It’s All About Choices
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, Mt 25:1-13, 1Thess 4:13-18
A dear friend of mine works in Humans Resources for a mid-sized non-profit. Before this she worked for one of the large fitness corporations in the same capacity. Because she is an H.R. professional, she has to deal with the fallout from employee’s decision making. She tells stories of these employee decisions which range from cute to shocking and always ended with the line, “Life is all about choices!” I have often wanted to reduce that slogan to a bumper sticker and distribute it as widely as possible. It is appropriate for so many situations from hitting the snooze bar too many times in the morning to the conundrum of planning dinner at night. It has become a mantra in my house as well as Lucinda and I try to pilot two young men into adulthood. It is true for our spiritual lives as well as we try to discern who to follow and what to believe. There are now 43,000 Christian denominations based on a commentary in the most recent Christian Century journal. I found in that periodical a quote by Reformed theologian George Hunsinger, which really got me thinking. He said, “Nearly a thousand years after the Great East-West Schism, and five hundred years after the Reformation, no one seems to know how to reconcile unity with freedom.” (CC Nov 8, pg: 9) Seems like we have multiple spiritual choices we could make – let us seek God’s wisdom and guidance in prayer together as we explore our choices…
Our scriptures for this morning offer us some fodder to chew on as we delve further into our spiritual choices. Joshua is coming to the end of his earthly days and he wants to make sure that the people continue to follow after God. He details all that God has done for the people from the days of Abraham until that day. Joshua puts before the people a choice in verse 15, a choice that he has already made. The people answered that they too would serve the LORD. Yet, Joshua wanted to be certain that the people knew exactly what they were getting into; wanted them to make an informed decision, if you will. In verses 19 and 20 he states boldly what will happen to them if they fail in their obedience to the LORD. The people agree a second time to follow God and then Joshua made a covenant between God and the people at their holy place of Shechem. All was good for a while, as we can see if we jump to verse 31…yet over time, the covenanted people of God began to choose differently.
The New Testament readings both deal with the second coming of Christ, and some teachings about how we are to choose to wait for Jesus. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is answering a question that they had posed to him about what happens to both dead and living when Jesus comes back. Note that he uses the words “hope” and “encourage” in this section of scripture. He wanted them to choose both of these empowering words so that they could keep each other moving in the right direction as they waited for the second coming. In the Gospel of Matthew, the text leading up to what was read today has laid out four things for disciples to be cognizant of as they wait for this eventuality.
The first issue is that there will be false Christs – people who mislead others into thinking that the Messiah has returned. Christ’s return will be with glory, so anyone not so accompanied should be rejected. Secondly, the faithful need to be aware of human nature for war and suffering and of natural disasters as part of life. These are not harbingers of the end of times – rather they are to be expected. Third, the followers of Christ will undergo persecutions and need to remain faithful to Jesus. Finally, and this is where we pick up our text for today, they need to be ever vigilant for the coming of Jesus.
In the parable of the 10 bridesmaids, half of the group do not plan for the delay of the bridegroom and thus miss out on his return. Though they ultimately get to the wedding feast with their lamps, they are locked out of the festivities because they were not acting like they were prepared for any situation. They did not understand that the bridegroom (Jesus) comes at a time that is not within our knowledge, thus we must live as though Jesus could come back at any time. This is where it gets tough though, doesn’t it?! It’s been almost 2000 years of waiting already and look at all the generations that have come and gone awaiting the Messiah’s return. Look at the world as it is today…how many of those 43,000 Christian denominations are still planning and living as though the Messiah could walk through the door today or tomorrow or next week?
How is it that these scriptures are speaking into our lives today? If it is a truism that life is all about choices, and also true that our spiritual lives are about the choices we make, then what are we to glean from these God-inspired passages? We know from Genesis that God gave us free will – that is, we have the ability to choose God or not. As Joshua said to the Israelites, if you choose to not serve the LORD, then you still have to choose what gods you will serve. In their case it was the gods of Egypt or the gods of the Amorites whom the Israelites had just displaced from the “Promised Land”. The same is true of us. Just because we might choose to not serve our LORD, we will still choose to serve some lesser god or gods.
In the early 1960’s, an Anglican priest, J. B. Phillips, wrote a little book entitled, Your God is Too Small. In it he points out the ways in which humans have chosen limit God to a manageable and understandable size. Phillips describes these lesser gods as “resident policeman”, parental authority, “Grand old man”, “Meek-and-mild”, requiring absolute perfection from us, God the protector, God in a box, “managing director”, and many more. Many (if not most) of us along the way have held one or more of these conceptions of God. I know that I found the “parental authority” aspect of God off-putting at a certain point in my life, and replaced God with the scientific method for a few years as well.
Yet, over time and with years of adult living with all of its toil and suffering, with the issues of chance and the arbitrary way that the world often is encountered by us humans, I found these smaller gods did not suffice. There was another voice that stirred my soul, which made me wonder if there was another choice – another option. Phillips labels this God an “adequate God” – one that is large enough for us to live with and to interact with during our lives. It is the God of the Beatitudes, the God of beauty and of self-less love, the God of Exodus and Exile, the God of Genesis to Revelation and all the human interactions and sins in between. It is the God who was willing to become a helpless human infant to try to get our attention in one out of the way place, for all people and all time. It is the God of the Resurrection which once and for all defeated sin and death and ushered in the beginning of the kingdom of God – of a return journey to Eden. It is a God that is beyond my ego and thus my comprehension, who seeks to be in relationship with me from my first breath throughout eternity. Now that is a clear choice…a limited God verses an all encompassing God!
When we choose to create God in our own image, we find a god that is not good for much more than sitting on a shelf and being forgotten. When we choose to discover the God of the Universe, then we have a life-long journey of discovery of who we truly are and whose we are. All of life is about choices – my dear friend is right about that. When we choose the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who sent both Son and Holy Spirit to guide us and to never abandon us – then we choose to continue in the long line of people who were prepared to wait for the second coming. We choose an unlimited God who is indeed more than adequate for all the complexities and messiness of life. Each day we encounter many choices…but only one of those can truly bring life. Thanks be to God that it is never too late to choose The Way, The Truth and The Life. Amen.