Epiphany as a Verb: “Choosing to Live Before We Die”
1 Corinthians 3: 1-15 & Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ February 9, 2020
Do you have morning habits and routines that you start the day with? Morning stretches or yoga, cuddling with your cat, making a cup of tea, saying your morning prayers, watching the morning news. We all have a thing or two that we do as our day begins, don’t we? One routine that many seem to engage is opening the paper and turning to the obituary page. Perhaps this is something that you do? Once our morning cup of coffee or tea is in hand, many find themselves reading the stories of life and death in our community. For some of us, it is a way to keep up with the lives of families that we care about, but do not see as often as we might wish. Certainly, in smaller communities, I have found this to be the case when I served in Prince George that had a population of 80,000. As people read the obituary page, they knew most people either directly or indirectly. Yet, there are other reasons for this choice as well, aren’t there? Of course, there is always the interesting one that we come across which keeps us reading. A few that are still circulating: This one from 2016: “When faced with the prospect of voting for either Trump or Clinton, Jane Smith of Richmond chose to pass into the eternal arms of God”. And this one from a basketball fan’s obituary: “He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns to serve as pall bearers, so the Browns can let him down one last time”. But, all kidding aside, the more I think on this morning routine, the big reason we are drawn to read the stories of life and death is because they serve as a template for our own living. As we read someone’s life’s story, we are given a window into how they chose life, how they lived their live, and we find ourselves inspired and challenged to live deep, rich, and memorable lives of our own. Much like Facebook, we know that only the good aspects of life are recorded, but it is a start. It is a gauge into one’s faithful living.
As Moses preaches to the Israelites, and to us as we receive this text Millenia later, he offers the powerful observation that the choice for how we live our lives is ours. The choice of life or the choice of death is one that we make during our natural lives. Our faith story records the human freedom inherent in the choice made by Adam and Eve in the garden. Adam and Eve had every option to walk alongside God or go it on their own. And we read in the third chapter of Genesis how they chose the later. Like Adam and Eve, we have a choice to walk with God or to walk in the ways of temptation, brokenness and sin. We can choose to walk in the light or we can choose to remain in the darkness. A read through what scholars refer to as Moses’ valedictorian address running 26 chapters in Deuteronomy sums up the choice of God and the choices of humankind. God’s choice is a yearning to liberate all Creation from slavery, to part the waters that separate us, to bring us home to a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. God’s desire is that we walk in right relationship with God’s ways. In the 6th chapter of Moses’ sermon, we find the Hebrew Shema ~ which most Jewish people place as a scroll in the doorframe of their homes: What does the Lord require of us? love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. And then, in the 20th chapter with the 10 commandments, Moses reminds them of the specific way that this love of God is articulated. Loving God, respect for family, respect for what is ours and what is not. These laws were laid out for how right relationship might be established between God and throughout God’s creation as they found harmonious ways to live.
This morning’s section in chapter 26 forms the conclusion of Moses’ sermon. The conclusion is all about choice and consequences. If we are to obey God’s commandments: loving the Lord our God, walking in His ways, observing His commandments, decrees and ordinances then the outcome is life. We shall live and become numerous and the Lord will bless you in the land that you are entering. If we choose life, then we shall live. But…if we choose death, then an entirely different outcome will be the result. When their hearts turn away from God; when they are led astray by other gods and serve them, they shall perish. The choice before them is as harsh as we can imagine. It is the choice between life and death.
