Just realized I forgot to post this. So sorry to disappoint both of you who read this blog :-). Here’s last week’s sermon and my last in this series (Trish will preach Sunday to conclude the series).
SCRIPTURE – Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – 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 his ways, and observing his 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 him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Overwhelmed Sermon Series
#6 – THIS Is the Day
Feb. 19, 2017
I read an article recently in which a reporter asked experts in a variety of fields – sleep researchers, vocational coaches, financial planners – how much time a person should devote each day to their area just to get by. Not to excel, but to just do the minimum. How much time each day should be spent on exercise, eating right, paying the bills? The total time for the minimum requirements added up to 36 hours each day. If you can spend 36 hours each day on these areas, you’ll have the perfect life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 36 hours each day, so how do we make the most of the 24 hours we do have?
Today we continue our “Overwhelmed” sermon series, in which we’re talking about the ways life overwhelms us and how the Bible helps us cope. We’re overwhelmed by our busyness and our stuff and the needs around us. How do we live our lives in such a way that makes the most of what God has given us without overloading our circuits and overwhelming our bandwidth?
I use Google Calendar to keep track of my schedule, and one of the features is that you can turn on and off certain calendars, depending on what you want to see. So if I want to see my work calendar or my personal calendar, I can turn it on. If I turn it off, all those obligations go away.
I didn’t realize how profound this feature was until this past summer, when I went on sabbatical. On May 1, I was the pastor of a vibrant, amazing, wonderful church. On May 2, I was Kory, a man without a plan. One of the first things I did that morning was fire up Google Calendar and turn off my work calendar. And I watched as those squares that were filled up with meetings and programs and appointment all went blank. And I panicked. “You mean, I don’t have to do anything?” It may sound blissful, but for someone who is used to having something to do, it was quite distressing.
Theologian Lewis Smedes once wrote, “Every square on the calendar is a frame for one episode of your life.” Pastor John Ortberg said that we are square-fillers, populating each day on the calendar with things to do. We have 24 hours each day to use as we would like. The choice is ours. Following Moses’ lead, our guiding question today is this: Each day, do we choose life or death? Do we fill our squares with blessings or curses?
For Moses and the Israelites, the choice was that simple, that clear-cut. “Honey, what would you like for dinner tonight, manna or manna?” God had parted seas and destroyed Egyptian armies, so it was pretty easy to see which choice led to life and which choice led to death. God repeatedly showed the Israelites in very tangible ways the consequences of their choices. Life or death.
Don’t you wish the choice was as clear today? One of the biggest challenges we face is the paralyzing number of choices we are confronted with in almost every aspect of our lives. For example, do you remember a quaint time back in the Good Old Days when your only choice of Oreos were…Oreos? Then came Double-Stuffed. And Chocolate Dipped. Now you can get White Fudge Oreos, Lemon Twist Oreos, Watermelon Oreos, and Pumpkin Spice Oreos. How do you choose?
The average grocery store has about 30,000 items in it. Your average cable TV provider seems to have that many channels, as well. Want to watch a movie? Pick from the hundreds of titles provided by Netflix or HBO Now. We are overwhelmed by the choices around us, to the point where we waste valuable hours each day simply trying to decide. I typed “the difficulty of making choices” into Google and got 85 million results in .69 seconds. We have too many choices and not enough time to choose.
Each day we face decisions, from the trivial to the monumental. Each day we have the opportunity to choose life or death, to be blessed or be cursed, to be a blessing or a curse to others. Each day is a gift we have been given by God, and it’s up to us how we use it. Or is it? When I look at my calendar, so much on there is out of my control. Sure, I could choose not to show up for work or not to pick my kids up from school, but I like being employed and married. Some of our time – most of our time – is not our own, or so it seems. So how do we choose how to use what we have? How do we choose life?
I believe choosing life means grounded ourselves in God, and that starts from the moment we wake up. I’m sure you’ve heard the morning prayer that says: “Dear God, I think you’d be proud of me! So far today I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, lusted, lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or overindulgent. I’m very thankful for that. In a few minutes, though, I’m going to get out of bed. From then on I’m probably going to need a LOT of help.”
