In his 1996 book, “First Things First,” written with Roger and Rebecca Merrill, Stephen R. Covey entitles Section Two, the longest section: “The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.” Through the book and in the worksheets that accompany it, readers have the opportunity to think about our most important goals and guiding principles. The authors then explain how building our lives on the things that matter most to us will enable us to live the way that we want, love the way that matters, learn the things that we yearn to learn and leave the legacy the kind of legacy that we long for. All these things are possible if we know what “The Main Thing” is – and we are able to keep “The Main Thing the Main Thing.”[i]
Where are we on the love meter? Are we on the low end – we love our families and those who love us – or are we higher up where we love people that we haven’t met? Are we on the extreme love end where we love our enemies and those who have harmed us, or those we love. Where we fall on the love meter matters because it shows where we are on faithfulness to God who loves us.
(Mark 12) Jesus is clear about LOVE being the main thing. When asked what are the most important commandments, he answered that Loving God is first and Loving neighbor is second. This is the SHEMA – Deuteronomy 6:5-6 – and it shows up over and over in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament as the foundation for living in relationship with God – “The Main Thing.” It shows up through the LAW as the foundational principle on which the laws are based. It shows up with the PROPHETS telling Israel that God desires their love, their faithful devotion above sacrifices. It shows up in the WISDOM LITERATURE too. Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and is a running theme through the Psalms – loving God and loving neighbor is the path that leads to life. What we sometimes think of as a Christian understanding is rooted in the Jewish tradition, and adopted by the followers of Jesus – who was a Jew and whose earliest followers were Jews.
LOVE as “The main thing” is a foundation in other religions as well as Judaism and Christianity. Islam instructs its followers to love God above all, and care for neighbor is another primary belief. Buddhism teaches compassion for all living beings. The idea of LOVE as “The Main Thing” links many of the world’s religions. And how well we love, whether we are talking about loving God or loving others, shows us where faithfulness to God lies among our priorities.
LOVING is not as easy as we think it should be. Partly because the intention to love others isn’t foremost in our minds. Partly because we find it challenging to love others when it is most natural to focus on ourselves. Perhaps partly because our focus is demanded in so many different places that it is hard to FOCUS on loving others – and it doesn’t happen without serious intentionality. For a series of reasons, loving God first and loving others just isn’t easy.
“Love is something we only master in moments,” author and journalist Krista Tippett explains.[ii] It can’t be a vague idea of our personal philosophy – it has to go on our ACTION ITEMS for each day. Otherwise loving the strangers around us, those who are our neighbors, will be pushed aside – replaced by things that are perhaps more pressing, but far less important. But when we do intentionally consider the well-being of others, it enhances our human community.
OPRF Yearbook. You may have heard that the OPRF Yearbook is being reprinted this year. It was printed earlier – and then discovered that a hand sign that used to mean “OK” and is now used for white supremacy, was used by some students in printed photos. There was some chattering in social media on whether or not this was necessary. The decision to reprint was ultimately made because seeing that photo would have done harm to the students, parents and community members who would see it. We can no longer use the sign that used to mean “OK” – and we need to call it out, or educate those who don’t know how it is being used today. It does harm – and so should be avoided.
Hate Vandalism on the concrete wall. There was another example in our community this week of hate vandalism sprayed on concrete walls that many commuters saw twice a day. The community was hurting every minute that it was allowed to be publicly assaulting us. And the village acted quickly to paint over it – to remove what was doing harm.
The instruction to “Do No Harm” is a good first step when we consider how we may love our neighbors. This is complicated – and it isn’t easy – but it is important enough to demand our attention and to make this a priority for each day.
Steps to make LOVE “The Main Thing”
Making Love “The Main Thing” isn’t as simple as finding a theme song or nifty slogan, even if Nike’s “Just do it!” does come to mind as an imperative. To love is a decision made moment by moment – and it takes practice. (EXPAND and recircle) To help us remember two basic steps I will talk about them as KNOW and SHOW.
