Choose Life!

Sermon from February 16, 2014

ובחר בחיים
Qlyyabn lʻbn
kh-lee YOB-ben luh-BEN;
“Choose Life!”

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.
30:16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in God’s ways, and observing God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
30:17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,
30:18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,
30:20 loving the LORD your God, obeying God, and holding fast to God; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

“Choose Life!”

OK, disclaimer. I started this sermon Tuesday. It didn’t seem to want to come together, so yesterday, I switched texts, and the dust hasn’t yet settled, so please bear with me!

In preparation for today, I was looking back over some old sermons, because I’m pretty sure I have preached on one of today’s lectionary texts in the past. I wasn’t going to re-run the same thing, but I was curious to know what I had said about it. However, since my sermons are saved on 3 different computers, one of which doesn’t work anymore, and I wasn’t sure when I might have preached it or what I might have titled it, I really didn’t know for certain what I was looking for, so I went through quite a few, looking for the right one. It turns out I apparently preach the same thing almost every time I preach! This may come as no surprise to YOU, but it did to me, because no matter what the text, the same basic, core elements show up in what I write, over and over again. Also, I tend to not remember what I’ve said until I look back at what I wrote – that whole process is fairly painful a lot of the time, sort of like going back through your elementary school yearbooks, or seeing yourself on video, or hearing a recording of your own voice.

This was kind of a big revelation to me.

I think what I believe can be reduced down to 4, maybe 5 things:

• There is a God; it’s not me, and it’s not you, either
• Nobody ever said it would be easy, but we’re never alone through anything

• Jesus/God/Holy Spirit is forever turning things upside down – paradox rules.
• Good trumps Evil, Light trumps Dark, Life trumps Death – every time.

Anyway, while the sermon today is about choices, and choosing life, it’s not about being “pro-choice” in the current political sense of the phrase. And while it sounds overly simplistic, like some prosperity gospel (Choose LIFE! Follow God, be blessed; follow something else/other gods, be cursed,) it’s deeper than that and I think actually relates to where we are right now as a church.

As Thompson pointed out a week or two ago, we don’t do much Old Testament stuff here at QQ. So many rules, regulations, bloodshed, complicated history, and more often than not, the OT is the part of the Bible that has been brandished about as a weapon to bash people up and be hurtful.

But this is not that.

This is Moses, talking to the Israelites, conveying what God wants them to know about their upcoming life in the Promised Land. It’s a second Covenant, renewing God’s relationship to the people he has claimed. That’s a big, big theme in the OT – God showing us that God is true to God’s word. God redeems us, saves us, plucks us out of the pits of our own hell over and over again.

The scripture says:

“If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in God’s ways, and observing God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess”

While these are specific instructions to a specific people, overall, more generally, they refer to keeping a right relationship with God. And it’s all about the relationship, isn’t it? The relationship we have with God, and the relationship we have with each other. The requirements for our relationship with God weave through everything, through all the fabric of time, generations and generations of us. Unchanging.

But these “requirements” don’t just hover above us and stop there; they sift down into everything we do. ALL the choices we make, large and small.

That’s kind of overwhelming if you get bogged down in it. So don’t go there – don’t become obsessed with what color socks God wants you to put on; aim for the balance that’s somewhere between the lines. Things that are relational, things that matter in being the best version of yourself that you can be.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the upcoming changes in our staffing mean for the church, what they mean for me. I do know that options abound and choices must be made, even though they are largely gaps and blank spots right now.

You know how it’s often said of women in high positions in fields that are predominantly staffed with males that they have to work twice as hard as men just to be considered on the playing field? I think that’s true of churches as well. We certainly are not perfect as a church, and goodness knows we don’t do everything by the book. Yet, here we are, two descriptions of us – which do you see?

  • A vibrant group of people who have found acceptance, a spiritual home, and a transforming mission in a uniquely beautiful place that enables us to have countless opportunities to do new, creative things to make the world a better place, to the glory of God.

OR

  • A beautiful old MONEYPIT building with no parking lot and not quite enough people to keep its head above water all the time.

We’re both. Flip sides of the same coin, I’m afraid! Is the glass half empty or half full? How you see it is a choice.

What you do about it is a choice.

Either way you decide brings about change.

Changes and growth can be hard to deal with. Nothing stays the same. We know this, but a lot of the time we want things to be the same as they’ve always been. I believe with every fiber of my being that God is constantly doing new things. I suspect God is doing something new even here, now. It’s not clear to me how big the scope of it is – I can’t back up far enough to make it out, and pretending to know after seeing only a fraction of it is like trying to base global warming on a decade of weather, instead of patterns spread over hundreds and thousands of years.

I don’t know what God has in mind for us as an individual church, or for an entire denomination that seems to be in early stages of schism, if the Arkansas-Democrat story has it correct.

I don’t know how to “save” us.

But I don’t see how we could possibly go wrong if we choose LIFE by doing what John Wesley stated:

“Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.”

At every turn, wherever we can, be it hard, easy, simple, complicated – take John Wesley’s covenant prayer to heart:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

For my Episcopalian heart, there is a third guiding prayer, by Thomas Merton:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Oh, dear Lord, three things I pray, these things, these three things.  In these days of discernment this is my prayer for myself, and for my church.

LENT is coming, that season where we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. And after pondering that, we arrive at the paradox we call Easter, through which by death Jesus conquered death.

I stumbled across this poem bye Edwina Gateley the other day, from her book, There Was No Path So I Trod One (1996, 2013). It’s a reminder that our Christian calling is to say no to death in all its many forms. We can do better. And we do better by saying yes to life.

We are called to say yes.
That the kingdom might break through
To renew and to transform
Our dark and groping world.

We are called to say yes.
We stutter and we stammer

To the lone God who calls
And pleads a New Jerusalem
In the bloodied Sinai Straights.

We are called to say yes
That honeysuckle may twine
And twist its smelling leaves
Over the graves of nuclear arms.

We are called to say yes
That children might play
On the soil of Vietnam where the tanks
Belched blood and death.

We are called to say yes
So that nations might gather
And dance one great movement
For the joy of humankind.

We are called to say yes
So that rich and poor embrace
And become equal in their poverty
Through the silent tears that fall.

We are called to say yes
That black may sing with white
And pledge peace and healing
For the hatred of the past.

We are called to say yes
That the whisper of our God
Might be heard through our sirens
And the screams of our bombs.

We are called to say yes
To a God who still holds fast
To the vision of the Kingdom
For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes
To this God who reaches out
And asks us to share
His crazy dream of love.

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