“But first …”

Luke 9:57-62 and Galatians 5:13-19, 23-25 (NIV)
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – June 26, 2016
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

Galatians 5:13-19, 23-25  New International Version (NIV)  Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious …

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.



Luke 9:57-62    New International Version (NIV) The Cost of Following Jesus

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”



We all live our lives by them.

When we’re little, they’re often set FOR us by our parents and teachers.

When we get a little older, we have to learn to set them for OURSELVES – which sometimes proves to be a challenge for teenagers to set THEIR priorities where they should be for their own welfare and benefit.

When we have a job, they are often set for us by our supervisors, bosses and colleagues.

When we get married or enter into any kind of intimate relationship, they become INFLUENCED by the other person.

And when we retire … we may THINK that we’re not going to have to prioritize anything, but how quickly we find that THAT is not the case because there’s so much we want to do.


Priorities get shifted according to life experiences.

We fall in love and that PERSON becomes our priority.

We get a new job and IT becomes our priority.

We become pregnant and THAT takes priority – over EVERYTHING:  what we want, when we want it …

We’re working on our doctorate – everything else falls by the wayside.


If we face illness, then HEALTH becomes our priority.

And any time we have a life-altering event, it becomes … well … life-altering. It changes our perspective and our priorities. Things that were important before don’t seem that way anymore.


As human beings, we are CONSTANTLY shifting priorities and realigning what we have to do with how much TIME we have, how much ENERGY we have … how much INTEREST we have.

It’s just part of being human, I think.


And so today we have two readings. One, by Paul and the other, part of Luke’s gospel narrative.

The authorship of Galatians is not disputed. The Apostle Paul really DID write it himself, and Galatia was in the province of Anatolia near what we know TODAY as the Black Sea. That part of the world has a very interesting history, actually, as it was settled by the CELTS … the ones from Ireland, Scotland and Wales … and the Celtic warriors were well-known and well-RESPECTED by both the Greek and Roman warriors of their day.

So it is to their descendants that Paul writes, KNOWING that their whole way of life was originally that of a WARRIOR cultu\e.

And what does he tell them?

… that the gifts of the Spirit … in other words, the things to which they should ASPIRE … are NOT warfare and fighting … not warrior-hood … but the practices of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. THESE things should be their priority!


A LOT of us know that our priorities should be different than they are, I suspect. We should be more concerned with what we eat … or with getting more exercise. We shouldn’t let people UPSET us as much as we do, or we should be taking more time off.

And the typical human response?

“Ok. I’ll get around to it. But first I have to do …” (fill in the blank).  And that’s just what people were telling Jesus, too.

They say they’ll do anything to be with him and he says, “OK. Follow me.” And they reply … “I will … but first I have to …” whatever it is they have to do:  bury the dead … finish their jobs … tend to the sheep.

And his reply?

“NOTHING should be more important to you than following ME.”


This teaching strikes FEAR in the hearts of many of us, doesn’t it?

I mean … WE have things to do.

We have our OWN priorities.

We can’t just walk off and leave our children.

We can’t just get up and go off on a religious pilgrimage … we have JOBS. We have RESPONSIBILITIES.

And on the one hand, I’ve seen a lot of people get pretty beaten up by pastors who preached about how we have to be willing to just “up and leave” for the sake of our faith.

But frankly, I don’t think that it’s either / or. It’s NOT either leave everything in your life now OR you’re out of the kingdom.

What JESUS was saying was that our SPIRITUAL life has to be the most important priority. It becomes the filter … the LENS … the FOCAL point for all of our OTHER priorities. Nothing can come before Jesus’ teachings … not family drama … not politics. We cannot allow someone ELSE’s interpretation of our priorities to become OUR interpretation of our priorities.

The ONLY one who can and SHOULD have an impact on our values – on our PRIORITIES – is the one who we say we choose to FOLLOW – Jesus of Nazareth.

“Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” That’s what our teacher said. The CONTRAST is between the dead and the KOG where we find LIFE.

“Let those who are focused on life-denying things stay connected to each other. It’s all right.  Leave them alone.  YOU go and proclaim LIFE. YOU go and do things DIFFERENTLY.  Just walk away from those people.”

It’s not unlike what John of Patmos wrote in the book of Revelation: [Revelation 22:11- NIV] 11 Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

We are not supposed to be CONVINCING people that they should BELIEVE. As one of the class members reminded us all at Bible & Brew on Thursday … we are supposed to bear witness to the Kingdom of God. We are supposed to PROCLAIM the KOG. The REST of it – convincing people how to make changes in their own lives – that is up to GOD!  — not us!

God has God’s job – and we have OURS. It’s not up to US to do God’s job! But we ARE supposed to do OUR job. About THAT we can NOT say, “Just a minute … wait a second … I’ll do that, BUT FIRST let me do – whatever!”

We can’t!



Our priority HAS to be our own spiritual life and relationship with God. THAT’s what Jesus was saying. We HAVE to be anchored in HIM so that we can share the KINGDOM with others. And frankly, the Spirit USES those responsibilities that we have – families … jobs … all those things – to HONE our ability to focus and be present.  It’s not either / or … it’s both / and.

And friends – THAT is what our priority should be because when we are focused on Jesus and his teachings … then we are GIVEN the gifts of the Spirit. We can’t say, “Ok, God … but FIRST …”  we need to be saying, “OK, God … you ARE first.”

To which God replies … then here are your rewards: love … joy … peace … forbearance … kindness … goodness … faithfulness … gentleness … and self-control.

May we all find the courage to make our relationship with God our top priority – not at the EXCLUSION of other priorities, but in order to ENHANCE our other priorities. And may the Spirit make it so. Amen.






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