Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Choosing God

Two Roads Diverged by Wilma J. Lopez

Deut. 30: 15-20; Jeremiah 18: 1-11
Woodmont United Church of Christ, Milford, CT
Sept. 5, 2010

My oldest daughter has a standard phrase whenever she teases me and pushes my buttons: “I couldn’t resist, Mom!” Then I give her ‘the look’, she laughs at me, and so it goes.

One day I realized that she was making a choice, that we both were, and that we didn’t have to do the same old thing every time. She said, “Oh, I couldn’t resist, Mom!” I replied, “Oh yes you could. There were two paths in front of you. One was rather ordinary and plain, the other bright and shiny as a penny and you chose the bright and shiny one, you did!”

Every day such choices and possibilities exist before us. Some feel like old habits and ruts, others like a warm, comfortable piece of clothing, some like that bright, shiny penny, others seem empty of any kind of thrill or joy. If you think about it, our whole reality is created, moment by moment, by our choices. What we think, what we feel, what we do. What our attitude will be, what kind of mood we’re in, whether or not we’ll be annoyed or just amused by someone’s actions. And from these choices come a myriad of possibilities.

We’re convinced that we’ve been conditioned in some way to respond, to choose the way we always have. We were raised a certain way, with certain values, a mix of good and bad experiences. How can we change the past, we say, as a way of avoiding changing the present. Most of the time, we don’t like knowing that we’re co-creators of our reality. It would mean we would have to take some responsibility for shaping the way things are.

John Calvin, a 16th century theologian and Protestant reformer, believed that before the creation, God predestined the fate of the universe; that some of God’s creation was made for grace and salvation and some of it was not. Yet humankind was also given free will and the choice to reject that saving grace.

In the readings from both Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, God’s people are given a choice, between life and death, good and evil, blessings and curses, listening to God’s messenger or ignoring him at their peril. It hardly sounds like free will. Life or death? That sounds like a no brainer! And yet listen to the next verse in the reading from Jeremiah: “But they'll [God’s people] just say, 'Why should we? What's the point? We'll live just the way we've always lived, doom or no doom.”

Fear has never really worked as a coercive to get us to choose the next right thing. It’s also given the God of the Hebrew scriptures a really bad, undeserved rap. Actually, Deuteronomy and Jeremiah were written during and after the Babylonian exile, after the bad choices had been made, after the doom had happened. God’s people, in retrospect, realized that their stubbornness and their unwillingness to be shaped by God led to their destruction. And yet God continues to reach out to God’s people, again and again, offering life, blessing and goodness when we would rather die than surrender.

33 Chilean miners mark a month underground - NPR story

It’s words like surrender, obedience and repentance (change of heart) that make faith leave a bad taste in our mouths. In the words of the poet William Ernest Henley we like to think that we are the masters of our fate, the captains of our soul. We are when it comes to our attitude and our outlook on life; no one can choose that for us unless we give them that power. But resisting God will do us no good. Though we may be able to master our moments, God is the master of all space and time and we do indeed ignore that life-giving wisdom at our peril.

God is the master-potter, an artist working with an ever-changing medium called the creation. God is still discovering how to work with us earthen vessels, still shaping us, still creating us and creating through us. There are still possibilities untold: everlasting peace, the end of hunger, poverty, violence and oppression, a new heaven and a new earth but also destruction, torment, death, extinction. What will we choose? Which path will we take? What do our choices about how we live speak to the God to whom we still need to surrender?

Don Valente, son of Doña Rosa, at the Doña Rosa pottery studio in Oaxaca, Mexico

All it takes is one step: one step toward life, one step toward blessing, one step toward God. In any twelve step program one does not agree to do all twelve steps—just to begin with the first one. And that first step is all about surrender, that God knows better than we do how to end the insanity and how to begin to live. Author and Quaker Parker Palmer wrote that faith is less about taking a big leap and more about taking one more step. It’s all about doing the next right thing, whatever that may be.

What is the next right thing to do, the next step toward God, that you need to take in your life and in your life together? In what ways do you still resist God and God’s desire to be in relationship with you? Though God may not be necessary for a life lived for good, why not live with spiritual companionship that accepts you as you are and yet prods you off yourself? What are some habits, some old ruts that need to be replaced with spiritual practices such as service, study, prayer, and giving?

Our choices shape who we are and whose we are. Will we put ourselves into God’s hands and allow God to mold us and use us or will we resist and grow hard and unmalleable? When we choose God and God’s kingdom of compassion, justice and peace for all, we are shaped into a vessel that can be used toward that kingdom. Every time we choose God, that kingdom becomes more than a possibility. It becomes more and more visible, more and more a reality. And all it takes is just one step, one choice at a time.


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