Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Aug 26, 2018

    14th Sunday after Petecost Proper 16

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year B: 2017-2018

    Category: Pentecost

    Summary:

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    Detail:

    As the parent of a now young elementary-aged child, I have for six years lived in a world characterized by good choices and bad choices. Really, it’s been a wonderful teaching tool--one that offers a child the ability to be empowered and to begin to think critically. It says to children, and to grown-ups that we have both the power to make choices and that we are responsible for our choices. And like all other parents, I want my beautiful and beloved little girl to grow up able and willing to make such good choices. But like so many, child and parent alike, she often falls somewhere in between—like the time we encouraged her to go to the snack bar at the pool and buy herself lunch for the first time. She was 4 but she was ready and we had set her up perfectly. We discussed what she wanted: a hot dog and a juice box. Perfect. That would cost three dollars. We gave her the money and sent her up to the window and stood back letting her know we would be right there for her but that she could do this. She looked a little nervous as she kept wiggling and glancing back at us as she waited in line. We would wave and give her a thumbs up. Finally it was her turn and she hesitantly climbed up the step stool to the window which allowed even the smallest child to access that glorious goodness that was the snack bar. We were far enough away so as to see her, but couldn’t hear her exchange with the attendant. All we know is that when she was done, and she was climbing down from the counter, in her hands was not a hot dog and juice box as we had planned, but a giant ice cream cone and two dollars. I’m sure she thought this was great—ice cream for lunch and she still had two dollars left over!! She probably thought she could by more ice cream. Clearly she was more confident in her decision-making than we had given her credit for.

                It can be tricky business dealing with choices. It is wonderful to be able to make decisions for ourselves, it is what we all want, but then we have to live with the outcomes and sometimes, even with our best efforts, the outcome is not what we had envisioned—for better or for worse. Likewise, with the ability to choose comes the ability of other people to make decisions, decisions we may not like or that effect us negatively. Sometimes when we are faced with a choice, there are no good choices and we are stuck in a quandary. Christianity has not often looked at human agency favorably because so often it is pitted against the will of God and seen as totally fallible.  We see that today. In both our readings from Joshua and the gospel, believers are being given a choice, and in both readings there is the acknowledgement that people might not chose to serve the Lord, or might not choose to abide in Jesus. In our gospel, in fact, many who are identified as disciples, not just bystanders in a crowd, cannot fathom what it is Jesus is telling them and asking of them, so they turn away and are done. Joshua, after committing to the Lord, uses a stone to serve as a witness against the people in case they turn away from God, which inevitably they will do. This is the timeless story of God’s pursuit of humanity, isn’t it? God reaches out in steadfast love, and we commit for a time before we run away again, chasing after something else—some other god. Even though the twelve remain here with Jesus today, remember that they will abandon him at the cross. In this cosmic love story, we are fickle lovers.

                But it is choice that makes what we do so beautiful and meaningful. And it is the tool we have to meet God in the world. And while we like to think that we bring the fullest of our rational minds to making good choices, there is so much more that we bring to the work of choosing. Even when we apply the most objective and rational of tools to make choices, such as science, we still cannot escape our humanity. As Columbia University’s Robert Pollack, whose work spans the fields of ethics, science, and faith, writes: [c]hoices are necessary, and it is at the moment when choices are made that the scientific method departs from… scientific experimentation and enters the human world in which all choices are made in a personal and social historical context, replete with emotional affects and barely remembered feelings.”[1] So, we are not simply synapses working with data, we are bodies, and spirits as well, bringing not simply our minds to making decisions but also our lived experiences, our beliefs about the world and about others, our wounds and brokenness, even what we value in the world. We bring our very hearts and souls into each and every choice we make, but more often than not we are ignorant to the fact that we are seeing the world through one particular lens or another.

