First Congregational Church
February 16, 2020
6th Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In some ways, I feel a little bit sorry for myself, and a lot more for those younger than me - mainly because we didn’t get to know George Carlin very well. As a student of dark humor, it would be interesting to hear what his take on our current world situation would be.
That being said, we can still enjoy some of his timeless stuff, like, “What if there were no hypothetical questions?” Or “Just because the monkey fell off your back doesn’t mean the circus left town.” And then there’s this one: “People who say they don’t care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don’t care what people think.” And one of those within the religious realm: Atheists are a non-prophet organization. (prophet / profit)
This morning’s scripture passage began with the rhetorical question: Which of the scripture passages for today is the lesser of all the evils? The Gospel passage carries the headings of murder, adultery, divorce and oaths. The non-Gospel New Testament passage is the one in which Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they needed to grow up. The Psalm passage seemed - to me - a little light on the lessons that could be gleaned. Which left the Old Testament passage.
After reading it, I anticipated the questions that might arise in some of your minds. “Is she nuts?” “What on earth was she thinking?” “How long until she retires?” I could also guess at some of the “answers” that might have come to mind. “I should have gone to the restroom before she started the sermon.” “I could have hit the panic button on my car alarm.” “I need to remember to add milk to the shopping list.”
I’d dragged my feet, about this message, through most of the later part of the week, because the passage seemed so black and white, so stern, so void of grace - at least on the first read. I’d been trying to think about what God really needs us to glean from this passage - at least in a general, thematic way for today. And then, Saturday morning came along.
I was still humming and hawing, and dragging my feet in getting to the office, with the Moth Radio program accompanying my dilly-dallying. In the very first story, it was as if God dropped the biggest, best present right on my ears and brain.
It was the story of an Indian gentleman named Ashok Ramasubramanian, of a day when he was in college and he started down the trek of living a life of joy. While he was in his third year of engineering school, a family member brought him a full Kit Kat candy bar. The family member said, “This is Kit Kat. They eat it in America. And it’s amazing.”
Apparently, in India, when you have a roommate, tradition dictates that you share this thing with your roommate. Ashok looked at the candy bar and it was like nothing he’d ever seen before. It was beautiful. So he decided to eat just a small piece. He would, of course, still share the bulk of it with his roommate, and no harm done. So he ate a small piece and it was amazing.
So then he said, “I’ll eat a little piece more.” Knowing where this is going, pretty soon, he had only a very small piece of Kit Kat in his hand. And at this point, some sort of twisted logic seized him. In Ashok’s own words, he said, “I mean, what’s the point of sharing now? I mean, the roommate’s going to come home, and I got to explain, ‘Dude, I got this full bar, I ate most of it, and there’s only a small piece to share with you.’ No, the safe thing to do is to eat that also and hide the wrapper. Which is what I did.”
“Now about two hours later, my roommate comes home. And he is clearly delighted about something. Joy is a very hard concept to pin down, but you know it when you see it. And I saw joy in the eyes of my roommate. The dudes clearly excited about something.
Now in his hand is a small paper napkin, folded up, and he opens it up, and inside is a small, 1 inch piece of Kit Kat. Now, unlike me, who had wealthy relatives abroad, a friend of a friend had given him a piece, and his eyes were filled with the joy of sharing, and he said, ‘This is Kit Kat. They eat it in America. And it’s amazing.’
And his eyes were sparkling with joy. I’ve never seen anything like that since or before with my own eyes, more confused than anything else. I mean, what am I supposed to say? Dude, I actually had a full bar. I ate it all. So you should eat this.
So he proceeded to take a ruler; this is engineering school, so there's rulers all over the place. And the rulers we use have one edge that is sharp, so he took the sharp edge, and he cut this tiny bit of Kit Kat into two and he offered one piece to me. I ate it. I mean what else are you supposed to do? It's too complicated to do anything else.
But you know, two Kit Kats in a single day within hours of each other…the universe, God, if you will, is trying to send me a signal. Dude, you are on the wrong path. You need to change. And so I did.
Back to the passage that started all this, in big, broad strokes, the whole book of Deuteronomy is basically a recap of the Law and history and how to worship, that was laid out in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, as delivered to the people, through Moses. After long explanations of do’s and don’ts, a long list of blessings and a lavish recounting of the main covenant between us and God, which is God will be our God and we will be God’s people, Moses begins his wrap up of Deuteronomy’s 33 chapters with our passage for today.
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Thank you, Mike. It is probably a good thing that God didn’t consult with me when the rules of life were being laid down. I don’t know what your rules would have been, but I think mine would have had a theme of “common sense - that which is, indeed common - and sensical. Alas, there are reasons for the clothing labels that read, 100% cotton, remove baby before washing. Or, For Best Results, Machine was hcold. Tumble dry low. Never iron design. For Worst Results: Drag thru puddle behind car. Blow dry on roof rack.
To that point, the writer of our passage gives three points in verse 16: love God, walk in God’s ways, and keep God’s commandments, statues and judgments. Verse 20 gives those points a different flavor: love God, hear God’s voice and cling to God.
SO, the question - from the sermon title - is not a universal question, of course, but certainly a general one: Do you want to live? It may seem like an innocuous or even base question, but sometimes, we need to hear or review the most basic questions.
Sometimes, unless confronted with the question, do you want to get well, people are actually quite comfortable to stay broken or unwell, because it’s what is familiar and known. Getting well is not known and may be be a scarier place that being well.
Living? Well, being content with the same-old, same-old is familiar. If I was to truly go after wanting to live, which is not so much physically as mentally, I may have to change some of my thinking or how I operate in the here and now. I might need to explore areas of my life that I don’t want to look at. Naw, it’s much nicer pretending that I’ve not heard the question.
Except that we have. Do you want to live - not in a place in some time, out of fear, but in a place of promises fulfilled and wholeness, even in the here-and-now? One might expect answers like that of Eeyore: I suppose. Of course, we don’t have to go all Tigger as we live out our days, with our tops made out of rubber and our bottoms made out of springs. But we can take a look, in these longer, grayer days of replenishing, despite whatever age any of us might be, of how we answer, “Do you want to live?” and its subsequent question, “Then what?”
Because I’m guessing that none of us - including myself - likes to feel uncomfortable - when we know we should be sharing a Kit Kat. I’m guessing that most of us don’t often see enough eyes “sparkling with joy” - the deep joy that comes from living the life that is sheer gift by trusting the God who provides for us - sometimes in the goofiest of ways.
Two roads diverge in a world of grace, and glad we can make the choice. Long we can stand at the crossroads and look as far as we can to where it bends beyond our ken. So we take the one unknown, the betterment known in later days. And having the better choice, because it is life and living and truly not the same. Two roads diverge in a world of choice, and we - we took the one of life and ever. So shall we pray.
Holy and Everlasting God, it’s not often that doing what you desire is a mystery. You’ve made it quite clear to most all of us. But sometimes, Lord, we need to review the script, getting back to the basics and foundational principles. Forgive us when we turn away from the plain and essential question of life. Urge us to repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and all the other ways we can live fully in you. For the abundance of life that you bestow on us, all your people say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.