October 29, 2017

October 29, 2017: Values (Life Choices)

 

Scriptures Used: Matthew 7:7-14, Mark 12:30-31

 

In 2008, I bought a car. A sporty, black Mazda 6. At the time, I didn’t even look at other models. I could have bought a Honda Civic or another Toyota Camry, but they didn’t carry the same appeal as the 6. I wanted my car to scream “edgy musician,” not “22-year-old dad material.”

 

Eventually, the sporty black car started to have issues. Electrical problems caused malfunctions; the low profile tires were more expensive than economical ones; every repair requires going to a dealer and paying their prices unless I want to get into the vast world of car parts. Thankfully, it has been a mostly reliable car. But when it’s had problems, I worry that I can’t go anywhere because my car will break down on the side of the road and I’ll get attacked by highway robbers or maybe bears.

 

That’s the hard thing about our choices: they have effects, sometimes consequences.  If we have solid values, and we stick to them, our choices should work to our benefit. There are times when we choose what’s easy, or what’s good in a moment.

 

Like when parents tell their kids they can’t go to McDonald’s because it is closed today, then you pass by a well-lit McDonald’s full of customers. What did your child learn? Mommy fibs.

 

What about those times that choices do not have a clear answer? Getting the opportunity for a job that’s far away or staying close to communities we love; or when we wonder if giving money to someone in need may be helping them or feeding bad habits; spending time with family or friends that bring us down or letting the relationship suffer. Choices can be complicated.

 

In today’s reading, Jesus tells the disciples that our choices matter by equating them to paths leading to a gate. One gate is big and easy to find, the path is wide, others are there, except the wide gate is the one that leads to destruction. The less attractive, harder to find, narrow gate is the one that we should strive for.

 

When have you ever heard, “pick the hard path, it’s the one you want” and thought “well that just makes sense”?  That’s why we don’t call the gospels “Easy News.” It’s Good News, but it requires some effort.

 

Later on, in Matthew 11:30, Jesus says that following him is easy, that the burden is light. So why here is he saying that the gate is narrow and hard to find? The truth is that getting used to the path of Christ is hard, it requires a lot of difficult decisions. Our path may require that we do not invest in those things that cause us to slip into the mindsets of the wide road: like following Christian values when it’s easy, serving both God and money, etc. These are the things Jesus preached against: when claiming to be a person of faith and law, we need to be dedicated to that choice to be a follower even when we don’t like it.

 

How many of these things in your life or in the lives of those you care about are leading you toward or away from the narrow gate?:

– how we respond to conflict or dissatisfaction in our relationships and our marriages

– how we spend our money

– how and how often we indulge in our vices –Is it “because Halloween” or would any holiday suffice?

– how we respond when folks say or do things we don’t like – bad drivers and people who talk in movies, am I right?

– But let’s be real: how do we respond when we hear words like racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia? Beliefs can vary, but love and grace are the narrow path.

 

Thankfully, Christ offers us guidance in how to negotiate making the right choices with our values: we can ask for help. Knock and God will open the door. Ask and God will provide. We have to choose to ask, but God will deliver. If you are quick to judge, ask God for the grace to listen. If you are scared to speak out, ask God for courage. If you tend to shut down when you hear something you don’t like, ask God for patience. These are all ways you can choose to love.

 

God is also mighty in forgiveness, because God loves you. Think about the Great Commandment: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the whole commandment, but only part of the story. The missing piece that follows is “…because God loves you more than you know.” Then it works like a circle. We love God because God loves us, which then makes it easier to love ourselves, because we are loved, and then love our neighbors well. Maybe your first step in getting on the narrow path is asking God again, or maybe for the first time, to show you how much you are loved.

 

Because of love, I appreciate the narrow gate. Choosing to be a Christian wouldn’t be worth it if it was easy. Easy is nice, but easy typically doesn’t make us any better. Every time I do something for myself and struggle with it, I develop love for myself and my ability to do something the right way.

 

Let me offer an example: this summer, I spent a lot of time working around the parsonage. Emily and I painted some rooms; I did some landscaping and made some small repairs and upgrades. I could have asked the church to pay for someone to do it or planned on a work day, but I chose to learn for myself. I am proud of myself for choosing to learn how to do things that I didn’t know how to do. My newly found confidence has led me to believe I can do other things. I built a headboard a couple of weeks ago, and it actually looks pretty good. I’m proud of that.

 

That’s what the narrow gate is about – doing the right things, persevering through the learning curve – because it makes us more resilient and patient people. In the kingdom of heaven, where the greatest commandment is love, we have to be patient and resilient. We might as well start practicing now.

 

Here’s a chance to practice following the narrow gate: every year, just as Halloween ends, we start seeing Christmas décor. You will hear folks complain that we took Christ out of Christmas.  You may even be tempted to say it yourself. Well, don’t. Instead, show love. If you meet that bitter person, show them the light of Christ. Say, “I hope you see Christ today.” If it’s you that a little Grinchmas-y, take Bishop Ken Carder’s advice[1] and find a place to experience Christ’s presence anew: volunteer in a memory care unit, serve with the underprivileged, minister to inmates at the prison, bring food to the Help Center or donate to the Community Clinic. Go looking for the narrow gate. Make the choice of love.

 

I am choosing to follow the path to the narrow gate. I invite you to come with me. There aren’t many of us, but loving and praying and serving together gives my life so much purpose and power. Even when it’s hard, it’s worth continuing to try, because I know that we are seeking God, and God is with us.

 

Our values and choices matter.  I want to challenge you this week to ask what you value about your church. If you haven’t noticed, attendance in worship has not been very good this past couple of months. Churches decline when we don’t make them a priority. Instead of choosing to guilt you, I am going to invite you to help us take the narrow path, to grow together and not give up on church as a valuable and necessary part of our week. What are we going to do to get our community back on track and wanting to come spend time with God every Sunday? Or, God lead us, having opportunities to love and serve together during the week!

[1] http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/united-methodist-forum-unity-kenneth-carder#.WfJ_kZmw_IS.facebook

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