As we read though this text, we may not like this formulaic outcome, do we? It tests our theology. Doesn’t this fly in the face of the God we know of forgiveness? Doesn’t this reveal a vengeful side of God? Doesn’t this go against the nature of God’s grace who freely gives His life for us? How do you receive Moses’ call to faithfulness and living in God’s way? The more I ponder this call to life, I see it as a choice we make to either live or die in the living of our daily lives. When we awake, we can either choose the ways of death, darkness and destruction or…we can choose the ways of life, light and rebuilding. We can choose to live while we are alive, or we can choose the ways of death while we are still living. Now, I don’t want this come across as being an easy choice. The choices of who we worship are very tempting when we look at the options. Having attended 12 step groups with members who are beginning their journey in recovery reveals the power that addiction can have over people. People worship substances; who worship power; who worship things that bring them immediate gratification: these are all deeply seductive and powerful. How challenging it is to be amidst those difficult times in one’s life and to truly follow this God we know in Christ. We know that the worldly things will eventually lose their luster; one addiction leads to another; immoral decisions catch up with us; poor financial decisions take us in places we couldn’t imagine. Our worlds inevitably come crashing down. Walter Bruggeman, an esteemed scholar of the Old Testament, writes: “When God is not obeyed, a decisive break occurs in every individual life and in the life of every community or state. No power can live defiantly in the face of God’s sovereignty” (The Theology of the Old Testament).
I think there is another way of looking at this dynamic Moses lifts up. I wonder if this dynamic of our call to faithfulness if less about God’s judgement or vengeance or lack of grace and more about our choice to turn away from God. This dynamic is about the inevitability of what happens when we allow (or disallow) God to act in our lives. When Adam and Eve chose to walk away, God did not force them back into the garden as if they were puppets on a string! When we choose to live in dark places, dark things happen. How can light reach us, when we only live in the shadows? I think there is a deep call for the church here! This is a calling to us who live in the light to be reflectors of God’s light of God’s Way to not think that we are the arbitrators of it. It is a call to unending measures of forgiveness, of welcoming, of grace. It is a call to not giving up on those who are choosing death and darkness; it is a call to prayer for them; it is a call to encouragement with them; it is a call to our work of gathering all God’s children at the table of life. It is a warning against places of faith who have slipped into the trap of being complacent country clubs rather than churches. Choosing life is NEVER the easy choice. Darkness is always seductive, always comforting…at least in the short-term.
This was the challenge that Paul spoke to within the faith community of Corinth as he sought to nurture their spiritual growth in the purest form. The choices that the community were squabbling over were their loyalties towards specific people: Apollos, Paul, and the many other teachers who were competing for their loyalty. Paul argues in this section that, irregardless of what teacher brought us into the community, our unity is in Christ. We are united in Christ’s ministry, we are united in Christ’s service, we are united in spreading Christ’s light. Paul writes: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth”. I am so delighted with the visit of theologian Dr. Tony Campolo to the Lower Mainland who speaks in Clayton Heights at 7 pm this evening at Hope Community Church. He is one of the few theologians who I find all Christians can gather around. There are not many: Brian McLaren, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr. So many of us find ways to dismiss people: ‘they are too Conservative, too liberal, too catholic, too Protestant, too Orthodox’. We must find ways to be together in Christ’s service!
This passage provides a wonderful transition from last week’s conversation on the gift of wisdom from Christ into all who follow in His Ways. In this section, he uses the wonderful illustration of moving from childhood into adulthood: moving from milk to solid food. Theologian Mark Achtmeier makes a challenging statement on this faith growth. He argues that we can never read the Bible to become disciples; we must first become Christ-like in order to read (and understand) the Bible. It is not the technical skill of preachers and teachers that will help us mature as followers of the Way. It is our acts of service that allow us to truly understand the nature of our holy scriptures. It is about looking beyond the petty squabbles of our lives and seeing the depths of where Christ’s love abounds: caring for the homeless, caring for those in hospital and care homes, supporting a solo-parent raising their children, visiting the oncology ward and offering comfort, calling a friend and crying on the phone. The acts of Christian service are diverse and we can only do, what we can. Yet as we act…as we serve…together we move from milk to solid food. We move further towards the children of the Christ light. As Paul concludes in this section to the church: “for we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building”.
And so may we, as Moses calls us “choose life”; may we live in the light when much of our life is cast in the darkness; may we welcome others into the light when the darkness is not as challenging. May we gather around the One who is the light of the world.