"The Choice We must make"
A Message By Dr. Bruce Havens
BASED ON THE THEME: "Reading the Bible again, for the FIRST time"
ARLINGTON CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, U.C.C.
August 11, 2019
“The Choice We MUST Make”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “Reading the Bible Again, for the First Time”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
August 11, 2019
Deuteronomy 30:15 – 20 a
15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.
16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in the ways of God, and observing God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,
18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,
20 loving the Lord your God, obeying God, and holding fast to God; for that means life to you and length of days.
Last week we looked at the challenge that Moses set before God’s people: life or death, blessing or curse. And remember God sets this before everyone – as individuals and as a community. If God is the one and only God then each of us MUST decide this in every part of our life every day. The reality is, we do make life and death choices every day. But this morning I want to talk more about the choice we MUST make to begin to solve the problems in our lives and in our culture today. I had said that I wanted to talk about the solution to feeling powerless to change things but I want to first lay down this groundwork because this is important for us to know or remember.
I pointed out that God created the political, economic, and religious systems that humans should use for one purpose: to do what is just and right for all people, and to help them be blessed and grow in relationship with God and one another. That sounds like two things but it is one purpose. Inseparable, and not intended to be optional. But the problem is what we call sin in religious systems. Sin is not just a personal problem, it is a problem in every human system, because the truth is, as Scripture affirms, all people sin. All people make bad choices, sometimes without bad intention, but I suspect most of the time we make them not caring about the outcome, or with intent to get something for ourselves even if it costs us in relationship to others and to God.
I also said last week that I was a dreamer. I dream of the realm of God – what the Bible calls “the Kingdom of God” – coming fully on earth as it is in heaven. I believe that is what Jesus was talking about whenever he talked about it and in the prayer he taught us – on earth, as it is in heaven. So how many of you want to live in a better community, a better nation, a better world? Of course you do. How we get there is the reason for conflict.
That said, I also commented that many of us see things as they are and know they are not what God intends. The Kingdom of God has not been fully realized by any stretch of the imagination. We all know that. Many of us are doing everything we think we can to change things for the better. But the problem is most people are trying to make things better according to some dream other than God’s vision. Most people are very focused on what they believe will be best for them and then work for that – they choose political, economic, and religious principles that fit what they believe is best for themselves, and they even think it fits God’s vision, but often it doesn’t. We make our vision mostly based on what we grew up with in terms of a political or economic point of view and then we try to justify it by our religious beliefs and call it “God’s.” All of us can be guilty of that.
I think the beginning of the solution at a personal level is to recognize that what God wants is for us to have a relationship with God and with one another that is based in blessing, not curses, life, not death. The truth is what we did in worship last Sunday is the symbol of that for our religion. Communion is the living symbol of the relationship God intends for to have with one another and with God. We call it communion, where other parts of the Christian religion refer to it as “eucharist,” which means literally “well loved,” or “well blessing.” Some refer to it as Mass which refers partly to the whole worship service, but most understand it to mean the sharing of the bread and the cup. It comes from the Latin formula for sending of the congregation. I like the image the word and the act of “communion” creates. It reminds me we are in communion with one another and with God and God’s vision is that all humanity would understand that and participate in that relationship.
But the definition of sin is the turning from our relationship with God and with one another. We do that in many ways, choosing to deny our “communion” with God and with one another in many ways. We may not commit murder or adultery or the other “big” sins, but we deny our communion with God when we don’t make God’s priorities our priorities. Most of us fall into one of two categories on this. Either we don’t really care what God’s priorities are so we do whatever we want, or we decide what we want to do and find ways to justify that as “God’s will,” or we say that isn’t the same as my spiritual life. That again denies that God is God over the political, economic, as well as the religious parts of our lives. It’s all spiritual. God is not just a separate thing from those parts of our lives.
