Corona Sabbath 38 Second Sunday of Advent PEACE Reflection Text

These weeks when we cannot gather in person for Sunday worship, Lakewood United Church of Christ is providing brief weekly sabbath programs for you to listen to on your own or with others in your social isolation group. They will be posted on Friday so that you can schedule your sabbath time to suit your schedule and your spiritual inclinations. We hope these programs are of spiritual support to you in these difficult times.

The post this week focuses on the theme for the second Sunday of Advent – peace.

This post includes a scripture reading from Sue Sherwood, a reflection from Rev. Kim Wells and a music video by Hilton Jones. We hope this post helps to feed your spirit in these difficult times as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

You are invited to find a quiet space, inside or outside. Light a candle. Take a look around you. Breathe. Life-giving breath. Be present.

You may begin with this reading:

Bright God of Advent:
Blaze in our darkness.
Incinerate our iniquity.
Light up our road.

Riddle the ashes
of our desires.
Rekindle in us
your justice and love.
Ruth Burgess

When you are ready, start the video/audio below.

END TEXT

Here is what I will say on the video-

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to verses from Psalm 85 that remind us of God’s dreams for peace. In this Advent season, we seek to rekindle our dreams of peace.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Yahweh, favor your land once again
and restore the fortunes of Israel;
forgive the guilt of your people
and cover all their sins.

I will listen to what you have to say, Yahweh –
a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for your people and your friends
so long as they don’t return to their folly.
Your salvation is near for those who revere you
and your glory will dwell in our land.
Love and faithfulness have met;
justice and peace have embraced.
Fidelity will sprout from the earth
and justice will lean down from heaven.
Yahweh will give us what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Justice will march before you, Yahweh,
and peace will prepare the way for your steps.

Reflection from Kim

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet: righteousness and peace will kiss each other. What a beautiful verse. It points to the future with hope. What a beautiful dream for the future.

But there is another translation of this verse: “Love and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced.” The verbs are in the past tense. It is a reference to something that God has done in the past.

In one version, the verbs are translated in the in the future tense: Will meet. Will kiss. And in another translation, the verbs are translated in the past tense: Have met. Have embraced. Which is right? Given the ancient documents involved, we may not know exactly. Both may have validity. And I believe in this Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, both versions speak to us.

This is a season to look back. To look back to the life and ministry and teachings of Jesus. To look back to how his life has impacted the human history. To look back to the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus. It is a time to look back and feel grounded in the words and traditions that mark this season. The translation of the Psalm in the past tense invites us to look back and see what God has done. To think about when love and faithfulness have met and justice and peace have embraced. Certainly in the life of Jesus. And, in more recent years, I see this meeting in the ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. among others.

The translation in the future tense is also important this season because Advent is by nature oriented to the future. We are anticipating the advent of something. We are getting ready for something. We are expectant about what will happen. We think about what the ministry and life of Jesus mean for today and for the future. And as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, and the birth of the Prince of Peace, we do so with hope for the peace that Jesus will bring. As we look around us, we long for the time when love and faithfulness will meet, and righteous and peace will kiss. Oh how beautiful that will be! We ache for the peace that we see promised in Jesus to be manifest among us today.

Peace always has a past and a future dimension. If you try to pursue peace without looking back, much is missed. There are things to learn from the past. There are often things in the past that need to be examined and acknowledged with honesty. Our country is in that process dealing with the legacy of racism. Peace involves the healing of the past.

But peace also has a future orientation. Peace invites us to see new visions and dream new dreams about how things can be. We don’t have to stay stuck where we are. We don’t have to let ourselves be controlled by the past. We can be looking to a different future.

Love and faithfulness meeting, justice and peace embracing. These images are stirring. They are comprehensive in scope. They are energizing. They are soaring. They are alluring. They are soothing. They reflect back and they shine forward. And isn’t that what this season is really all about? A time to dream again. To inject the mundane with some magic? To embrace the lengthening darkness which gives the stars more time to shine?

