Getting My Act Together
When you have to make a choice, how do you decide? Whether we admit it or not, every single one of us has a process for making decisions. Some of you will make lists, meticulously recording the pro’s and con’s and counting them up. Others of you will consult experts, whether through people you know or by way of research, and use that wisdom to analyze the options before you. There are those of you who are certain you can trust your gut, that your first impression is almost always right on target. And others of you feel paralyzed into inaction with no clear way forward, the choices in front of you rife with perils and risks and potential negatives, such that inaction often makes the decision for you.
I don’t know that any one method is better than another. A lot of it depends on your personality, the way God created you to be, and knowing what it is that convinces you of the rightness or wrongness of something. And I think all of these ways are, in a way, a form of prayer. After all, if God is really God, then there’s not really an area of our lives where we can squeeze God out. Making lists is contemplation, a thoughtfulness where God can work wonders. Consultation listens for the voice of God speaking or writing through others. The “gut” can be that wisdom that transcends the world of words. Even paralysis invites God into the moment, waiting for the way to be made clear without us moving a muscle. The question, instead, is knowing how you decide and embracing the potential for holiness within that process.
When you have to make a choice, how do you decide?
This question is part of what is at work in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today. We are in the early section of that letter, one that began with greetings and praise and good wishes. In the second paragraph, however, Paul turns to the meat of the matter: the Corinthians are fighting with each other. They have drawn battle lines and have picked sides. Some identify with Paul; others with a leader named Apollos; others with Peter (or Cephas); and even others who claim they are truly aligned with Christ.
Remember: we are in the first generation of the church, and already there is a split – actually, there are several splits. Paul has heard about all of this second hand, and though he will soon visit with them, he wants to nip this nonsense in the bud so that they can begin to get their act together.
What does all of this mean for those of us who have thrown our lot in with the Church? Is it comforting to know that divisions have always been a part of the community of faith? Or is it just depressing?
There are numerous examples of how churches divide themselves from one another by practices and habits. Do we say “debts” or “trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer? When we say the Nicene Creed, do we say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son? Do we baptize by full immersion, or a symbolic sprinkling? Is our worship traditional, or contemporary? Do we use bulletins, or PowerPoint? Or, God forbid, both?
I hope it goes without saying that the Church is not the only place in society that is marked by division. We are still a people divided by gender, money, age, race, nationality…in some cases, less so than in the past, but divided nonetheless. And, just in case you forgot, we live in a nation with a two-party political system that, in the past fifteen years, has become the poster child for getting nothing done.
There is something in the human psyche that wants to identify our tribe; and when the dividing lines aren’t there, we create it on our own. After all, there is nothing more important than knowing whether you are Team Edward or Team Jacob.
I’m convinced, though, that the church is different. I see evidence of this in the fact that Paul thinks the Corinthians are capable of much more than business as usual. As he says, it’s not about who does the baptizing (or, I would add, how much water is used, or when). Instead, it’s about what that baptism points to: the good news of Christ, the cross, the reminder of a wisdom that is above the world of divisions.
You see, we have something precious here. If you’ve been a part of Oglethorpe Presbyterian for a while, I’m not sure you can even see it anymore. Let me put it this way: this text from 1 Corinthians, as part of the Sunday lectionary, will be read in a multitude of churches today. I know for a fact that many preachers will see this as an opportunity, whether subtle or outright, to deal with current divisions in the churches they serve. And that’s just not true here. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that we are always of one mind, or that we’re ever in lock-step with one another. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, it’s that we know we can talk honestly with one another, make faithful decisions for the sake of our shared good, and move forward in good faith.
Division, my friends, is easy. So is false consensus. It’s no wonder that those patterns predominate in our world. To inhabit that deeper ground, more difficult though it might be to navigate and negotiate, is a much richer place to dwell. Honesty requires trust; and trust requires faith. And where faith is, God is.
All of this brings me back to my original question: When you have to make a choice, how do you decide?
You see, in order for the Church to get its act together, the people that make up the community need to do the same. Just as communities are prone to division, so are we as individuals. That comic book angel and devil on our shoulder can feel very real some times. And, truth be told, there are times when the decisions we make are stark, with clear good and bad options. But the reality is that most of the choices we make are not that clear: choices about school, career, whether or not to move, most of these decisions are filled with both promises and pitfalls.
So whether you tend to over- or under-think things, here’s the question I really want to ask you: how’s your prayer life?
Those of you who have been here the past couple of Sundays know that this is a question I am going to keep asking every week. I asked you to commit to five minutes a day of prayer – that’s it. There’s no magical formula for prayer – no right or wrong way to do it. What I’m suggesting you do in those five minutes is this: begin with thanks, ask God to stir you later in the day, and spend the rest of the five minutes in silence. If you’ve been keeping up with your prayer, by now you may have started to see a pattern emerge: how and what you notice during the day, what it is that stirs up within you.
For my part, it was another hit and miss week. I prayed more often than I neglected it, and I scheduled gaps into my week so that I couldn’t use the excuse of being “too busy” for God. Here’s the thing: on the days that I did pray, those were the days that I saw more clearly the opportunities to connect what I was doing with what God desires of my time and energies.
I’m going to ask you again next Sunday, and I will give a personal update as well.
For my own part, through this whole exercise, I’ve become more and more convinced that regular prayer is a way to tune into God’s wavelength. It’s a practice that nurtures heightened awareness to the presence of holiness all around.
And while prayer might not make that decision-making easier, it will, hopefully, make it more possible. Because regardless of what choice we might make, no matter which path we take at the fork in the road, God is along for the journey.
That’s the promise that this foolish cross offers: there is nowhere, nowhere we can go, nothing we can do that drives God away. Can you imagine any other relationship like that? Nothing is beyond God’s redemption; nothing is beyond God’s forgiveness. You don’t even have to get your act together first to make that true. It just is true.
I know that can sound absurd. And that’s my invitation today: let us be absurd together. Let us be fools for the sake of what it is that God desires.