Choices… we make so many choices every day, sometimes we don’t even notice we are making them. AT&T or Verizon, Splenda or Equal, Coke or Pepsi, regular or supersize. We choose how we want our coffee, decaf or regular, light and sweet or no sugar. We choose what clothes we put on to start our day. We choose to eat breakfast or not. We make a million decisions at work each day, or if retired, we choose how to spend our time. When to go out or where to go. What television shows to watch. What day to cut the grass.
Many times, in our world, we have too many choices—I once heard someone from Europe (not exactly a third world country) talk about the cereal aisle in the grocery stores in the United States. I can’t remember where this woman was from, but she said at home she had ten or twenty choices, which she thought was plenty, and was amazed that in America in the cereal aisle alone we have HUNDREDS of choices. She talked about being overwhelmed at seeing all the different kinds of cereal she had to choose from. And we who see it every day—how easily do we get tired of our choices? Not the just the cereal aisle but with our television sets—two hundred or three hundred channels and not a thing to watch? Ever felt that way?
Now, as parents, things can be different. Kids change it all up! Sometimes as parents, we enjoy fewer choices because our children become vocal about what they want. Obviously first their needs, but as they grow it is their choices that begin shaping our days—and we as parents allow it to varying degrees, remembering, grudgingly at times, that we CHOSE to have these children in our lives.
Choices… I say this when a couple gets married, too—in the nicest of ways (not, jokingly, remember when you are fighting that this is what you chose!!) But rather I remind them that each day, the secret to making a long lasting marriage is to choose again. And again. Making your spouse your choice each day is (not the only) but ONE of the secrets to a good relationship.
Certainly some choices feel great, but yes, there are times when choices can begin to feel like obligations. Obligations can plague us so mightily that we forget there was ever a choice attached to them. And certainly there are things in life that no one chooses. No one chooses cancer. No one chooses a heart attack.
But today, we talk about choice. About the decisions that we make, the choices we take on in our lives. As I turned 40 last summer, I felt in my own life I had some choices to make. Especially regarding my health. I want to be around a long time for my family, and I knew I needed to take care of some things to be able to do that.
So I made a choice to get healthy, or healthier. I got exams and tests done I’d put off for way too long, which was good. And then this summer I started dieting seriously and exercising regularly—I even have a trainer.
Now, when we talk about choices, sometimes we don’t even know we are making them. We just grab a shirt and run out the door. When we talk about marriage and children, you kinda begin to realize that choices have weight and consequence and lasting effects on us. Yet some of the choices we make can be so easily undone—did you order the wrong flavored latte? That’s ok, just throw it out and get a different one.
But I have to share with you, this experience of getting healthy as we call it in my family has taught me a great deal about choices. Not that marriage and kids have not brought insight, because they have, but nothing else I’ve ever done has quite done what this getting healthy experience has done. And, as I keep telling myself, I chose this.
I started at the beginning of the summer, and the trips to the gym with Allen and boys were more fun than exercise had ever been. Fun! I never use that word about exercise. Never—we put the boys in daycare, Allen & I did our little machines side by side, picked up the boys, headed to the pool, frolicked for a hour or so, I’d slip away and get in the Jacuzzi while Allen was with the boys. Then we’d all take nice long showers and I’d come out smelling good with freshly dried hair feeling refreshed, relaxed and fabulous. What an awesome choice! And how short-sighted of me to have never given this a chance before.
So it started really good. That was the honeymoon period, I think. Then I get a little big for my britches, so to speak, and sign up for a trainer.
On the first day I meet with him, the first thing my trainer does is get me to lay down on this table right in the middle of the gym with everyone around while he stretches and pulls at my arms and legs to see where my problem areas are. I thought they were obvious enough, but apparently I needed to lay down on the table to make them easier to see. I’m embarrassed, I feel like everyone is watching me, but I keep reminding myself—I chose this, I chose this.
