The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

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Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Choose Wisely

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15

As I was reading these words the day after we elected Barack Obama — and I say, “we,” because it was our political process — there is a scene from an Indiana Jones movie that sprung into my mind’s eye. You may have seen the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Toward the end of the movie, Jones meets the ancient Knight Templar who guards the “Holy Grail.” Christian legend maintains the Holy Grail was the cup used by Jesus during the Last Supper and it is said to possess miraculous powers. The root of the legend is a 12th century writing in which Joseph of Arimathea is given the Holy Grail by an apparition of Jesus. The cup is finds its way to Great Britain.

Later writers pen accounts where Joseph used the Grail to catch Christ’s blood while interring him and that in Britain he founded a line of guardians to keep it safe.

And then we have King Arthur’s search for the Grail and so on, and so on, until finally we come to Steven Spielberg’s adaptation where Indiana’s search for the Holy Grail has ended in this room filled with many choices of chalices: gold cups, platinum, silver, terra cotta and wood.

The Knight Templar tells Indiana, "You must choose, but choose wisely, for as the real grail brings eternal life, the false grail brings death.”

But Indiana isn’t the only one searching for the Holy Grail, of course, as there's a bad guy involved.

The bad guy comes in, looks around, and spots a glittering golden cup.

"Truly the cup of a king," he says, and drinks from it.

Shortly afterward, he goes through this metamorphic transformation to a nearly mummified figure before turning to dust.

The Knight Templar looks at Indiana and the bad guy's female companion and simply says, "He chose poorly."

Indiana spies a wooden cup, and says, "The cup of a Gallilean carpenter."

Still, he has that trademark Harrison Ford look of fear before he drinks from the cup.

"You chose wisely," says the knight.

He chose wisely.

We’ve just come off a week where tens of millions of people across USAmerica stepped into the voting booth and made a number of choices, one of which was the choice of who will lead this nation for the next four years.

I put in about 12 to 14 hours on Election Day.

I arose, went to Bluegrass School and voted. It took me about 30 minutes and, for some reason, I got the sense that there was a different feel at the polling place.

Since I was working election night, I went home and was prepared to get to work on this morning’s service, but all I could think about was election coverage. We were actually doing some live video feeds over the Internet, so I decided to go in early to make sure we were on task.

I went to the Post Office and then stopped by a coffee shop. The only way to put it is this: There was an air of jubilation, and no one had to tell me that these were Barack Obama supporters. The discernment came through loud and clear.

I knew then that the day was going to be different.

Many of us saw the crowd at Grant Park in Chicago when President-elect Obama gave his victory — some would say his inaugural — address Tuesday night.

There were tears of joy.

There were hope-filled eyes, and certainly hopeful hearts.

There were, actually, in some cases, expressions of worship.

It’s safe to say that millions of people have invested a great deal of emotion, a great deal of hope, in this one man, Barack Obama.

In campaigning for the presidency, Obama's laid out his reasons for such hope:
  • An end to our involvement in Iraq, having all troops removed within 16 months.

  • The lifting up of those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, bringing them to the middle class.

  • Providing accessible, affordable coverage for all, and reducing health care costs for families.

And more.

The hopes, the dreams were cast … and USAmerica made its choice.

And now, President-elect Barack Obama has begun making his own choices as to how he will fulfill the hopes, the dreams of the millions of voters who put him in office.

Will he be able to do that?

Well, New York Governor Mario Cuomo puts it this way: “You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.”

It seems that, once they get to Washington, even the most humble and well-meaning public servant finds his or herself corrupted or influenced by corrupted forces. Too often, they end up making choices that are counter to the hopes, the dreams they promised when campaigning.

Because the basic choice is this: They must choose each day whom they will serve: Will they serve the gods of special interest, the god of self-interest, the gods of political dogma, or … well, I was going to say “the voters," but it occurs to me that Obama, and the nation, would be better off if the interests of God were served first.

Joshua is talking to the people of Israel at Schechem, in what appears to be a convocation, presenting themselves before God. We only read part of it, but what Joshua does is go through a review of Israel’s past on the part of God. We know this because Joshua uses the phrase, “Thus says the Lord …” When we read that, we know serious business is ahead. And the serious business begins at Verse 14.

This is a serious choice.

This is not, “Do I have decaf or regular?”

