When I feel the least able to make a decision, when reasonably it seems that I am powerless… then is the moment above all that I need renew my choice for God! And it will be strengthened through prayer, through good friends (preferably but not solely Christians) and through worship in community. Only lies and deceit can take this power to choose from me.
So, a sermon on choice based on the almost concluding words of Moses in Deuteromomy. The sermon text is below the sermon audio. And the spoken sermon varies a little from the text – those exciting moments when I feel the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday February 16 2020; The Reverend Alan Neale; “Make a Choice… Now”
If you think you have heard enough about elections, and voting, and making choices… well, you (forgive the language)… “you ain’t heard nothing yet”.
For the rest of this year we will be pummeled, beleaguered, almost knocked senseless by talk of elections and choices.
It all seemed so much simpler for Robert Frost, ““Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
It all seems so more complex for one of favorite comedians, Minnesotan born Louie Anderson; one of whose classic lines is to present a choice between something incredibly wonderful or palpably awful and say, “Now give me a few minutes, let me think…”. When he received an Emmy he said, “My mother Stella Anderson had so much humanity… it dribbled onto me. I didn’t want it… but she gave it anyway.”
To elect, to choose is one of the marks of our humanity and yet we know (maybe for ourselves as well as others) that often the capability, the competence, the capacity is choose is limited if not altogether absent. There are financial, psychological, familial reasons why we (or others) find our power to choose is limited and, of course, ultimately we have a name for someone chronically, consistently, ceaselessly unable to choose… addict, the state… addiction. There are those who seem, in the most obviously abusive of relationships, unable to say “no”; and, most painful of ironies, even when they have broken away from such harmful liaisons they plough headlong into yet another state where the power to say “no” is minimal if present at all. (THAT I WAS NOT RIGHT – “EDUCATED” 259)
There are schemes, models, strategies offered to help us make good decisions, right choices, proper selections… but these remain frail skeletal structures if the heart and the mind are not strong and healthy.
Well, at the end of a lengthy sermon (the whole of the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, 34 chapters – it would have taken nearly two and a half hours to preach!) Moses is beginning to draw things together and make his concluding remarks.
Within five verses (Deuteronomy 30:15-20) Moses repeats one word four times… and the word is “TODAY”. Moses is struggling to place the people and each person in a context where today/the now is supreme, vital, essential and a context where neither a wretched memory of the past nor a facile expectation for the future can affect the decision made… today, now and, dare I add, every now… literally, choose now and from now on.
In its final form the Book of Deuteronomy is addressed to the post-exilic community, those who have returned to their homeland. But these so-called modern readers remember that the first hearers failed, they did not take root in a promised land but was whisked into exile like wind-blown chaff.
These modern readers, though mindful of failure in the past, must not allow that remembrance to cripple, disable, immobilize their capacity to made a choice for good today, in the present, the now.
But neither must a dependence upon some future promised land enfeeble, enervate, exhaust their capacity to make a choice for good today, in the present, the now.
The auditors of Moses’ sermon were challenged to depend primarily not on the promise of some glorious future, or some glorious Temple, or some glorious plan but rather to depend primarily on the One making the promise. To quote from a children’s hymn I learned years ago and have sung often since, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” “I do not know what lies ahead, the way I cannot see, but one stands near who’ll be my guide, he’ll show the way to me.”
As Paul writes to his beloved and troubled Corinthian church, he knows that they can use their power to choose to create woe and not blessing. They can exercise energy and time make choices that lead to brokenness and factionalism or they can choose God… be His servants, His field, His building.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks to those who can misuse choice, make bad decisions in matters of anger, fidelity and truth or… they can elect to commit to living the Spirit, not merely, the letter of the Law.
As many of you know, I marry many, many couples both inside and beyond church walls. Most of those couples have been married before… either in law or, what I can say, in effect. I believe every couple carries into their new marriage a sense of failure and guilt and shame about the past – but this need not impede them from making choice for good today. I believe nearly every couple carries into their mariage real hopes of a beautiful future free of conflict and hurt; such hopes can weaken the choice to love today if the labors of work are deferred to some future promised land.
The choice, the election, is laid out bluntly. Options presented do not include ‘maybe’ or ‘I’ll have to think about it’ or ‘I’ll give it a try.” As Yoda famously tells Luke Skywalker who has halfheartedly promised to “try”… “no. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is not try.”
If we choose to serve wealth instead of God, the poor suffer. If we choose to serve consumption instead of God, the environment suffers. If we serve pride or fear instead of God, both we and our neighbors suffer. Service of God alone must be the beacon that guides our journey through daily life, or else we face both spiritual and physical death. Choosing life means starting something (and sometimes that means starting something again and again… and again [as is often heard in the rooms of AA “it’s never too late to start your day over”)… often in a messy, difficult and holy relationship with God.
I want, I need to choose again life with God in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit; restricted neither by conscious or unreal failures of the past nor by some idyllic, paradisial future that will be handed to me on a plate.
And here is the really good news, good news worth celebrating and shouting about – all of this vocation to choose is in the context, the arena, the setting in which God has chosen me (and each of you) and that is unchanging, constant and eternal. John 15:16 “And Jesus said, You did not choose me… but I chose you.” How can our hearts not respond, “Hallelujah.”. AMEN