Then my trainer gets out one of those big inflated exercise balls and asks me to sit on it. I’ve already done the treadmill, which was fine but got me sweating. Then he made me do some squats, which showed me how uncoordinated I’d become through the years, and then we did some lunges and pulls with arm weights. All that I take fairly well, but this ball scares the daylights out of me. When I see it, my head gets filled with this sound like a gun going off—because that is the sound I am sure this ball will make when I sit on it and it bursts. Just seeing it makes my knees tremble and I start sweating even more. But now that I sit on this wobbly ball, which I’m sure is going to burst any minute, I start sweating even more—at this point I have sweat running down my legs… I didn’t even know my legs could sweat like that, but trust me, they can! So I’m sweating so much, down on this ball, that when he tells me to lean back and do crunches, and when I protest he ignores me, I do my best, but end up sliding right off that ball into a sweaty mess on the gym floor, pulling a muscle in both legs trying futilely to stop myself, and at this point I am unable to get up and need my trainer to help me get up off the floor.
I chose this. It took me three days and lots of Epsom salt baths to even be able to walk normally again, but I went back. And I didn’t cry when he got that ball out again, even though I was still trembling and shaking. And I didn’t hurt myself quite so badly the next time. Or the next. Or the next.
Now here is where I learn the consequences of my choice. Sometimes choices ask difficult things of you. Sometimes choices stretch you to learn new things, and those things might not be easy. Sometimes your choices make your knees shake and sometimes choices make you want to run and hide. Sometimes choices make you sweat and stink and ache and limp and have to go down the stairs sideways. Sometimes choices embarrass you and expose you and make you feel vulnerable. Sometimes your choices leave you hurting on the floor and needing someone to pick you up.
Sometimes your choices make you want to run away. And in the midst of all this turmoil, we have to consider if our choices are good ones or bad ones. There are times when we are on the floor like I was and that becomes the moment we finally realize that when we do get up off the floor, we gotta choose differently. We gotta limp away and make some other choices. And that’s a really tough thing to do.
But our scripture today—I think—is about sticking with the good choices, the right choices. The ones that might stretch us and bruise us and challenge us, but will not break us because they are the right thing to do. In the Hebrew Scriptures today we find Joshua challenging the children of Israel to make a choice.
Joshua stands before the people of Israel and tells that they have been, to this point, a fickle people. Ancient people may not have had as many cereal choices, but they did have lots of gods to choose to worship. And it seems they were no better at sticking with their choices then we are at sticking with ours. They had worshipped and praised Yahweh, but when things got tough and the road got hard they turned away and followed other gods. And the Israelites weren’t just fickle when times were tough, they were equally fickle in their choices when things got easy. As they stand within the Promised Land, Joshua makes them recall how God put an end to their wandering in the desert, how God freed them to settle down after their long captivity in slavery. And he asks them to make a very important choice, to see if they truly have the courage of their conviction. If they are ready, as he and his household are, to make a lasting commitment to the God who made them and the God who saved them.
The challenge Joshua made to the Israelites is the same for us today, I believe. It is the challenge that shaped Jesus’ ministry, it is the challenge that Paul extended as he preached: the setting and the details might look different but God is still asking the exact same thing of us: God is calling us to choose, to make a lasting commitment in our lives– whom we will serve, whom we will love, what we will embrace and become a part of.
The world out there with all its choices and demands can be a tough one, and it can challenge the faith of the most devout believer. So many choices in our lives, so many things to distract us, yet one choice that will make all the difference. One choice that will change us inside and out, one choice that will make the difference between loneliness and community, rejection and welcome, brokenness and wholeness, fear and love, sorrow and joy, death and abundant life. Choose this day whom you will serve. And know that at times this choice might be a tough one, at times we might feel vulnerable and exposed and limping, but we will also find strength and community and support beyond our wildest dreams. We will find life everlasting as we follow Jesus Christ, and together with others will be make the world a better place and find glimpses of that Kingdom Jesus spoke of. We will know these gifts in our lives, and we will know them here in our community at St. John’s. Choose this day whom you will serve, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Amen.