This is a season to rekindle our dreams of peace. To imagine a world where another young black man does not get killed at the Food Max on 18th Avenue South. To imagine a world where no child goes hungry. To imagine a world with more equitable economic systems and fewer guns. To imagine a world in which people resolve their differences with words not weapons. To imagine a world that is sustainable and healthy?

What are your visions of peace? What does the meeting of love and faithfulness look like to you? What does justice and peace embracing look like to you?

In this precious holy season, let us look back seeking peace and let us look forward dreaming peace. Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 37 First Sunday of Advent HOPE Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath.  This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19.    We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to a scripture lesson from the gospel of Mark.  This is teaching is about the end times but it is also about every time and our time.  Traditionally Advent begins with an apocalyptic bang to jolt us into remembering that the humble birth of Jesus was unexpected and cataclysmic.  

Mark 13:24-37

But in those days, after that time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will fall from the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then the angels will be sent to gather the chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Promised One is near, right at the door.  The truth is, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it – neither the angels of heaven, nor the Only Begotten – no one but Abba God.  Be constantly on the watch!  Stay awake!  You do not know when the appointed time will come.

“It is like people traveling abroad.  They leave their home and put the workers in charge, each with a certain task, and those who watch at the front gate are ordered to stay on the alert.  So stay alert!  You do not know when the owner or the house is coming, whether at dusk, at midnight, when the cock crows or at early dawn.  Do not let the owner come suddenly and catch you asleep.  What I say to you, I say to all:  stay alert!”

Reflection from Kim

I am captivated by the image of waiting at the front gate.  On alert.  Until further notice.

First of all, we hate to wait.  Absolutely hate it.  I mean people see a line at the store and put their item back and leave, planning to return to the store when there is no line.  People pay extra to avoid the lines at theme parks.  Maybe this hating to wait is an American thing.  We went to an art exhibition in Mexico City and the people were lined up out the door, down the block, and around the corner.  And they were talking and visiting and buying street food and enjoying the day, eagerly anticipating the exhibit.  It is hard to imagine that in America. 

Wait at the front gate.  For how long?  In this scripture, there is no sense about how long the waiting will go on.  How long would I be able to remain alert?  I don’t know that I would make 5 minutes, let alone hours, days, months, or years.  There is that spiritual, “God is Never Late, He is Always Right on Time.”  Well and good, but what time is that?  We don’t know.  A reminder that we are not in control.  It’s unsettling to think about waiting with no schedule.  Waiting for something that may occur in a moment or in a millennium. 

Watch at the front gate.  Alert.  I imagine most of us would be on our phones and who knows what could be passing by at the gate.  Many of us are not even attuned to the trees and their cycles which are happening right in front of us.  How alert would we be watching at the gate?For what?  We don’t exactly know.  

Poised at the gate.  This waiting that we are told of seems fraught with intensity, fear, and longing.  It seems exciting but also scary.  Kind of like a ride at a carnival.  I remember going on a ride at the State Fair when our first child was very young.  He looked petrified through the whole ride and we felt badly having taken him on the ride.  We thought it would be fun.   But as soon as we got off the ride, he begged excitedly, “Gen!  Gen!”  He wanted to go again!  In these verses preparing us for Advent there is anxiety as well as expectation and hope.  

Waiting at the gate.  Alert.  Are we waiting for a cataclysm?  Global warming, a pandemic, police killings.  Sounds pretty cataclysmic.  And in the midst of the cataclysm, a blessing.  The presence of God.  The redeeming power of love.  Breaking in.  Maybe our hopes and dreams are coming to fruition.  But are we paying attention?  Alert?  At the gate?  

Advent is a season of attentive waiting and watching.  No one was expecting a baby born in a stable to be a game changer.  Yet, here we are, getting ready to celebrate his birthday again over 2,000 years later.  

Watch at the front gate.  Alert.  Maybe this pandemic will force us to stand at the gate and watch.  Wait.  Attentively.  Leaving the phone inside on the table.  So that we don’t miss Divine Love, God, coming to bless the world through Jesus and through us.  Amen. 

