TEXTS: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and I Corinthians 3:1-9
“Life, Christ and God” are foundational principles for the choices we must make.
Pop music forms what is sometimes called. “the soundtrack of our lives” The names of artists and groups who bring it to us live on, if only in our memories. Koreans (and many others in East Asia) will long remember EXO, The Bangtan Boys and Girl’s Generation. Here in Taiwan the nbames of Jay Chou, A-mei, Jolin Tsai and S.H.E. won’t go away for a long time. Indonesians might relate better to Agnes Monica, Glenn Fredly, Whiter Shoes and Orang Ketiga. Growing up in Los Angeles, I had a radio on almost all the time between my 12th and 18th birthdays, and listened to groups with names like: “Strawberry Alarm Clock”, “Them”, “The Who” and and the unforgettable Lovin’ Spoonful (which I SO wish I could forget.) :That last group had a hit song entitled “Did you ever have to make up your mind?” There is a line in it that’s still with me after 50 years, “sometimes you really think she’s fine, the moment you’ve kissed her, then you get distracted by her older sister, and in comes her father, and takes you aside and says, ‘better go home, son, and make up your mind.”
Making up our minds is never easy. It’s especially difficult when there are so many things from which to choose, and having so many things from which to choose is what’s called, “Life in the 21st Century.”
I ask those among us who are students, how did you decide between the many schools in the world to study at NCKU or Khun Shan, or Tainan Theological College in Tainan?
I: When it’s two: Life and Death (Deut 30:15, 19,)
There’s an old debaters’ technique, designed to move the people who hear toward the side that the debater supports. The speaker presents a view that leaves only 2 options. “It’s either this, or it’s that.” There’s no middle ground. Just pick between these two. Philosophers don’t like this technique. They teach first year students in university that it creates “the false choice.” Those who want to get our support don’t like complexity; they just want to get us on their side. Giving us “their preference”, allowing only that or something clearly inferior, gets us to go their way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in all matters, there were only 2 alternatives, so that the only choice was “this one or that one”?
In the Old Testament story we read today, the number of choices was reduced to two. They were described as between “good and evil” or between “life and death”. Its set in what we’re told is Moses’ 30-chapter-long farewell speech to people he has led for 40 years. The book of Deuteronomy itself stands in the Bible between the books of law and the books of history. It sets up the theology of those histories, which is well summed up in the verses we read, “If you obey the commands of the Lord your God, which I give you today, if you love him, obey him and keep all his laws, then you will prosper and become a nation of many people. The Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are about to occupy. BUT if you disobey and refuse to listen, and are led away to worship other gods, (then) you will be destroyed.”
Before we go any further, let me do a little bit of “Bible scholar” stuff, just a little, because I’m not much of a scholar. The form of this speech is much like that of ancient treaties that big empires made little countries accept. Those treaties had the same series of blessings and curses, basically saying, if you cooperate, things will go well for you; if you don’t, there’s going to be trouble. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Compare it to how the International Monetary Fund sets the terms for debtor nations, “You can either do it THIS hard way, or THAT hard way.”
Scholars believe that Deuteronomy is NOT a transcript of what Moses said to people promised land. It was written hundreds of years later, by people who were preparing to enter and settle that land under sponsorship of the Persian Empire. Their own history was of exile because their ancestors had failed. They were writing things down for themselves and their descendants as warnings not to make the same mistakes as their great-grandparents. After what their children would read in Deuteronomy they put the history books that demonstrated what they warned about had happened before. Saying, in effect, “THEY were warned and didn’t listen. YOU have been warned, so you had BETTER listen.”
II: When there are more than 2 (I Corinthians 1:12)
Life’s not simple, is it? Have you ever gone into a shoe store or a cafeteria? Last week Ruth Carmona and I were at a paper umbrella store in Mei-nong. There are so many beautiful things to choose from, and it was very hard for her to select just 5 of them to decorate her house.
Christians have always had many alternatives from which to make choices. Even in the “early church” (which from time to time we are told to “return to”) people had differences of opinion over which way was best. We saw a little of that in the New Testament lesson we read today. In I Corinthians 3:4 it’s been reduced to two options, “Paul” or “Apollos”, but just a page earlier, in chapter 1:12, there are four, Paul, Apollos, Cephas or Christ!
