Sermon November 9, 2014
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, Matthew 25:14-30
“Choosing is Magic”
An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by.
The employer was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials.
It was an unfortunate way to end his career. When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the employer handed the front door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.”
Ouch. As a parent, I try and teach my kids that what they do matters. I’m not obsessed with their grades, but I know that they are creating habits now that will last them a lifetime. They decide an assignment isn’t worth their time and think it’s ok to blow it off. I do the same thing all day long. I decide what gets my attention and my priorities. I decide where I will give my best energy. I decide when I’m going to show up and when I’m not. As a community, we choose where we will put our energy and what we will value.
Both of our scriptures ask us to make important choices today. Joshua gathers all the people. He recounts all that God has done for them. He reminds them that God has chosen them – not just once, but God continues to choose them each day and gives specific examples of God caring for them and keeping promises to them. He then says, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15) He knows that there are many choices and he is clear that he chooses to serve God.
Every day we make choices to serve God or not. Some of those choices seem small and insignificant, but they all matter. This week, my friend’s son turned 21. George lives with several conditions that make life difficult for him. He’s living in a group home and making his way in the world. His mom posted that to celebrate his birthday, they were going to serve others because many people had done so much for them in his 21 years. What a lovely choice to make. What a wonderful way to honor goodness.
The gospel lesson is yet another difficult parable about the kingdom of God. The early Christians believed that Jesus would return any day. Now, eighty years later, they are still waiting. Hmmm… does this sound familiar… waiting 40 years for the Promised Land? Waiting more than 80 years for Jesus to return? What are we supposed to do while we wait? We could knit a lot of blankets in that amount of time!
So often, when I read these difficult stories in Matthew, my response is to say, “Yuck!” and wish they would go away. They don’t go away. Instead, they call me back in and engage me in a struggle to discern why a story like this is part of our sacred text. When a wedding approached, guests would gather at the home of the groom. When the groom got close they would meet him on the path with torches and accompany him to the wedding banquet. Jesus is the groom in this text and he’s been quite delayed. Of course, those who are waiting fall asleep. There isn’t any judgment about that in the text. Instead the question seems to be, “What have you been doing all these years? Are you living the life that Jesus showed you? Are you choosing to serve and care for one another?”
This week I was struck by Lindsay Armstrong’s line about the bridesmaids who had plenty of oil, “With the Spirit’s guidance, [the wise], have built into their lives the disciplines and habits of a lifetime that engender hope and empower living as if citizens of the kingdom of heaven.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 p. 287) I love that! How about we build “hope engendering habits” into our days? What would it look like to live as people who hope? What are hope engendering habits?
I know that it doesn’t mean we ignore the painful realities of suffering all around us. It has more to do with confidence in the God is doing a new thing even now. Hope is making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after church to distribute to folks who are hungry. Hope is showing up to vote. Hope is making a pledge and for some of us, hope is increasing our pledge. When we fill out that pledge form, it is a way of saying, “I choose God. I am saying yes. I don’t even know how this will work, but I make this commitment and I trust in God’s goodness.” Hope grows out of God’s love, which is in everything.
Hope is seeing things as they are and then seeing them as they can be. Both texts ask for a commitment. Joshua asks us to commit to God. Matthew asks us to commit to living a life of faith. In order to genuinely make a commitment we have to believe that it will set us free rather than restrict us in some way. It is a myth that commitment limits us. There is freedom when we commit to another human being. Somehow in that commitment, we may be given the space to truly be who we are. Sherman Alexie used this line in his book The Toughest Indian in the World, “He loved her of course, but better than that, he chose her, day after day. Choice: that was the thing.” Choosing sets us free. It’s not a one-time event. It is why we pledge annually. We have this explicit opportunity each year to say yes to God. There is freedom in saying yes.
Ten years ago, I left a church that I loved in Oregon to direct an exciting new spiritual renewal program based in Albuquerque. For ten years I traveled and had some amazing experiences. I met gifted leaders and walked through some really exciting doors. I am grateful for that adventure. I took that job because I loved the church so much and wanted to give myself to it in a new way. I feel incredibly lucky that when it was time to move on, I was given the opportunity to serve this congregation. What I learned in those ten years is that my heart is in the life of the church. I am most alive when I am offering my gifts in a local congregation even when things are hard. My commitment to you is deep. We stand on the shoulders of many people who have gone before us and we have so much potential. As we address the financial struggles that plague us, I am clear that there is one way and that is through. There is life beyond our deficit. There is life beyond our empty rental property. There is life beyond every issue we will face. I choose to serve God together with you. I choose to say yes to the opportunities before us. I choose to face the struggles with you. I ask you to choose with me. Here is what I know… making this choice will set us free.
God has already chosen us. God says yes to us everyday. Now we have the opportunity to say yes to God. In our yes is freedom. In our yes is the way through.
I came across this quote twenty-five years ago and it has guided me over and over in my life. It is attributed to William Hutchison Murray, a Scottish mountaineer and writer:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no [one] could have dreamed would have come [t]his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” (from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, 1951)
Friends, I invite you to discover the magic of commitment with me. When we are bold enough to say yes to God, we will find that God has already said yes to us and the future is unlimited.