When we do things that separate us from others that is what separates us from God. We can say we believe God loves everyone but we often don’t act that way. When I talk about injustice I am talking about ways that we treat people who are God’s beloved just like us as if they weren’t. It may or may not be intentional. For example, all this stuff over the past few years about whose lives “matter” – what many people don’t get is it isn’t saying that someone else’s life doesn’t matter or that someone’s life matters more because they are black, it is saying that these lives matter just as much and if you are living in a world where you are 10 times more likely to get shot by police when you are black – I didn’t say BECAUSE – but WHEN, that isn’t saying “blue lives” don’t matter. It isn’t denying black on black crime and all the other talking points and narratives it is saying those that say that are reminding us that we are not acting as if their lives matter every day. The big fallacy that drives this is the fear that somehow giving someone else the human rights they deserve is going to in some way diminish ours. Rights aren’t a limited quantity commodity. When everyone actually is treated with full human rights by all then we will be that much closer to “on earth as it is in heaven.”
It is the same confusion about “white privilege.” That isn’t saying there aren’t poor white people. That isn’t saying every white person is living a privileged life. It is saying that in a country where the rules were set up, by and for, white males at a time when black people were considered slaves and less than human, generally there is a systemic advantage in opportunities for a white male. To give others – including women- the same rights doesn’t reduce anyone’s opportunity who is a white male. It is recognizing and changing the system from what it was to what it should be where all PEOPLE are created equal and because they are as beloved by God as I am as a white male. It doesn’t take anything from me or from anyone who is a white male. We must stop living in fear that doing what is right, what is just, is penalizing white men. Doing what is right is working to create the community of the beloved people of God.
That is the choice we must make – to work to create the community of God’s beloved people, not just because they worship like we do here and we are comfortable with it. We can’t limit it to those whose skin color and language is the same as ours, we can’t just love those who vote the way we do, who are the same gender we are or any other division we allow to use as an excuse to hate, to deny rights to, and to treat as less than beloved of God. We cannot limit the community of God’s beloved to those we like, even. And most of all we can’t say we believe this on Sunday and then go out the rest of the week and act like we don’t.
I was struck by the words of Richard Davis, [“The Politics of Unity, Division, and Discernment,” politicaltheology.com, August 8, 2016]. He said, “Carl Schmitt famously said, politics is about distinguishing between friend and enemy (The Concept of the Political). It is about division of us and them. Knowing who the enemy is, within or without, is necessary in order to govern.” How about if we started to talk about the problems that we face as the enemy rather than the people? Can we agree that it would be a better world, a better nation, a better community if everyone were treated as a beloved part of the community of God? Can we agree that enemy is the situation not the person – so for example can we say that it is not the child suffering from hunger or nakedness or homelessness or lack of medical care that is to be hated for being in need, but that we must work together to solve the situation that causes that? Can we agree that the issue is the enemy and not each other? Can we agree that we need to discern how to solve problems together and stop letting those who are getting rich and powerful by dividing us, by telling us how different we are, how this side is evil and unpatriotic?
Author Toynbee, the famous historian, said, “It is the difficulties that lead to a flowering of a civilization. Any civilization which does not have difficulties or obstacles will not be a great civilization.” We face many difficulties as a nation right now. The reality is we always have, we have just focused on different difficulties than living the way God has called us to live in following Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity now to define what will make this nation great and it won’t be by turning away from seeking to treat all people the way God commands. It won’t be by the harsh rhetoric that all political sides are using. We face a difficult task but if we face this task of making every life matter that will make this country great. We won’t be greater if some are wealthy beyond belief while children in our nation starve. We must reject that sort of Darwinian solution where we say, “everyone gets what they deserve, and I deserve more because I worked harder.” We won’t be a greater nation by threatening those who criticize our nation because they want to make it better. We won’t make our nation greater if we call everyone from another country invaders and criminals and terrorists. We will be greater if we begin by turning from death and cursing and hating to life and loving and blessing. We will be great if we choose the way of Christ, who did not turn away the people others hated, and who criticized the religious and political and economically powerful enough that they had him crucified.
When we choose life and blessing – not just for ourselves but for all people we will have a great community, a great nation, and we will know blessings we have never known. That is true communion. But we must choose a different path than we are on because we are on the path to death and curse and destruction. It is time for those who know the love of Christ for real, to start speaking and acting and sharing that love so that we can build the community of God’s beloved. That’s the choice we MUST make if we want to know life and blessing as God’s people. AMEN.