Church history is full of divisions. Already by 451 CE most Syrian and African churches had divided from the European ones over theology. Then in 1056 the
churches divided between East and West (Greek and Latin) and said it was theology, but it was more about power. Later, in the 16th Century, the Western church came apart and Protestant churches (which themselves keep dividing) came into existence.
Division is a problem, because people get tangled in which choice is better. Nobody wants something inferior. Decades ago the editor of an American Christian magazine gave a lecture in Kaohsiung. At a time when Taiwan did not have freedom of speech or of press, he spoke mostly about magazines and freedom. At the end of his talk there was time for questions from the audience. Nobody dared ask about freedom of opinion or expression, but a Taiwanese woman asked the editor to tell everyone which of the many different Christian churches in Taiwan was the true one. She didn’t want to make a wrong choice. His answer was very wise. He didn’t choose for her. He didn’t even recommend that she go to one that was his own particular brand of Christian church. He gave some basic principles of Christian faith, the kinds of things we say here when we read together each week’s confession of faith, and told her to hold to those
III: Scriptural injunctions
What basic principles? There are a few in the scriptures we read today
The folks who brought us Deuteronomy set “life” as basic. In verses 15, 19 and 20, “life” is at the center of what they recommended their descendants always to put first. Choosing life involves how we encourage men and women to pay attention when it comes to matters of sex and birth control. Choosing life involves how we speak to how the law will govern the punishment of criminals. Choosing life involves how we talk to nations that arm for war and trade in weapons of ever more threatening destruction. Choosing life involves how we talk to churches that stand against abortion (a legitimate position to take). Choosing life also involves how we talk to churches where a woman’s right to say what goes on in her own body is a legitimate position to take. And it should be at the center of how citizens, Christians, societies and churches talk about how we care for the lives of children born into poverty.
In different cultures, different things are said when one person wishes to salute another person or a group of persons when taking a drink of wine. In English, one says, “Cheers” (meaning, “Be Happy”), In Spanish, it’s “Salud” (meaning, “Be Healthy”) In Hebrew it’s “Le-Chaim” (meaning, “to life!”) When we make our choices, we should make them in the spirit of, “To Life!”
St. Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth “goes this way and that”. In chapter 1:4-7 you get the impression that this was the world’s best church. But by verses 11-13 we read that it’s a really messed up church. In chapter 3, from which we read this afternoon, it’s there again. The church is divided over which preacher they like best. The principle for putting things back together is this, “Choose Christ” (which is in 1:13). Christ is not divided. Neither should any church be divided. To decide to divide is to make the inferior choice.
Another principle to guide us is found in 3:7 and 9. When you have a choice to make, choose God. “(7) It is God who matters” and “(9) we are partners working together for God, and you are God’s field.” When we know what matters (God) who we are (God’s people, God’s field), then we already have a principle upon which to build our choices.
Sisters and brothers, Choose life, Choose Christ, Choose God.
Oh, and one other thing.
Did you see any of the Indiana Jones movies? In the one about the holy grail, there’s an old man guarding a collection of cups, one of which is the true holy grail, (supposed to be the cup from which Jesus served the first holy communion.” The Old man told the hero and the bad guy that they should “choose wisely,” because whoever chooses the true holy grail from among all the others would get life, but if one chose any of the other cups the result would be death. The bad guy pushed the hero aside and grabbed the most beautiful cup, and instantly died. The old man on guard said, “he didn’t choose wisely” The hero thought patiently and with a trembling hand, chose a very plain cup, and lived. The old man simply said“you chose wisely.” Life is like a shoe store, like a cafeteria, thankfully, it’s seldom like a pile of cups from which, if we choose unwisely, we’ll get death.
Life is full of choices. This world is full of religions and other things to choose from. Many of us in this room have chosen life, we have chosen Christ, we have chosen God. If you haven’t yet done that, I’d love to begin a discussion with you that may take only a few minutes, but may go on for months, to help and guide you as you make your own choice, which I and the others here who have chosen for life, for God, for Christ, will be the same as ours. And we all hope you will make that choice in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN
Let us Pray,
Lord Jesus Christ, We did not choose you, but your chose us. Help us in all affairs of the life you have given us to choose life, to choose Christ, to choose God’s way of love. Help us also to live according to those choices, worthy of being your chosen ones. AMEN