Come home to Calvary
Last Sunday, I was with our Confirmation Class upstairs in the Gilchrist Conference Room. We’ve been meeting every Sunday morning at 9:00am to talk about faith and God and church. And the topic that morning was sin and brokenness, so we started with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
To me, the sign of a good confirmation class is not having all the right answers, but being willing to ask all the hard questions. So, among other things we wondered together, why did God even put a tree in the garden that they couldn’t eat from?
While we may never know the actual answer, I do think this tells us something very important about what ancient people considered as one of the basic attributes that make us human, and that is the ability to choose.
God has imbued us, God’s creation, with free will. We have a choice and that is something we have had since the very beginning of creation.
Now, in recent months, a woman’s right to choose has been severely compromised in our country.
Our denomination, the PC(USA) has been a pro-choice denomination for over forty years. And while the issue of abortion has long been politicized in this country, part of the reason the church has chosen to be pro-choice is because of good, sound theology.
Now, there are reasons beyond that, like issues of justice and access and healthcare. But theology is a part of it, too.
You see, part of what makes us human is the ability to choose what we do with our lives and with our bodies. And to take that choice away is to dehumanize others.
People will make decisions that we disagree with. People will make decisions that we would never make for ourselves. But people should have the ability to make that choice, nonetheless.
If we could prevent Adam and Eve from eating of that forbidden fruit through some time/space machine, I’m sure we would.
“Don’t do it! It’s a mistake!” But it is their right to choose to do so anyway.
And we can’t nor should we take that choice away. It is a right that was given to them by God upon creation.
So choice is central to what makes us human.
But as some choices get eroded away in our country, others seem to be multiplying on all fronts.
For instance, international travelers were asked what surprised them the most about being in the United States. And one of the answers that kept coming up was the number of cereal options at the grocery store. Apparently, no other country has so many brands and flavors and boxes upon boxes to choose from!
In our everyday lives, we as Americans are often inundated with too much choice. It is said that “the average person makes 35,000 decisions every day. What to eat for breakfast? What shirt to wear? Which door to go through? Where to go for lunch?” I’m sure some of you are making that decision right now as I preach!
And again, choice is part of what makes us human. But when we have to make that many decisions day in and day out, it leads to something called “decision fatigue.” “Decision fatigue … is a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions.” …
Doctors today say that we have probably all experienced decision fatigue
since the pandemic which added “new layers of complexity to the daily choices we are confronted with.”
Too many little choices can make it harder for us to make the big, important decisions of our lives. Knowing this, some leaders and entrepreneurs, in order to lessen the impact of decision fatigue, have cut out some everyday decisions, like what they wear.
For example, Dr. Dre wears the same shoes every day; Barack Obama wears only gray or blue suits. Mark Zuckerberg regularly sports a gray t-shirt, and Steve Jobs became famous for his black turtlenecks. These people made the choice to stop choosing what they wear every day.
And while I know that that is unthinkable for many of us, it is worth considering how we might cut out some small decisions in our lives, so that we are better prepared to make the big ones.
In today’s scripture lesson, Joshua, who takes on the leadership of the Israelites following Moses, presents a choice to the people. Is it gonna be God, or is it gonna be everything else? Because it can’t be both.
Choosing God means letting go of all the other lower-case “G” gods in our lives.
Remember the first commandment? You shall have no other gods before me which ultimately is what Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew passage we read today.
Jesus is being tempted in the wilderness and is offered all the kingdoms of the world, but Jesus chooses instead to worship only God – not things, not power, not riches, but God alone.
I believe at some point in our lives, we all made a similar decision. Joshua says, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” And for you to be here on a Sunday morning, when you could be doing anything else, tells me that you, too, have made that choice.
And perhaps that choice can help us make a multitude of other decisions as well, helping us with the decision-fatigue that so many of us face day in and day out.
Now this doesn’t mean that we no longer have to use our brains, and follow mindlessly – that’s a cult or a mob. We, on the other hand, are followers of the way of Jesus, gifted with brains to make wise and critical decisions, and gifted with hearts to love deeply.
Choosing to follow Jesus will make some decisions really easy. Other decisions will stay complicated, but love will guide us as we make them.
Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar writes, “What this God requires is a life-commitment that will impinge upon every dimension of public life—social, political and economic.”
In these coming months, we will be making some big decisions. We will decide how much to pledge to Calvary; we will decide who to vote for and how to vote on certain measures; we will decide how to give thanks and how to observe some of our high holy days.
And in all of this, we might ask, “What would Jesus do?”
Do you remember those bracelets that were all the fad in the 90s? WWJD? They said. They were supposed to be a reminder to those who wore them to act in a way that personified Jesus’ teachings from the Gospels.
The phrase is attributed to Charles M. Sheldon who, among other things fought for civil rights, religious ecumenism, peace, and well, prohibition—so he didn’t get it all right.
In the case of What Would Jesus Do?, Jesus would definitely drink the wine.
But what would Jesus do? And how would Jesus vote? And what car would Jesus drive? And what cereal would Jesus buy?
To be honest, I think Jesus was probably more radical and less put-together than any of us sitting in this sanctuary would be comfortable with.
He didn’t drive; he never owned a home; he never bought cereal from a grocery store; he didn’t apply to college or high school or middle school; he didn’t have bills to pay for or a place to lay his head at night, and he didn’t have to decide whether to upgrade to the new iPhone.
In so many ways, the whole idea of WWJD just doesn’t translate because the world Jesus lived in was so different from ours. But what hasn’t changed is our call to love God and love people. What remains the same is our mission to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.
The Rev. Dr. Janet H Hunt, a Lutheran minister in Illinois, asks a good question:
“Do I choose or am I chosen?”
Friends, ultimately, we are all first and foremost chosen by God.
She writes, “And so I am called to wonder every day as I begin a new day:
Will I choose to live in kindness or will I let old hurts taint my responses to those around me?
Will I close my office door or will I respond to the cry of pain in the outer office? Or on the other end of the phone line? Or in our neighborhood and beyond?
Will I work for justice in the world or will I cower in my fear that I might offend?
Will I entrust to God a portion of what I have been given or will I hoard it all away in fear?
Will I begin and end my day in prayer or will I try to go it alone?
And on and on…
…with Joshua and [so many others] we do choose ‘who we will serve — who it is we will follow.’ This being so, I thank God every day that God made the ultimate choice for me first. Because of this, all of my choices every day are made under a benevolent cloud of grace.
Indeed, we have before us now a central question for people of faith and so it is so vitally important to keep it before us. For while God did choose us, you and I are called to choose how we will live out the joy of having been so chosen.
Shall I, shall we, live it in hope and love and promise? Or shall we not?”
Friends, rest assured in knowing that you have already made the most crucial decision of your life, and that is to love God by following Jesus and loving your neighbor.
All others flow can from that and from knowing that we were first loved and chosen by God.
As Mary Oliver reminds us, through the poem I read in the welcome, we have but one wild and precious life. Perhaps we need not fill it with stuff or busy-ness or riches or power. Perhaps we need not worry and fret and be anxious. Perhaps we might simply just take the time to notice, to pray, and to love.
Joshua 24:1-15 (16-26)
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness for a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then King Balak, son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not laboured, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.
‘Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’
But Joshua said to the people, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, we will serve the Lord!’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ The people said to Joshua, ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.’ So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’