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 36 GIVE THANKS! Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath.  This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19.    We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to a scripture lesson from I Thessalonians 5:13b-19.  This is teaching offered to a new faith community community that is under attack.  The writer of Thessalonians is trying to keep the community grounded in something greater than their current troubles.  

I Thessalonians 5:13b-19 (from the NRSV) 

Be at peace among yourselves.  And we urge you, brothers and sisters, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.  See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the spirit.  Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

Reflection from Kim

Many years ago, there was an older couple in the church and one of them had dementia.  They were living independently in their own home.  Numerous times when things went awry, I was called to come over and try to straighten things out, calm things down.  Out of love and compassion, I willingly went though I did not feel that I was of much practical help.  Maybe just knowing there is someone who will come over and who cares is some consolation. 

Some years later, my father developed dementia, and then my mother.  I looked back on those experiences with the older couple and I was filled with gratitude.  Those experiences and encounters had helped me to become more familiar with this disease.  They helped me to know what to expect.  I had some background to help prepare me for what I faced with my parents. 

In dealing with the older couple, I had felt largely ineffectual.  But later I saw it wasn’t about what I could do for them.  It was about what I was receiving from the experience that I had no idea I would need.  I was being given a gift but I couldn’t see it until much later. 

When we think about the ministry of Paul, who is credited with writing the letter to the Thessalonians, we are told that he faced many challenges in his life. He was repeatedly imprisoned.  Driven out of town.  Threatened.  He endured the hardships of hunger and being exposed to the elements and the stormy seas.   Finally, it is thought that he was martyred.  Spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ was by no means a bed of roses for Paul!

Just as an aside, I wonder how many people would be preachers today if they faced the same kinds of obstacles and attacks! 

So, given the many perils faced by Paul, we hear with greater poignancy the words,  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”  And in this season of Thanksgiving season, we focus on “give thanks in all circumstances.”

In all circumstances.  In this long and dismal year, 2020, we are in some circumstances, aren’t we?  Would we ever have believed, just a year ago, that it would not be safe to eat Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends?  Would we ever have thought that people the world over and next door would be dying from a new virus?   Would we have imagined quarantine, lock down, masks, physical distancing?  A disruption to our every day activities like going to the movies or eating in a restaurant?   What about the deep economic impact of this virus – where the choice sometimes literally comes down to your money or your life?  And what about the extreme stress to the healthcare community?   To the doctors and nurses and staff who are caring for all of the people with covid as well as the people with everything else that needs medical attention.  ICU wards packed to capacity in city after city.  And what about the stress to essential workers of all kinds?   

And that is before you get to the contentious, stressful election season.  And the much needed anti racism uprising in our land.  And the storms and weather events and fires that remind us of the cataclysm taking place on the planet due to human-induced global warming.  We are in the midst of upheaval on many fronts.  And then there are all the personal things that are ever present – relationship problems, addiction, mental illness, accidents, death, tragedy, and all of the rest.  Oh my!

So, ahead is this holiday that we celebrate by traveling far and wide to come together to eat a huge meal and watch a parade and football on TV.  And we can’t do that this year.  And then there is thinking about who would not be there because they have been taken by covid?  And who would not be there because they have transitioned from this life?  But there will be no such dinner.  So, can we still give thanks?  Can we give thanks in all circumstances?  In THESE circumstances?

Maybe in years to come, we will see all the gifts we are being given in this covid time.  Maybe we will see that this election was a turning point toward healing and wholeness in our country.  Maybe we will see that during this time we finally decided as a country to remediate the legacy of racism and its debilitating negative effects.  

But we don’t know about those things yet.  

So, can we give thanks now, in this year, in this season?   Can we give thanks in ALL circumstances?  To me, this teaching is about more than being grateful for food, a roof, and a family, say.  It is about an awareness of being that is not contingent upon outward circumstances.  To me the idea of  giving thanks in all circumstances is about gratitude for the gift of life.  For every breath.  For the cosmos that sustains it all.  It is about a larger view of our lives, this world, and the miracle of it all.  And the force or power that is holding it all together.    If the history of the planet Earth up until now was seen as one day, humanity has been here for 3 seconds of that day.  So far.  Just three seconds.  A wisp.  A blush.  A grain of sand on the beach.  And yet what a glorious life this is!   What a web, a drama set in motion millions of years ago, that will proceed apace for millions of years with or, more likely, without humans!  So it is a miracle that we are even here.  For this precious season.  How can we not give thanks?