Each day is a gift that we often take for granted, so choosing life means not taking it for granted! Each day when we wake up, God is calling us forth into this day that was created for us. The very first words of the Bible tell us that darkness hovered over the face of the earth, and God said, “Let there be light!” and this world was illuminated. Darkness surrounds me when I sleep and God says, “Let there be Kory!” and God awakens the light within me to shine forth. The hymn “Morning Has Broken” ends with the line, “Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day.” How might our days be different if we realized that each time we woke up, God was re-creating a new day for us to use? Choosing life over death starts by acknowledging the source of that life, the one who made this day for us.
Each day starts out with unlimited possibilities. No day starts out good or bad. It just starts. Twenty-four hours stretched out in front of us. It’s a blank square pregnant with potential, waiting for us to fill it in with blessings or curses, life or death. The scripture says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Sometimes I wish that passage read differently, because I look at my calendar and I know what is lurking out there. Max Lucado reminds us that this verse doesn’t say “let us rejoice and be glad when it’s over,” or “let us rejoice and be glad in spite of it.” We are called to rejoice in every day. Divorce days. Final-exam days. Surgery days. Drive-your-kids-all-over-Lexington days. Every day has the potential to be a day of blessings.
Whether or not that happens is up to us, because we are the ones making the choices. And at some point, if we want to follow Moses’ advice, we have to choose God. There’s intentionality there. That’s what Moses is saying to the Israelites here. You can’t just go along in your day assuming you’re in a relationship with God because you went to church on Sunday. There’s a decision involved, a paying attention, an invitation to partnership. Moses knows this is important, because there are plenty of other gods out there demanding our time and attention. We face that choice all the time. To which god will we bow down? Which God gets our allegiance? Which God gets our time, our thanks?
It’s easy to give our attention to other gods. Moses knew that, so he warns the Israelites about bowing down to other gods. Moses meant the gods of the Ammonites and the Hittites and the Jebusites. He didn’t know anything about the money-ites and the power-ites and the busy-ites and the fame-ites. These are the gods that demand our attention. None of these gods are bad in and of themselves. They only become curses when we bow down to them. I found a quote this week that says, “If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. Either way you’ll be distracted from God.” Are we distracted from God? What are we choosing instead of life?
Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.” But too often we live as if he said, “See ye first all these other things, and the kingdom of God will be added unto you.” And the more we add on, the more we chase after other gods, the more likely we are to miss the God that is right in front of us. God was with us yesterday. And God will be with us tomorrow. But today…THIS is the day.
Today I’m on day number 16,843. Yes, I counted. Some of those days have been days of blessings, some of them have been days of curses. Most of them have been a mixture of both. This day? So far, so good. But if it ends up not going as planned, if I end choose death instead of life, if I squander the gift of this day…guess what? God willing, there will be day number 16,844. And I’ll have another chance, another day, to choose life.
Author Shauna Niequest has this beautiful statement that’s worth quoting at length: “Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding outside your window is the most beautiful painting, the crackers and peanut butter that you’re having for lunch on the coffee table are as profound, in their own way, as the Lord’s Supper. This is it. This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull off the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.”
She continues, “Your life, right now, today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you’ve ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage all have the makings of a life of epic proportions, a story for the ages. Because they all are. Every life is.”
Life and death. Blessings and curses. Choose life. Choose relationships. Choose love. Choose hospitality. Choose all the things that Jesus showed us when he walked among us. Fill your squares with things that bring your joy. I know it would be easier to lose your temper or cut corners or to return snark for snark or give up. And sometimes we will take the easy way. But God has shown us another way, a way sometimes filled with challenges and trials and tests of our patience and calls to share what we have. Those ways can be harder. But that’s where life – real life – is to be found.
Moses presents the Israelites with a choice. Life and death. Blessings and curses. And then, it’s up to them. Notice, we never hear from the Israelites what they choose to do. There’s never a decision given. Instead, Moses’ choice is left hanging out there, waiting to be answered.