KNOW. It helps if we know something: basic truth. Are you ready? “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Ps 24:1 KJV. 1-2
God claims Earth and everything in it, God claims World and all who live on it. - The Message
Knowing that God is the one who created all that is, and that we are God’s people helps us keep things straight in our heads. Observing the practice of morning and evening prayer is one way that God’s faithful have kept this truth in mind. More important that checking email one more time or checking in on Facebook is checking in with our Creator. It puts many things in perspective when we focus on God.
SHOW. Most of the content of the Epistles, or Letters, found in the New Testament are written to the early Christian communities to encourage them in their faith. Again and again, Paul and the other writers encourage the people following Jesus to live in ways that SHOW the love of God. In our reading from the First Epistle of John, the author makes a strong case that if we aren’t showing love, God isn’t as work in us. For the world to know God’s love, we have to be EXHIBIT A. Mutual love is a RESPONSIBILITY for Christians. So yes, anyone who leaves a church because of bickering and general nastiness complaining that “They just aren’t good Christians” could be justified. If God isn’t a part of the church – if LOVE isn’t a part of the church – then the church isn’t of God. Like Ginger and Lee bickering in the kitchen in that church in Tennessee, people don’t want to be around a church where general nastiness or the spirit of criticism is alive and well. Not just because it is unpleasant – but because it is NOT OF GOD!
INSTEAD, the church is to love one another. And ABIDE in love – be persistent in love, to be a different model of human community. Even “The Beloved Community” where we love each other and value each other FOR our differences instead of “in spite of” them. As one communion liturgy says, “The more difference we bring, the more fully we experience the presence of Christ in our midst.” LOVE is a way of being – a commitment – not a feeling. And when we demonstrate love even to those who have harmed us, people notice.
People noticed the non-violent resistance of the Civil Rights movement. They noticed on March 7, 1964 when John Lewis, already a seasoned activist, was beaten in the head on Bloody Sunday by a trooper with a club – and no one returned violence for that. Part of the training for protesters was to think of the other person – even when the other person was hurting them. They would try to appeal to the goodness inside each person – and never give up on them. They would put themselves in the shoes of their oppressor and love them fiercely, no matter what.[iii] Since that time, John Lewis has become a major voice for Civil Rights and justice issues and sits in the House of Representatives. In reflecting on the policy of non-violent resistance, he said that it was imagination that made it possible to follow that path. What if the beloved community were already a reality, the true reality, and he simply had to embody it until everyone else could see?[iv] John Lewis says that love exposed “the absurdity of de-humanization in the name of race and (Slow this down) broke – its—back.” [v](Emphasis mine) Love has some serious power friends. Power to change things mightily.
Mamie Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, was asked if she harbored bitterness toward the two white men, or toward white men generally, for the brutal murder of her son in 1955. This is what she said:
It certainly would be unnatural not to (hate them), yet I’d have to say I’m unnatural….The Lord gave me shield, I don’t know how to describe it myself…I did not wish them dead. I did not wish them in jail. If I had to, I could take their four little children – they each have two – and I could raise those children as if they were my own and I could have loved them…I believe the Lord meant what he said, and try to live according to the way I’ve always been taught.[vi]
People are looking for community – LONGING for loving community. That’s why we need to SHOW the world – what Love looks like. Even when it’s hard. IF we KNOW that God is the creator – and take the time to KNOW God as our Creator – then we can SHOW that love to the world. If we do, we will be well on the way to making Love The Main Thing.
Where are we on the love meter? Not as far towards the loving side as we could be – as we WILL be if we work on it. It isn’t easy – but it is important. It’s the MAIN THING for Jesus. And if we can KNOW God and SHOW the world what love looks like, even when it hurts, we will be moving in the LOVE direction!
[i] Stephen R Covey, A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First: To Live, To Love, To Learn, To Live a Legacy. Free Press, 1996. (Reprint edition)
[ii] Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. (New York: Penguin Books, 2017) 103.
[iii] Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. (New York: Penguin Books, 2017) 111.
[v] Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. (New York: Penguin Books, 2017) 112.
[vi] Quoted in Studs Terkel, Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession. (New York: New Press, 1992) 21-22.