The Sunday Sermon: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 16, 2020
Scripture: Joshua 24:14b-15a
A Choice We Have to Make
Two weeks ago as the month of August began, we “remembered not to remember” the things of old. We recognized, again, that God is doing a “new thing” even as we found ourselves more or less sitting around, waiting out this quarantine time, feeling like we’re not really doing anything at all. We responded to the divine question of that Sunday scripture passage from Isaiah. God asked, “Do you not perceive it?” We answered, “Yes!” Or at least we promised we would perceive it in the weeks ahead.
Last week we judged ourselves, our lives, our actions, and our inactions by Love’s standard. I can’t speak for any of you directly but I can tell you that I, myself, came up short. As I considered our answer of “Yes, we are” to another question form our scripture – am I my brother’s and sister’s keeper, I realized even more acutely how often my comfort and convenience come at a cost to those brothers and sisters. And even more damning than many of the things I “do” are the many things I “don’t do” to change the hardship and distress of my brothers and sisters. I imagine that if you’re honest with yourself and honest with me, you’d find the same is true in your lives, more often than you’d like it to be.
We are all “judged by Love”, with a capital “L”, and found wanting.
I suggested last week that, as difficult as that is to admit to ourselves and others, when we do we may actually be ready to change … to choose to live differently.
Pray with me … And listen for the Word of God. Read Joshua 24:14a-15b. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
In this past week’s letter, I shared the story of an interview that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), gave on one of the national nightly news programs last week. The anchor asked him to explain his optimism in light of Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), pessimism about the potential “dual threat” of a flu and COVID-19 outbreak in the fall and winter of this year. Dr. Fauci noted that “if we do not do the things we need to do (like masking and social distancing)” we could indeed have a “very difficult time.” But he went on to say that “there are things that we can do to get those levels, (those threats), down.” In other words, he told us we have a choice.
You see, we are somewhere in-between what was and what will be in our lives now. And we’re wondering whether what lies ahead could be, or should be, anything like what we’ve left behind. I suppose that’s always the case, but it is heightened by the dramatic difference between the two “options” this time. On one hand, we’re all wondering what we can expect when we “get back to normal.” But on the other hand, we’re talking about how we will all be forever changed by our dual crises of a world-wide pandemic and global social unrest manifested in the United States in race relations.
“We’ll be different after this” is an all-too-familiar response in our lives. In that same letter I shared the Reverend Martha Tatarnic’s reminder to us that “after 9-11, after any and every mass shooting, after floods and hurricanes and forest fires, and after each killing of an unarmed black man by police, we respond with ‘we’ll be different after this.’ ” And yet, she concluded, “We keep shopping and driving , and burning forests and fueling extremism and overlooking systemic racism and polluting the ocean and throwing out plastics and pumping our skies full of carbon. Beyond travel restrictions, economic disruptions, and rising death tolls, Tatarnic is most terrified by the possibility that none of what’s happening right now will change anything in any lasting way. Me, too.
I was thinking of last Spring when we first started socially distancing. A small group of members gathered on Zoom to finish out the year of our Thoughtful Christian Sunday school class with a DVD based curriculum called Profuture Faith. This conversation explored the “evolutionary purpose of religion and the ecological necessity of science to assist all of us in reclaiming our moral and prophetic voice on behalf of future generations.” (Sorry you missed that one, those of you who did, aren’t you?!).
In a nutshell the conversation reinforced what we already knew, what we already know: That the way we are living on our planet is unsustainable. It went further by helping us to find peace with what is and will be so that we can live full and happy lives and live more fully into our promise that it will “be different after this.” But as much as anything, it pointed out – exactly as COVID-19 is pointing out – that the planet will have, and is having, its say in the matter of how we are choosing to live. And what it is saying is not good for our future. So … judged by Love, GOD as the planet itself, we must choose again and choose differently. As the book of Joshua put it, between “the gods of old or the GOD of life.”
Ever since I found the words to truly express my theology, early in my Seminary study, my experience of this GOD has begun with the interconnectedness of all things. We are all here on this planet as creatures who are inextricably bound to one another. When we try to live as if we can override these bonds of relationship, then life goes wrong. There is hardly a more illustrative way to prove this reality than a virus that reveals how the well-being of all of us depends on the well-being of each of us. My exhale profoundly affects your inhale. We can’t pretend that the way we treat the vulnerable among us doesn’t affect the rest of us, too!
Dr. Fauci noted in the interview that “the way human nature is acting out there, it doesn’t seem likely [that our goal will be met]. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” Indeed … We are seeing, all across our world, that we do have the capacity to act collaboratively and to change radically in response to an emergency situation: wealth can be distributed more justly; we can reduce our carbon footprint; living wages can be given; housing can be found for the homeless; value can be found in labor we too often overlook; and, the entrenched routines and systems of our lives that we feel so bound to, can be changed. One of the most profound revelations of our COVID-19 world is that we see how we can choose to live differently!
Our prayer of hope is this: All will be well. Not “all will be the same.” But all will be well. We judge ourselves by Love’s standards and come up short, understanding even more completely how our own comfort and convenience far too often comes at a cost to someone else. And with that new (or renewed) understanding, we must choose to live differently.
On the PBS Newshour two Fridays ago, in response to host Judy Woodruff’s question of how he’s getting through this time, New York times columnist David Brooks said that he has “a spiritual sense that out of this moment we can come to a much better place.” People of faith have always had that “sense” and we have always been given a choice: to remain bound by the lies and the practices – personal and communal – of the past, or to step forward into the unknown promise of a “much better place.”
Let us choose this day and in the days ahead whom you will serve, for there is a choice we have to make. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. May it be for all of you, so that in the weeks ahead together we may discover what a difference it will make.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 16, 2020
 Tatarnic, Martha. “After the Unveiling,” The Christian Century. July 29, 2020. 25