This is not, “Do I want special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickle-onion-on-a-sesame-seed bun … or do I want them to hold the onion?”

This is not, “Do I want to watch Indiana Jones tonight, or do I want to watch a chick-flick??

This is not even, “Do I vote for Barack Obama, or do I vote for John McCain … or Chuck Baldwin … or Bob Bar … or Charles Jay … or Cynthia McKinney … or Brian Moore … or Ralph Nader … or maybe I should write in Pastor Buzz …”

We get consumed with choices … even the choice of what church we attend.

“Do I want the rituals of Episcopalian, or do I want the passionate worship of the Pentecostals?”

There’s this scene in C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” where the devil Screwtape happily discerns, “Now, this is an achievement. They’re busy all the time making choices about things that don’t matter. We’ve got them now. They’re terminally distracted.”

But this choice that Joshua sets before the people is not one of those choices … decisions that have no eternal consequence.

This is a choice about what god the people will serve.

He says, in effect, “The time has come for you to make up your mind about who you’re going to serve. Which way are you going to go? Are you going to the left, or to the right, or are you just going to get off of the highway all together?”

“Are you going to serve those worthless gods of those who came before you, or are you going to fear the one true God?

“Will you give yourself totally over to him in worship?

“Will you get rid of the gods that your ancestors handed down to you?

“Will you choose to worship God?

“Now, you may not want to, but you’ve to decide right here. Right now.

“This ain’t no time to play around.

“If you decide you can’t, that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you would rather serve — but do it today.

“Choose the god of your political party, or the god of the empire, or the god of self-interest.
“But as for me … as for my house, my family, we will worship Yaweh. We will worship God.”

Sisters and brothers, we all face that choice, of standing at the crossroads of faith and having to make the ultimate decision.

You’ve got to put something old down, in order to pick something new up.

There were a lot of nasty e-mails floating around ahead of the election.

One of those was that Barack Obama was Muslim.

There was a January interview with Christianity Today in which Obama addressed that particular rumor. Here is what he said:

“I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn't ‘fall out in church’ as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn't want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals.”

He will, indeed, face many choices in the coming four years.

And regardless of political affiliation, President-elect Barack Obama and our nation needs fervent, heartfelt prayer that the decisions made in regards to those choices will be made with God in mind.

“Choose this day whom you will serve,” because our decisions matter —particularly because we do not know the full impact of those decisions.

And so, in this morning’s text, the people of Israel rise up and say, “We will never turn away from God! Never! We’d never reject God for other things, for other gods! He’s our God!”

Then Joshua said, “Naw, you can’t do it. You don’t have it in you to worship God. He’s a holy God. He’s a jealous God. He won’t put up with your shenanigans. When you desert him for other things, for other gods, he’ll rub you out."

But the people were insistent: “No! No! We worship God!"

And so, Joshua relented: “OK, you are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship God. So be it.”

And they said, “We are witnesses. So be it."

And so, the decision was made.

But it didn’t last.

We read later that the people of Israel were not content with having God lead them, they demanded a king so they could “be like the nations.”

It appears the people weren’t content to live with their own choice; they wanted to rely on someone else’s choices.

In some manner or fashion, sometimes in ways we do not even recognize at the moment, we make decisions that reflect whether we have chosen to serve the Lord, or not serve the Lord.

We face the call of “choose this day whom you will serve.”

Joshua reminds us that we owe all that we are, all that we have, and all that we will be, to the God who brought us where we are today.

We must put away the many other gods that keep us from following the one true God.

We must cast aside decisions and choices that distract us from making decisions and choices that matter.

In the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids, found in Matthew 25, we read that five of the women chose not to take oil with them. They grew drowsy and fell asleep. When the bridegroom came, they were not ready.

They chose poorly.

In that same parable, five of the bridesmaids took oil in jars along with the lamps. They grew drowsy and fell asleep. But when the bridegroom came, they were read to come out and meet him.

They chose wisely.

We were given a few cups to choose from in this presidential election, and we pray that we have chosen wisely.

But that was not the greatest decision that we face.

The greatest decision that each of us faces is this:

“Whom will you serve?”

“Choose this day …”

None of us wants to come to the end of our days and, as with the five foolish bridesmaids, hear the Lord say, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”

Grace and peace ...