Choices. We’ve all made our far share of choices this week. Some of them were easy, affecting only ourselves, but some were much more difficult with others lives being affected as well. Take for instance the decision to call of school three days this week. No doubt that choice was made thoughtfully, with the best information possible at the time. And the choice was intended to preserve life, to prevent people especially our educators and children, from being put in harm’s way. But as a parent of three children who stayed home most of the week I’d be lying if I told you that I was always in agreement with that choice!
Our texts this morning are all about choices. Not the typical a or b choices, but rather life choices. In Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people to choose life. They have been in the dessert wondering for 40 years, 40 years! We complain about our GPS directions sending us a block out of our way!
The Israelites are approaching the end of that journey and about to step into the promised land. Moses tells them “I have set before you life and death. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Choose life! But how do we know what will lead to life and what will lead to death? Moses says Obedience to God, Love of God, Walking in the way of God, Holding fast to God.
What do each of these things have in common, what’s the thread that holds obedience, love, journeying and holding together? God. Only God, Always God.
Moses was speaking to a people with a troubled checkered past and he was reminding them that God is the life giver, so choose life, choose God!
In Matthew Jesus is still up on that mountain preaching. And this week his words are harder to hear. No pretty pictures about peacemakers. Instead we get a bold face don’t do it, don’t even think about doing it! And while these sayings can seem harsh to us, (really Jesus, take out my eye, cut off my hand?) they are really Jesus’ way of saying choose life as well. Choose to live your life not objectifying others, choose to live a life that does not cause harm. Choose to live the life Jesus has been telling us about all through chapter 5. A life that can only be lived by Obedience to God, Love of God, Walking in the way of God, Holding fast to God. Choose life, and that life abundant!
Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church also is about choices. This first century church had to have gotten on Paul’s last nerve! They were an honoree group, rife with division with drama! They have divided their loyalties it seems between Paul and Apollos. And of course each side is right and the other is wrong! Now this never happens in our modern churches does it? No one ever says “I like the way preacher so-in-so did communion. Or, “Sister Elder was a much better prayer” or “Brother whoever would have been at my door before I even thought to call him.” We certainly have never gone around saying that church was better when we were kids or if it was good enough for them its good enough for us. I know I’ve never said anything like that. (Pause and wait for lightning to strike)
The people in Corinth however have said stuff like this and much more divisive than this. And Paul tells them what exactly? That of course their concerns need to be addressed and that he will form a committee to hear their grievances. Right? No, He says to them, it’s not about who your leaders are, whether you studied under Paul or Apollos, they planted and watered, but GOD gave the growth.
Moses said, its all about God, Jesus taught its all about God, and here even Paul is laying it out, its all about God.
Choosing life means choosing God and choosing God means choosing life!
Choosing life means choosing to allow God bring us growth. Sounds easy enough. But growth comes in so many different ways.
The summer between forth and fifth grade I grew, a lot. Close to 3 inches. And while it was great to be the same height as my mom, those nights of growing pains were torture. I wanted my legs and arms to stop hurting, I wanted a good night’s rest. I would have been happy to stay my previous size if the pain would just stop. Now as an adult who has not grown in height since the end of 5th grade I wish those nights had gone on just a bit longer!
Growth does not always come in pretty packages with expected ribbons and bows. As I’m sure any master gardener will tell you to get growth sometimes pruning has to occur. This sounds counter-intuitive, but if you don’t prune off the old weight of some plants, new health growth is hampered. It doesn't always come in joyful ways, sometimes it hurts. Sometimes its gut wrenching, like the grief of losing a job, or the pain of physical trauma. Sometimes we would rather sit it out on the sidelines rather than learn from it, grow from it, and be better by the end of it.
No, choosing life is not always easy especially when we disagree as to what that life looks like. The people in the Corinthian congregation couldn’t agree on who’s teachings to follow. Some thought that if they followed Paul exclusively things would work out well. Others thought that Apollos was the only really knowledgeable teacher. Both taught good and godly things. But when leadership becomes the focus, there is a much deeper problem. When the church is focused internally, well then maybe it’s stopped being the church.
So how do we as a congregation, as Christ Church keep from falling into the traps of the people in the wilderness? How do we keep from being beset by divisions like the Corinthians? How do we live out a life as a congregation that is what God wants?
There is no magic formula. There is no perfect bible study. There is no five ten or even twenty step plan that will assure success. Choose life, while it’s a simple phase, is a continuing process.
Choose life, by focusing on the live giver. God was central to the Israelites journey to and reaching of the promised land. They could have made the trek in a few months, but they lost their focus, worshiped other God’s and it took 40 years to get back on track.
Choose life! God’s ways had become so loaded down with laws and regulations that the people no longer saw God through them. Jesus cleared the path showing that God’s ways are not our ways; that God’s desires are so much greater than what we give ourselves!
Choose life! Paul tells the church in Corinth, the seeds have been planted, they are being watered, but growth, growth comes from God. Focus on that! Focus on God at the heart of all things and growth will come!
At the end of today’s epistle passage, Paul says to the Corinthians: “We are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building.” How interesting! Paul does not say: The field over there across the street is what God needs. Paul does not say: This church building is what God needs. Paul does not say, “The way you’ve always done things is what God needs.”
Paul says, “YOU are God’s field. YOU are God’s building.” YOU. The community of YOU.
This should sound familiar.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
You are the people of grace and peace.
You are the beloved.
You are God’s field and building.
Believe it! Choose life! For God gives the growth.
Believe it! Choose life! For God gives the growth.