We are drawing near a historic choice for our congregation. We will be meeting after worship this Sunday to discuss the drafts of documents that would declare us to be Open and Affirming, a covenant of promises that we would make and an implementation plan that describes how we would start fulfilling those promises. The lectionary texts this Sunday happen to be about choice, particularly choosing how to approach all our other choices in life–whether as what Paul calls “spiritual people” or as “people of the flesh, infants in Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:1-9)
On the one hand that is a simple choice–in every moment, every breath, we can choose to make God or Christ or the Holy Spirit our focus, we can choose to come from a spiritual place of love and compassion and kindness and connection, no matter how materialistic the choice may be before us. As the 17th Century poet and priest George Herbert puts it in the hymn the Choir will sing as an Introit,
Teach me, my God and King, In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything To do it as for thee….
A servant with this clause Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, Makes that and the action fine.
On the other hand, the choice is complicated. We will read from the wisdom book, Sirach, in the Apocrypha section of the Bible, which says that God “has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.” (15:15-20) But the Sufi poet, Rumi, says,
Most people guard against going into the fire,
and so end up in it.
Those who love the water of pleasure and make it their devotion
are cheated with this reversal.
The trickery goes further.
The voice of the fire tells the truth saying, I am not fire.
I am fountainhead. Come into me and don’t mind the sparks.
If you are a friend of God, fire is your water.
(from Coleman Barks translation)
The way of the cross is a perfect example of this. Christ calls us to choose what looks like the worst thing possible for us, utter defeat and suffering, a torturous fire, but it leads to resurrection into the garden of Easter dawn, cool and moist with dew. Jesus gives an example of approaching life from the spiritual point of view in the excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount we will read (Matthew 5:21-37).
We cannot tell where our choices will lead by looking at them from a human point of view. Choosing the spirit’s path by faith moment by moment will open a way that we cannot see, and the scriptures assure us it is the way of the best life possible on earth as in heaven. We will sing two spirituals about wanting to live that spiritual life, “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian,” and “I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me.” We will also sing “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” by the Scottish pastor, George Matheson, who wrote it from a spiritual place. He said that it “came like a dayspring from on high” in five minutes just as it is. The choir will sing “Christ Is the World’s True Light” by Walter Kendall Stanton and Organist John Atwood will play two pieces by G. Frescobaldi and one by J.S. Bach.