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Choices

choicesDeuteronomy 30: 15-20
1 Corinthians 3: 1-9
Introduction to the reading
Under the leadership of Moses, the Israelites have come to the edge of the Promised Land.  They have arrived at Moab, from where they can see the land which they are to enter and take for their own, the destination God has prepared for them.  The divine will is that they should prosper there.  
The long journey to this place has been rough going, the people often difficult and complaining.  But now, finally, here they are, and Moses has some final words for them, as if to say, God has promised you this land and here are the rules for living in it.  You can choose to live by those rules…or not.

Sermon
Paper or plastic?  Depending upon where you shop, you get that question every time you make your way through a grocery store check-out line.  Paper or plastic?

I don’t know about you, but I cringe and grumble to myself every time I see a cart full of those flimsy plastic bags that hold maybe five or six items.  And where will those bags end up?  Some people will reuse or recycle them, yes, but my guess is that most of them will end up in the trash.  They’ll go to a landfill where they won’t decompose, or they’ll be dumped in the ocean where sea animals will choke to death on them.  There is some hope, of course.  More people are taking their own reusable bags to the grocery, and some stores are discouraging their use by charging a small per bag fee.  But more often than not, it’s still that little question: paper or plastic?

The fact is that we are faced with these kinds of minor choices every day and rarely do we stop to think of consequences.  And sometimes there aren’t any really; it’s just a matter of preference.  What to wear; which book to read; what to watch on TV or where to watch.
    
Other times, well… it’s more like the paper or plastic question; there are consequences.  

  • A choice can make a statement.  Should I drive a hybrid?  Should I change my diet?  How shall I spend my free time?
  • A choice can have long range effect.  Where shall we send our children to school?  Where is this marriage headed; shall I abandon it or should we seek counseling?  Is it time for assisted living for my parent; where will that be; what can we afford?  

These kinds of decisions and choices require more discernment, for they declare a philosophy of life, an understanding of human responsibility in this world. They can affect relationships, well-being and future direction.  These are times for prayer, for taking your spiritual life seriously, for re-committing yourself to living and loving as Jesus taught.  These are times to reaffirm that God is present in each individual life and that we can choose to follow God’s way … or not.

Moses defined such situations in terms of life and death for the nation Israel.  He recalls all that the people have gone through to get to the Promised Land.  And he reminds them of God’s role in their journey: the creator of the world has voluntarily entered into a covenantal relationship with them – they are a chosen people; they have agreed to that covenant.  But they are also a free people, free to keep the covenant or opt out, and there are consequences, which you heard.  Moses says, “Choose life… love the Lord your God, obey him and hold fast.”

The ancient nation Israel is symbolic of humanity in general and at the same time, of individual human beings in particular.

In the reading from Corinthians, Paul is, once again, addressing the issue of disunity and rivalries in the congregation.  For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you … you are still of the flesh and behaving according to human inclinations.  It still matters more to them whose leadership they follow – Apollos or Paul or some other proclaimer – than understanding that they are all followers of Jesus Christ.  They don’t take the spiritual life seriously; they haven’t really made the commitment to live as Jesus taught, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Paul writing to the Corinthians sounds a lot like Moses talking to the Israelites.  Pay attention to whose people you are, to whom you owe your very life.  And Paul must have prayed, as Moses did for his people, that they choose life, loving the Lord God and holding fast.

From time immemorial, it has been the case:

  • that in almost every choice we make, in almost every decision we come to, there is an ethical element.  What does the most good?  What lines up with God’s commandment to love our neighbor or to honor our father and mother or to not covet what our neighbor has?  What reflects our commitment, as Christians, to follow in the way of Jesus?
  • that in almost every choice we make, in almost every decision we come to, there is a requirement from God that a particular choice be made; there is a commandment, and we know what that commandment is; we say it in one way or another every week.
  • that in almost every choice we make, in almost every decision we come to, there is hope for the best outcome.  God desires that we prosper in this life and the commandments God has given are for our own well-being.
  • that in almost every choice we make, in almost every decision we come to, there is forgiveness from God when we get it wrong.  Like those ancient Israelites, we are prone to wander, to complain, to see the downside.  God knows what we are inclined to do: take the path of least resistance, take care of ME first, go with the flow, sell out when it comes to standing up for the right, supporting the weak, defending the poor, taking care of the least among us.  But as we affirm in our baptism liturgy, “When we fall into sin, we must not despair of God’s mercy…for baptism is the sign and seal of God’s eternal covenant of grace with us.

Each one of us is called to make choices; every day presents an opportunity.  The words of an old hymn say it well:

Take my life and let it be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands and let them move At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be Swift and beautiful for Thjee.

Take my voice and let me sing Always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be Filled with messages for Thee.

Take my will and make it Thine; It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; It shall be Thy royal throne.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
February 12, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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