The culture around us may bemoan the restrictions we are facing and the negative impacts.  We may be enticed to shop and buy, delivered to our door, to sooth our sorrowing souls. But thanksgiving, gratitude, in all circumstances, provides spiritual uplift and grounding with or without the turkey and the TV.

Our faith calls us to see a more compelling reality.  To celebrate our giftedness.  To see the awe and wonder and abundance of life.  All simply given – not earned or purchased.  Present in every moment of our time here on Earth.  And that can’t be taken away or ruined – not even by a pandemic!

Give thanks in all circumstances?  Absolutely!

Amen.  

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Corona Sabbath 35 Investment Advice Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to a scripture lesson from Matthew. It is sometimes called the parable of the talents. Like a good parable, this story has many layers, interpretations, and meanings. Some see this story as offering financial guidance. Some see this story as pertaining to the use of talents. Some see it as an indictment of the oppressive economic system of the time. To some the landowner is a god figure. To others, the landowner is an anti god figure. And the third servant who buries the money. Some see him as a lazy good-for-nothing. Others see him as a model of subversion. As you listen, what do you hear in this story? And one note about the money mentioned. The actual amounts referred to in the story were much larger than the translation implies. The amount entrusted to the last slave was worth about 20 years wages for a laborer. The thousand dollar figure is symbolic of much more money by today’s standards.

Matthew 25:14-30

“Again, it’s like a wealthy landowner who was going on a journey and called in three workers, entrusting some funds to them. The first was given five thousand dollars, the second two thousand, and the third one thousand, according to each one’s ability. Then the landowner went away. Immediately the worker who received the five thousand went and invested it and made another five. In the same way, the worker who received the two thousand doubled that figure. But the worker who received the one thousand instead went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried the money.

“After a long absence, the traveler returned home and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five thousand come forward bringing the additional five, saying, ‘You entrusted me with five thousand; here are five thousand more.’

“The landowner said, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful worker. Since you are dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs, Come, share my joy!’

“The one who had received the two thousand then stepped forward with the additional two, saying, ‘You entrusted me with two thousand; here are two thousand more.’

“The landowner said to this one, ‘Cleverly done! You too are a good and faithful worker. Since you were dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs. Come, share my joy!’

“Finally the one who had received the one thousand stepped forward and said to the landowner, ‘Knowing your ruthlessness – you who reap where you did not sow and gather where you did not scatter – and fearing your wrath, I went off and buried your thousand dollars in the ground. Here is your money back.’

“The landowner exclaimed, ‘You worthless, lazy lout! So you know that I reap where I don’t sow and gather where I don’t scatter, do you? All the more reason to deposit my money with the bankers, so that on my return I could have had it back with interest! You, there! Take the thousand away from this bum and give it to the one with the ten thousand.

“‘Those who have will get more until they grow rich, while those who have not will lose even the little they have. Throw this worthless one outside into the darkness, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.’

Reflection from Kim

In the gospel of Matthew, this story is near the end. It is part of Jesus’ last teachings to his disciples. And it is set between two other stories that refer to ultimate things. Coming to the end. What really matters.

When the story is seen as being addressed to the disciples, it can be seen as a challenge having to do with much more than mere money. Are we hearing Jesus confront his beloved friends about the future? When I am gone, what are you going to do with what I have taught you? With what we have experienced together of the commonwealth of God? Are you going to be quiet, play it safe, keep it to yourselves? Or are you going to keep boldly living out what we have shared together, this new reality? This dream of God?

Lots of us tuck our faith away and bring it out on Sunday morning or when we face a crisis or an emergency. We bring our faith out, use it, apply it, and then, we carefully store it away again. It’s for special occasions not every day use. Jesus challenges this kind of thinking.

