Faith’s Essential Question

Deuteronomy 30:15-20  – The 6th Sunday after Epiphany – for Sunday, February 16, 2014

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses . . .” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Choose. Some choices are mostly meaningless.

  • Butter or cream cheese on that bagel?
  • HP or Canon or Epson ink jet printer?
  • The (good) Giants or the (rotten) Dodgers?
  • Coke or Pepsi?

How many choices do we make every day? How many choices have changed the course of a day, or a life?

197924_192589770783069_150319295010117_431311_4488791_nDeuteronomy’s invitation echoes across the centuries . . . 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 life.

Life or death? Blessings or curses?

My wife, having been told by her doctor to eat more fiber, asks me to buy bran cereal when I next go to the supermarket. I bring home General Mills’ Fiber One instead of Kellogg’s All-Bran and she tells me it wasn’t what she requested. But the odds were against me because there were hundreds of choices in the aisle devoted to cold cereal. At least a dozen claimed (in large, colorful fonts) to solve a person’s fiber needs. How could I not choose the wrong brand?

There are so many choices.

I lead a support group at hospice for those grieving the death of a spouse. At the first session, I tell the eight “strangers” they’ll always be given a choice about sharing. If they don’t want to speak, they don’t have to. One man, whose wife of 50-plus years had died a few months before, never says anything until the second-to-last gathering. I have chatted privately with him; anytime he opens his mouth, he begins to cry. He doesn’t want to cry.

He felt he had one choice: silence . . . until he was ready.206075_192589797449733_150319295010117_431313_5362901_n

Humans have choices. Homo sapiens are omnivores, but can choose to be vegan. Though only a few fellow citizens are extremely wealthy—by hard work, dumb luck or inheritance—they can choose to live a frugal or decadent lifestyle.

Humans don’t have choices. Some still (sadly) disagree with me, but no one who is homosexual chooses to prefer same-gender relationships. Too often family, religious, cultural and other pressures may keep people “in the closet.” A “no choice” becomes a choice that doesn’t feel like a choice.

Choose. Some choices are unimaginably difficult.

  • More chemo/radiation or stop treatments?
  • Divorce or continued abuse?
  • Adoption or abortion?
  • Sexual harassment or unemployment?

When have you felt you had no choice?

What was the best choice you made? (And when did you believe it was the “best?” At the moment of the choice or years later, looking back?)

206410_192589757449737_150319295010117_431310_7854520_nWhen Deuteronomy’s author—writing in the dark by the feeble light of an oil lamp or a daytime shard of sunlight angling through a window—pondered choosing, choices were few. In Biblical days, most never ventured far from their birthplace. Marriages were arranged. Slavery was common. Existence was brutal and short. Nowadays, we refer to the “1%,” the wealthy who control (or disdain) government. But in the age of the scribe scrawling, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses,” those with treasure and power were probably 1% of the 1% of the 1%. Nonetheless, this long-ago writer dared to imagine, dared to suggest, dared to believe, that there were choices for everyone.

I’ll tell ya this secret. I’d rather not have choices. Let there be just one cereal best for fiber. Let there be—like there was in the halcyon days of my youth—but one phone company. I don’t want a thousand lousy television channels, just a few good ones, please.

I’ll tell ya this secret. I do want choices.

But don’t only two matter?

Life. Death.

But how can I tell the difference between the two? Why didn’t Deuteronomy pen an easy-to-follow formula for discerning between choices barnacled with death or ones building a whole and holy life? There’s no potion, special sauce, magic incantation, divine billboard displaying an 800-number or “Price is Right” cheering audience to provide the answer.

And yet there is faith’s essential question . . . will my choice affirm life/blessings (for myself and my neighbor) or will it contribute to death/curses (for myself and my neighbor)?207496_192589784116401_150319295010117_431312_7147658_n

The worst decisions I have made are when I don’t ask the essential question.

I have set before you . . .

(Endless cereal choice images from here.)

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  1. Good words, well chosen. In my usual larcenous way I am stealing the structure of this to tackle the Matthew pericope. I would rather be in Tennessee handling angry vipers than the Matthew bit. To paraphrase Falstaff, “first let’s kill, all the televangelists”…

    1. Mickey . . . all things considered, I’d prefer Matthew-wrassling rather than your Tennessee scenario, but each to his/her own! Thanks for the comments and appreciate your response.

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