Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Making Choices

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; John 6:56-69

We make choices all the time. Wise parents teach us how to make choices. I remember when our granddaughter Serena was about 3, her mother Jennifer would offer her two choices. She’d say, “Do you want an apple or a banana?” and “Do you want grilled cheese or peanut butter?” Now that she’s 8, she has learned that making choices is more complicated, but already she has the sense of what makes a good choice.

After Moses died, Joshua led the Israelites into the land God had promised, and they conquered the people who already lived in that land. Each family, descendants of Jacob, had their own territory, and they all were ready to settle down and live in the land. In this passage from Joshua, he is nearing death, and asking the people to renew their commitment to the God who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and into the land.

Many remembered the gods of Egypt. Each people group they conquered had its own gods. And many of the Israelites were choosing to worship those gods. Now Joshua is looking for a commitment, a covenant, to hold fast to the God they call YHWH, I am who I am. He models the choice-making. “Choose this day which deities you will serve, but as for my self and my family, we will serve YHWH, the Lord.”

The people responded as Joshua hoped they would, by making a commitment. “Far be it from us that we should serve other gods, because it was YHWH who brought us to this land and helped us defeat the people who lived here. Therefore, we also will serve YHWH, the Lord.”

We also must recommit to serving God. We must choose each day to put God first in our lives instead of second or tenth or fiftieth. We easily get distracted by other gods and idols: we focus on money and accumulating it and using it for stuff we want or think we want. We focus on gaining and maintaining control of people and situations in our lives. We focus on fear and worry, fearing anything we imagine might harm us. We focus on our anger at not getting what we want when we want it in the way that we want it. These alternate gods take us away from serving the One True God, and giving our love and service and devotion to that God.

Last spring, Gary and Nicole came with their daughters Madeline and Natalie to Orlando. Because I was not able to get to Michigan for their birthdays, I told them they could each choose something in a certain price range from the shop in their hotel. Natalie, age 3, looked around at a few things and quickly chose a set of four princess dolls. I suggested a few other things, but she hugged her dolls, and just watched her 6-year-old sister debate what she really wanted. Some items she left on the shelf and remembered, other items she had us hold for her. It took her a long time to make a decision, because poor decisions had consequences. In two weeks, she might not still like what she had chosen. In the end she chose something scientific.

In this last portion of the Bread of Life discourse, we hear some additional reaction to Jesus’ comments. Some of the disciples, from the larger group of followers, were struggling to understand. This is too difficult for us. The Greek has the sense of, “This is intolerable!” Now you’ve gone too far!” And they left, quit following him. They made their choice.

At that point, Jesus asked the Twelve, the closest disciples, if they intended to stay. He asked them, “You don’t wish to leave me, too, do you?” And the Twelve made their choice as well. “You have shown us the way to eternal life and we believe you are the Holy One of God.”

A friend recently told me this story. Tammy and Jonathon have two children, Katie who is 11, and Matthew who is six. Because Tammy works on Thursday, Jonathon takes Katie to her ballgame. Matthew, of course, has to go along. The other day, Tammy asked Matthew what he did during Katie’s game. “I play with my friends there.” And, “What does Daddy do during Katie’s game?” Matthew replied, “He usually sleeps in the truck.” “Hmm,” Tammy wondered, “If Daddy’s asleep, who’s watching you?” The answer came quickly and simply, “God.” Obviously, Matthew has made his choice.

The Apostle Paul recognizes that we all have the opportunity to choose God or choose the evil powers. The thing is, evil forces are really sneaky; that’s what makes them so evil. We think we are making good choices, only to learn later that they were not what God wanted for us. We judge others according to our own standards. We make assumptions without checking out the details or the motivations of others.

When my sons Gary and Dan were young, they became fascinated with motocross-style bikes. Gary built a simple ramp in the back yard with a piece of wood and a concrete block. Dorothy and Bob, their grandparents, my in-laws, visited and watched the boys riding their bikes and learning to do wheelies and jumps and so forth. One day she said, “Why can’t you just RIDE your bikes?” Yes, she cared about them, and feared that they would get hurt. But she would also have taken the joy of trying new things from them.

Paul gives us some resources as we go about making choices. Seek truth and righteousness – but not self-righteousness! Be ready at all times to proclaim Christ’s peace. Hold onto faith, and trust in Jesus. Let God help you resist evil and its temptations. Remember Jesus has died and been raised to defeat the evil one and rely on him in all things. Pray, and trust in God’s Holy Spirit. Pray also for those around you. And pray for me, your pastor, that I will boldly proclaim both the mystery and the good news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Each week, we renew our commitment. We share our faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed, or the Nicene Creed, depending on the season of the church year. When we say the same words so often they can become less meaningful, and we pay less attention to what we really are saying. So, I invite you to pay more attention to what we say today as we share the creed. How does the faith we proclaim help us make our choices?

Pay more attention to the Lord’s Prayer as well. In that prayer, we ask for God to help us avoid temptation and protect us from evil. And, we ask God to help us be like Jesus in all our encounters and in every moment of our lives. How does the Lord’s Prayer help you make choices?

Your challenge for this week is to pay attention to your choices. Which choices help you put God first? Which choices put God in a place other than first in your life?

Please pray with me. Holy God, we are only human, and so are our choices. Help us each day to make choices which put you first. Help us also to avoid making idols of those things which take us away from you. Amen


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