                The late David Foster Wallace was mindful of this lens. In a commencement speech at Kenyon College, he challenged his young and accomplished graduates to not simply accept the default lens we seem to be born with—a lens that he perceives (and we would agree) as fundamentally self-centered. Instead, he suggests, we should be conscious about what we give attention to and how we think about the world—especially in those banal and monotonous situations that are simply a part of life. He talks about the frustrations of something such as grocery shopping in crowded stores after work and the horror of waiting in traffic saying: “my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way…[and to think] look at how deeply and personally unfair this is….” [2]

                As he points out, this is so often the default, to be grumpy and entitled, concerned with only our little window into the world without considering that it could be different, that maybe the people annoying us are really just struggling as we are, that maybe it is even harder for them. But we can change our lens, we can consider that more is going on that what meets the eye. He continues, saying:

     

    If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.[3]

    As Christians, we have chosen a particular lens through which to see the world: It is a lens that sees Spirit within flesh, Christ’s body and blood within the bread and wine, that sees the presence of God in the world. It is a lens that demands we honor the humanity of one another, strive for justice, and love our neighbors as ourselves…this is the lens we choose, this is the choice we make as part of our baptism. But we must keep choosing, each and every day, remaining aware that we have committed to living in the world as Christ’s body. We must keep nurturing hope in ourselves, and keep opening ourselves up to being transformed by God. For Christians, the way we continue to choose God in Christ in through daily prayer, through being community with people who can encourage and remind us how to be compassionate, we choose God when we come to the table to receive Jesus in the bread and wine, we choose God when we choose to be vulnerable, we choose God in every act of kindness and compassion. Faithfulness is choosing to continue to form our bodies, minds, and spirits, in Christ. It is a practice of choosing and being intentional that helps us keep that view of the world as one where hope abounds, and beauty infuses everything, that people are not our enemies, but fellow beloved children of God whether they watch Fox News or CNN.

    Stay awake then, to the choices you are making, for one way or another, we will all choose. And the option of worshipping other gods is always there, always tempting us. Again, Wallace, who was not a religious type, says: There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.” We all know what they are: sex, money, power, fame, all of us here can complete the list. We all know what they are and that’s Wallace’s whole point, they are surrounding us all the time so much so that they easily become forgotten, even unknown like, as he says, water is to fish. As he says, “The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”[4]

                He is absolutely right, we know these things, they are the default thinking of the world, and we still get sucked in.  We chase these other gods and abandon the one God who is chasing us. Everyday we wake up and choose who we will serve, who we will worship. When we choose to not serve the Lord, the consequences can be devastating. You are no doubt aware of the fallout within the Roman Catholic Church from decades of clergy abuse and institutional denial. Lives have been destroyed and healing has been obstructed. I cannot speak to what was going through anyone’s mind in the choices that were made but I feel confident in observing that this is an example of simple idolatry of institution--the church being chosen over the will of God. They are not alone in this, but right now their terrible choices have done much harm, to many. It is a reminder to us not to look away from wrong doing, especially if it is our own. On a more personal level, there was once a young woman in seminary, learning how to be a minister in the world who found herself in Guatemala one summer, teaching English to delightful Guatemalan children. A perfect mission trip. One day as she came to the tiny one roomed school- house she taught in, she encountered a man passed out on the steps—the only way into the building. He had been staggering around the neighborhood that week, clearly intoxicated from something. Maybe alcohol, but it was more likely he was one of many addicted to huffing paint. She looked down at him lying there with a mixture of annoyance, disgust and revulsion, wondering how to move him, and judging what she perceived as a multitude of bad choices. She didn’t want to touch him. The thought of nudging him with her foot actually crossed her mind. But out of nowhere appeared one of her older students, a fifteen year old boy who reached down and gently placed his hand on this man’s shoulder, shook him awake, asked him if was alright and told him he’d have to move. In that interaction, this young man was kind, and gentle, he did not approach this man with judgment or derision, but with concern and compassion. In watching the two interact, the young woman realized that she had become a kind of Peter, denying the Jesus who was right in front of her in the worn body of the sleeping man. Who knows what he had been through? Her heart melted, and she was called back to seeing this man through the lens of her faith, of seeing him through the eyes of God, seeing him with love and compassion. Once she saw him this way, then she could reach out an connect with him.

                It is easy to feel powerless, but we are not, we can choose, choose to see the world and each other through the same lens as God. We can choose not to accept the misery and despair of the world. We can choose not have to give in to violence and nihilism. When we wake in the morning we do not simply have to open our eyes to the tasks and responsibilities ahead of us, but we can choose to wake and greet our Maker, giving thanks for the morning. As we crawl out of bed, we can choose to see the ground our feet touch as holy ground, the footing on which the day’s mysteries are to be discovered. The rhythms of our faith, prayer, reflection, community, worship, shape our minds, and our bodies, and our souls to cut through the false gods that get in the way of us seeing the truth which is that God has chosen all of us and called us into life, and love, and forgiveness. After all, where are we go? Choose this day to serve the Lord, for Jesus has the words of eternal life. Amen.