Proper 18C’19
8 September 2019
Deut. 30.15-20; Ps.1
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

Holy and gracious God, you have called us to give up all things temporal for the sake of loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the zeal of your grace, that we may Choose Life and Love, and walk in your ways, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

As the story goes, former President Calvin Coolidge during his time in office back in the 1920’s decided one Sunday he would go to church. When he returned to the White House, his wife, who had stayed home due to an illness asked what subject the preacher had preached on, and Coolidge said, “Sin.” His wife then asked, “well what did he say about it?” Coolidge replied, “He was a-gin it.”

By the middle of the 20th century that type of preaching had reached its zenith, Christians and the church became known more for what they were ‘a-gin’ than what they were ‘fer.’ The positive message of God’s love, mercy, and grace, got drowned out by the messages of a punishing God who was mad at the world. Predictably that message began to runs its course with many. Later in the 20th cen. through the televangelist scandals and the predatory priests in the Catholic Church it was apparent that there was much hypocrisy in ‘organized religion.’ The church panicked and began to appeal to people at the lowest common denominator. One of the largest churches in the country (with over 16,000 members) actually removed the cross from their building for fear that it might be offensive or depressing to people who were struggling in life. 

During the latter part of the 20th century, statistics on religion in America began to identify a couple of categories of people who were on the rise, the “Nones” and the “Dones” The “Nones” were those that identified as having no faith. The “Dones” were those who had attended church in the past but due to various factors had become disenchanted with the church and stopped attending – they were done. Even the megachurches aren’t what they once were and have reached a plateau in numerical growth.  Translation – there are a lot fewer Americans who are attending church than ever before in our nation’s history. 

Nature abhors a vacuum and humans made in the image of God being hardwired to follow and worship something or someone went in search of something to fill the void left by the church.  By the late 1990’s there was a term that became widely used in mental health field, and in to some extent the culture in general, the term was “Religiosity.” This was the term used to label “unhealthy religion.” With evangelist scandals, predatory priests, changing doctrines that confused people and caused them to doubt the churches relevance, church began to be seen as ‘sick.’

David Zahl, a 21st cen. theologian has coined a new term to describe what is happening in America today, the term is “Seculosity.” A word describing how our culture has been secularized.  The subtitle of his book defines the new gods of our culture: “How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion.”

We in the 21st century are much too sophisticated to bow down and worship a rock, no our gods have become more sophisticated. These days the Epicureans far outnumber the Episcopalians. Epicureans were a group that were around back in the first century that followed the pleasure principle of the philosopher, Epicurus. Their goal was happiness, and the way to find it was to avoid pain at all costs. They were the first group of people in mass numbers who made an intentional effort to anesthetize themselves with pleasure.

There are droves of the ‘nones’, and the ‘dones’ who now make up the modern-day epicureans, and where are they on Sundays? While there have always been options for dining and entertainment readily available it has never been on the scale that it is today. Pick up a copy of the Arkansas Times and take a look at all the goings on.  There you will find festivals: There’s the Craft Beer Festival, The AR Times Ribs and Butts cookoff, Cocktails and Coattails, the Cheese dip festival, the Harvest Festival, the Jazz Festival, you’ll find scores of concerts anything from a group called “Body Traffic” to the Dallas String Quartet. You’ll find ads for Thai Food, SW Asian Food, Lebanese Food, Indian Food, hundreds of cable network channels, and on the list goes.

Where is all the time, energy, and money coming from to support all of these things? In the past, much of this time, energy, and money used to be given to support the church and in worship of the Living God. What are people in the church short on these days? Time, energy, money. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with having a career, a marriage and family, eating out at a nice restaurant, where the problem lies is when we expect more from these things than God ever intended. The Bishop of London in his address at the wedding of Prince William and Katherine Middleton pointed out that as Christian faith continues to fade in the West more expectations are being placed on our marriages and human relationships that they were never intended to bear. We try to fill our spiritual hunger with exotic foods, we make our political affiliations our basis for identity and belonging, and steer clear of anyone who thinks differently than our group does. By placing expectations of the heavenly and divine upon the earthly and the human we find ourselves on a treadmill of loneliness, anxiety, and discontentment, and harbor resentment toward the flawed humans that have disappointed us.

The clarion call of Moses in today’s reading from Deuteronomy to “Choose Life” is just as relevant today as it ever has been. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days…”  The New Life of God calls to us through our occupations and preoccupations, through our frustrated and broken relationships, in the midst of political polarization, in the emptiness that comes from investing our time, talent, and treasure in things that fail to bring us life, and that at times, shout to us in our painful symptoms. Our true home is the house of God’s love, our path forward is by following the Way of Love.

On this Rally Sunday we are each invited to Come back home, take up our cross and follow God’s will for our lives; Come back home to a real relationship with God, Come back home to a real connection to faith, hope, and love, Come back home to a real community of the broken who will walk with us through the imperfect life of the present, all the way into the perfect life of the next.

One person that had been following the false gods of their day finally came to a point of decision, whether to continue to choose curses or blessing, to choose death or to choose life. They were inspired to write the following; may we accept it as our invitation to come back home:

Dear Friend, 
How are you? I just had to send a note to tell you how much I care about you. I saw you yesterday as you were talking with your friends. I waited all day hoping you would want to talk with me too. I gave you a sunset to close your day and a cool breeze to rest you — and I waited. You never came. It hurt me — but I still love you because I am your friend. 

I saw you sleeping last night and longed to touch your brow so I spilled moonlight upon your face. Again, I waited, wanting to rush down so we could talk. I have so many gifts for you! You awoke and rushed off to work. My tears were in the rain. 

If you would only listen to me! I love you! I try to tell you in blue skies and in the quiet green grass. I whisper it in leaves on the trees and breathe it in colors of flowers, shout it to you in mountain streams, give the birds love songs to sing. I clothe you with warm sunshine and perfume the air with nature scents. My love for you is deeper than the ocean, and bigger than the biggest need in your heart!  Ask me! Talk with me! Please don’t forget me. I have so much to share with you! I won’t hassle you any further. It is YOUR decision. I have chosen you and I will wait — because I love you. 

Your friend,