Among its many messages and meanings, this story urges us to think about our faith as a gift meant to determine our whole lives, meant to inform all of our decisions. Investing ourselves fully in the way of Love. Spending our lives for others and taking risks. Just what are we doing with all that we have been given – breath, voice, time, eyes, mouths, and also talents and treasure?

When we were in seminary, we had chapel services 4 days a week at noon. I’ll never forget the sermon of one of our classmates. An hispanic woman. She challenged people who think they don’t have much power or influence. Who don’t think they have much to offer. You know it can be very easy to hide behind humility as an excuse for playing it safe. Well, this fiery preacher looked around the sanctuary and reminded us that everyone in the room had a mouth, so everyone in the room could be doing something about the injustice and suffering in the world. You have a mouth. You can make a difference. And in today’s world, people also have a mouth on social media which can amplify the message and make the it even more powerful.

We are confronted with asking ourselves what are we doing with the dream of God that we have been given?

The parable invites us to ask not only are we fully living the gospel, the commonwealth of God in our finances and all of the rest of the aspects of our lives, but it also invites us to consider how we are sharing the gospel. So many people today are rootless, disenchanted with society, angry at the economy, and the good news of Jesus Christ offers a word of hope and transformation. Many people lack a sense of purpose or meaning in their lives. They are searching for what the gospel has to give. Are we sharing the good news of the gospel with others? Are we letting people know that there is another world view, another set of values and considerations that are life-giving and meaning-full? Are we encouraging others to find joyful and abundant life following Jesus?

What are we doing with what we have been given? No hiding behind I don’t have this. I can’t do that. I’m too busy with this. I don’t have access to that. This story is about all that we DO have, all that we are given, all that we can do.

Look at Jesus. Poor. From a backwater town. In a land that was under occupation. Lots of disadvantages. And yet he spends his life. He uses it. Gives it away. Enjoys it. He parties, drinks with friends, celebrates. He serves, helps, and heals others. He teaches and preaches and prays. He relishes the living of his days. Jesus loves his life so much, he is so grateful for all that he has been given, that he can’t help but give it away, give it up, give it back.

Like the disciples, we, too, have been given the gospel. What are we going to do with it? In thinking about this story we are reminded that the gospel empowers us to call out unjust economic arrangements and financial systems that leave so many people poor and a few people obscenely rich. If someone is rich, it is usually because other people are being made poor or the environment is being abused. The gospel empowers us to challenge slavery, systemic racism, oppression of every kind, and the degradation and abuse of beloved children of God.

This story is not an endorsement of capitalism which did not exist in Jesus’ day. It is an endorsement of risky living, fully and freely, for the common good. It is about giving back the life you have been given. The gospel tells us to invest in love as our portfolio, our goal, our guide – not personal freedom, or financial wealth, or individual power.

A colleague shares this story:

Recently, a friend of mine wrote me about an experience some years ago that had changed her life. She had gone to an artist’s studio to have her portrait drawn. The artist took his time, asking her a number of questions aimed at drawing her out. Eventually he asked her what she feared most. Her first answer was nuclear war. She mentioned that she had repeatedly had nightmares about nuclear holocaust.

But the artist said, “No, I don’t believe you. That can’t be right. Something more personal.”

Nancy thought and thought. Finally it dawned on her. “What I fear most is getting to the end of my life and realizing that I had been too fearful — too careful — that I never really used my talents.”

“That’s it,” the artist said.

[From Robert Ellsberg, St. Augustine’s Church, Croton-on-Hudson, November 12-13, 2005, cited in http://edgeofenclosure.org/proper28a.html%5D

Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 34 CHOOSE THIS DAY Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to a scripture lesson from Joshua. The people of Israel are in their new land which God has given them. They are called to create a community of justice and compassion as a model for other nations. Things have derailed. And Joshua calls the people to make a commitment. They can commit to their God, Yahweh, who has brought them to this fertile land, or other gods, the gods of the peoples around them. They must decide. They must choose. They cannot sit on the fence. And this decision is of ultimate consequence for their well-being.

