N1 virus. Every time we picked up the paper, there was something in there about it. The media created a panic, causing us to think this was way more serious than anything else we faced. Was it important? Yes. We should all be doing those common-sense things, it’s really important to wash your hands regularly, it’s really important that if you have flu-like symptoms, stay home. But was it the most important thing? Not by a long shot.
The media tends to create panic. They go from one story to the next, creating fear as they go. The H1N1 virus was important. The economy is important. The fight against terror is important. But are these the most important things? No. They aren’t.
What is? If the media is creating panic and fear, and the things they are reporting on aren’t really the most important things, then what is the most important thing? What is deserving of our fear? What should we be worried about?
In the time of Jesus, there were 613 Jewish laws. There were laws that dictated almost every aspect of Jewish life. And one of the primary responsibilities of the Scribes was the application of the law. If a situation in life came up, they looked to the law to find guidance. The law was seen to apply to everything. Everything the Jewish believer would face on a daily basis could be found in the law. The Scribes had found a practical application for everything that happened. Everything!
In our reading this morning, we see the words, “Of all the commandments (of all the laws), which is the most important?” Since the law applied to every aspect of life, the most important law would be the most important thing. So what is it? According to Jesus, what’s the most important thing?
We heard Jesus’ reply, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus went one step further, and He gave the second most important one too, he threw in a freebie if you will: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love – When Jesus was asked what’s the most important thing, He said love. Love for God, love for one another – Love is what is really important.
I used to be a big Jimmy Buffett fan. About thirty years ago Jimmy Buffet wrote a song called, Love in Decline. The idea of the song is that real love is in decline. People chase after casual sex so much that they never find real love. The song suggests that casual sex and affairs and adultery and that sort of thing are all symptoms of love in decline.
I suggest that it goes way beyond that. I suggest that much of the stress we feel, many of the illnesses that we face, much of the crime we hear about, many of the problems that we see, are all symptoms of love in decline. Jesus said the most important thing in the world is love, and we have a really hard time truly experiencing real love. And I’m suggesting that it’s that lack of love that causes so many of our problems.
What can we do? If love is what’s ultimately important, and love really is in decline, what’s the answer? Perhaps we can take three quick themes from our reading this morning…
First, we need to realize that God is number one. Most of us, even those of us who believe in God, and serve God, and even love God, still keep ourselves number one. The old mantra, Taking care of numero uno is still very much alive and well. We think that if we don’t take care of ourselves, who will? Well the answer is, God will. But we need to make sure God is number one in our life. If we can truly surrender ourselves to Him, If we can truly humble ourselves before Him, If we can truly make Him number one, He will take care of you. James 4:7 & 10 tell us this, too. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.”
We have a God who loves us. If we want to be in control of our lives, God will honor that; He’ll stand aside. It’s only by standing aside ourselves and letting God back into our lives, will He truly come. Let God come. Get off the throne of your life, and let God sit there. Submit to Him, let Him guide you, and truly experience His love.
Second, good theology (which is essentially the understanding that God is Number One, that pleasing God is the most important thing we can do) and good ethics (loving our neighbors at least as much as we love ourselves) are more important than anything else we can do. Way more important than any religious rituals we might do, or any songs we might sing, or any instruments we might use in worship. Even more important than the work we do for the church.
In Hosea 6:6, it is written, “For I desire mercy (mercy is sometimes translated as love), not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” Psalm 51:17 reads, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Loving God and loving others is more important than anything else, even if we do these other things for God. If we don’t do them out of love for God, they aren’t important.
Finally, when the first two are affirmed, when you truly love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength, and you love others at least as much as you love yourself, then Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. I think that means that we’re not far from really being able to let God control our lives. It’s only when we love God and we love our neighbors, can we truly give God the control of our lives.
When these are taken care of, then the decline of love can be reversed. And when we can all live by love, our stress levels will drop dramatically, and since stress levels affect our immune system, we’ll be healthier. We’ll certainly be happier. And since God is directing our steps, we’ll be more fulfilled than we could ever be when we tried to do things ourselves.
So be careful, there are a lot of things out there that TV will tell you that you need to worry about. There are million important things out there. The most important thing is the one you won’t hear about out there. God is the most important. And God is love. And to really follow Him, we need to love. Love, is the main thing. Love for God first, and love for each other next. Love, is the main thing. Now make sure you keep the main thing, the main thing.