Joshua 24:1-3a, 13-25.

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, and called a summit of the elders, leaders, judges, and officials of Israel.  Once they presented themselves before God, Joshua said to the whole assembly, “This is the word of Yahweh, the God of Israel:

“‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates and worshiped other gods.  But I took your ancestors Sarah and Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led them through the entire region of Canaan. I made Sarah and Abraham’s descendants numerous. . .

“‘I gave you land that you had not tilled, and cities you had not built, and you have settled in them.  You now take the fruit of vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.'”

Joshua then said, “I now call upon you to revere and serve Yahweh completely and sincerely.  Cast off the gods that your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and worship Yahweh alone.  If you do not want to worship Yahweh, then make the decision today whom you will worship, even if it is the gods of your ancestors beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you live.  As for me and my household, we will worship Yahweh.”

Then the people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon Yahweh to worship other gods.  It was Yahweh our God who brought us and our ancestors up and out of the land of slavery.  Yahweh performed those great signs before our eyes.  Yahweh protected us on the entire journey and among all the peoples whose lands we passed through.  Yahweh drove out before us the Amorites and all the people dwelling in the land.  We too will serve Yahweh, who is our God.”

Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve Yahweh.  This is a God most holy, a jealous God, a God who doesn’t forgive your transgressions and your sins.  If you desert Yahweh and serve foreign gods, after all God has done for you, you will bring disasters – fatal ones – upon yourselves.”

But the people protested, “No! We will serve Yahweh!”

Then Joshua said, “You are your own witnesses that you are choosing to serve Yahweh.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the alien gods among you and turn your hearts to Yahweh, the God of Israel”.

Then the assembly said to Joshua, “We will serve and obey Yahweh our God!”

On that day Joshua ratified the covenant with the people and drew up statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

Reflection from Kim

I have been on a news fast for over a week. But Wednesday morning, I had to take a peek and I continue to be haunted by what I saw. The map. With a blue edge on the west and northeast, and a huge swath of red in the middle. I have looked at it over and over. Stunned.
Choose this day. What are we choosing?

After the death of Moses, Joshua led the Israelites from the wilderness into the promised land of Canaan so that the Israelites could become a model community that would be a light to the nations. Evidently, things have gone a bit awry. So in this last discourse before his death, Joshua challenges his people, the Israelites, Choose this day. Whom will you serve? Who will be your god or gods? This story is echoed in the history of this continent. People came from Europe to form a new society that was to be a beacon to the nations. The classic book Errand into the Wilderness by Perry Miller looks at this understanding of the settling of North America by Europeans who saw it as their calling to displace the indigenous peoples and establish a new society as part of a larger divine plan. Choose this day.

Joshua is direct. Choose this day. Will your allegiance, your loyalty, your reality be centered in God, Yahweh, who brought you out of bondage in Egypt, or will your allegiance, your loyalty, your reality be centered in the gods of the people around you. Choose. And this choice makes all the difference. Period.

It is interesting, the choice is not God or no god. It is not between Yahweh God and no god at all. The choice is between Yahweh God and other gods. We all have faith in something, we trust something, and that becomes our god. Something is at the center of our reality. Our world view. There is something that we choose that determines who we are and how we see the world. There is something that functions as ‘god’ for everyone, something that defines what we care about and how we see things. We are choosing.

For Joshua, the alternative to the one God Yahweh was the pantheon of gods of the peoples around them. Ok. Today we don’t see a pantheon of gods around us, but we can see the forces that compete in our lives for god status with the God of the Bible. We can see forces that are trying to claim our ultimate loyalty and devotion. And they are competing with the God of Love and we must choose where we will put our faith and trust.

Choose this day. Will it be the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus, the God of unconditional universal Love? Or will it be some other would-be ‘god’ that we choose as the lens through which we see ourselves and the reality around us? Is our world view controlled by a political party? Then that may become a god. Is our reality determined by our belief in the depravity of humanity? Then that idea may be a god. Is our reality controlled by the idea that there is no god, by atheism? Then that could be a god. Is our reality formed by the commitment to communism as a worldview? Is our reality determined by economics, wealth, and the commitment to capitalism? Is personal freedom and the right to own firearms what we care most about? Is our reality contingent upon a certain system of moral values? In some way, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are choosing what controls our understanding of reality and how we function in this life. We are putting our faith and trust in something that is guiding us. And that, essentially, is functioning as our god.

Choose this day. Joshua challenges us to be clear about that choice; to name it and claim it. It’s not to be some kind of hidden programing functioning in the background controlling us. It is to be an intentional commitment. And so Joshua makes his choice known to the people. He declares, As for me and my house, we will serve God, Yahweh.

That statement is not ambiguous or without content. The Bible makes it very clear that God is the God of all Creation and all people whether they know it or not. And God chooses to exert a preferential option for the poor, for those who are suffering, for those who are disadvantaged; God is the God of the oppressed. We were reminded of the nature of God in Psalm 146 in our election prayer vigil:

Yahweh, you keep faith forever:
you secure justice for the oppressed;
you give food to the hungry;
you set captives free;
you give sight to the blind;
you raise up those who were bowed down;
you love those who do justice;
you protect strangers;
you sustain orphans and the bereaved –
but you thwart the way of the corrupt.

That is the God of the Hebrew Bible and that is the God of Jesus and the New Testament. Jesus eliminates barriers between people and builds bridges. Neighbor, friend, stranger, enemy, all beloved. All equally valued in the eyes of God. God is a God of universal, unconditional love for all people and all of Creation.

Choose this day. When we choose the God of love, we open ourselves to a new reality. A reality that is often at odds with the values and behavior of the people and society around us. It was that way in Joshua’s time and it is still that way today. And today it is even more complicated because much what is labeled as ‘God,’ the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus, bears little resemblance to the God we find in scripture and tradition. People are saying they are choosing God but the behavior and values espoused do not echo what we see in Jesus or in the Bible. Choose this day. It has gotten even more complicated.

Joshua makes it clear that to choose the God Yahweh has certain implications; not just of responsibility but of blessing. He reminds the people that to choose Yahweh, to choose the God of Love, the God of favoritism for the oppressed, is to choose the God of blessing. Blessing for the entire world. When we choose to make God, the God of Love, our God, we are choosing responsibility but we are also choosing blessing not only for ourselves and our tribe but for all of Creation and all of humanity. The people who choose God are used by God to bless the world – the whole world. Choose this day.

There is a wonderful scene in Louise Erdrich’s book, The Plague of Doves, which portrays a conversation about sin. The book takes place in a setting that involves an indigenous community and what has become the dominant culture. There is a church, Catholic, and the priest is Father Cassidy. He is instructing a family in their home about sin and the need for confession. Father Cassidy declares, “‘There are so many ways of sinning not readily apparent. You may, for instance, share in the guilt of another’s sin without actually committing it yourself via the sin of silence. Has anyone you know sinned?’ The brothers shook their heads in blank surprise. . . ‘You may have sinned against the Holy Ghost by resisting known truth, the worth, for instance of holy mass, thus hardening your soul to the penetrations of grace.’” [The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich, 49:52 audio recording]. I love that line, hardening your soul to the penetrations of grace. When we choose gods that are not the God of Love, we restrict our receptivity to grace. The God of Love is trying to bless us, give us joy and abundant life, but when we choose other gods, we make it harder for those gifts to be bestowed.

Choose this day. We are in a season of choosing. And we are right to be fully aware of the implications of our choices. The Joshua story is very fitting for this moment. Choose. This day. Every day. What god or gods will you serve? What will form the core of your reality? What will be of ultimate importance to you?

While I may be haunted by the image of the map of red with dabs of blue, I will not let that map become my god. I will not let it determine my reality. I will not let that image of division become the lens that colors all of what I see. I want to choose the God of Jesus as the center of my life and my reality and my values and my behavior. I want to choose the God who loves red and blue and every other hue. I want to choose the God whose image makes each and every person sacred and beloved regardless of how or even if they voted. Choose this day. Amen.

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