September 4, 2022
Rev. Scott Landis
Researchers tell us that the average person makes in excess of 35,000 decisions each day. 35,000! Now, I don’t know how they came up with that number or who in their right mind would want to do that kind of research, but it’s a statistic that is held by many in the field of psychology and the many other disciplines that study human behavior.
If you take away the approximate 7 hours designated for sleep each day – during which time we are blissfully exempt from decision-making, that leaves an average of 2,000 decisions per hour or about 2 decisions each second! I know it may be hard to believe. You may think the only decision you have made thus far today was whether or not to come to church – but au contraire – you have made literally thousands of decisions already today alone – including what to wear, what to eat, whether to shave, read the paper, have coffee or (well, that’s not really a decision in my book). I think you get the picture. We are making decisions all the time – constantly – some we are fully aware of – others are nearly subconscious. [Pause]
Today’s passage from the book of Deuteronomy puts before us a “life decision.” It’s a biggy. The setting involves the gathering of the Israelites on the eve of reentering the Promised Land. Moses stands between God and God’s people – as Moses has done often. And God knows just how fickle this group can be – how easy it is for them to make really bad decisions.
God speaks a word of warning. The warning is NOT that they must demonstrate how they have to measure-up or prove themselves worthy in God’s eyes. Rather, God wanted them to know that there would be consequences for the decisions they made. Just like there would have been consequences if I had decided not to drink my coffee this morning – or not to come to church at all. God wanted them to know that they had important decisions that were right in front of them.
“I place before you, life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your children may live.” The subtext being, “I am the way and the truth, and the life. Follow me. Listen to me. Be obedient to me. Embrace me. That’s the way to live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God. [Pause]
Now, if you have decided to keep listening to this sermon as one of your 35,000 for today – let’s take this a step further.
It is my belief that this decision-making process that we all engage in each and every day – is an evolutionary one - because WE are constantly evolving. We are always changing – our minds, our bodies, even our spirits based on the circumstances of our lives. In short, we are being shaped and reshaped by this gift we have been given called our life. The decisions we make are a part of that evolutionary or ongoing process, and each one involves a degree of struggle.
To be sure, some are much more challenging than others. So, while my decision whether to have that second cup of coffee at 7 a.m. may be a no-brainer, the one to determine whether to take the long-awaited vacation or put the money into a much-needed car may be more challenging.
Here’s where the potter-clay image might give us some insight – and why I chose it to complement the passage from Deuteronomy. [Pause]
Like Moses, Jeremiah was also chosen to stand between the God and God’s people. God told Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and there he would be given the words to speak.
He did, and there Jeremiah observed the actions of the potter. He noticed as the lump of clay spun around and around on the potter’s wheel. How the potter gently lifted the clay into the shape he desired. If it didn’t take on the shape he wanted or if it got off center, the potter would simply push the clay back in on itself and start all over.
How many of you have tried your hand at pottery? If you have, you know it’s a lot harder than it looks. There is a fascinating interplay between you as the potter and that seemingly innocent/lifeless lump of clay on the wheel in front of you. While you would think the clay has no part in the process – it seems to have a mind of its own.
Indeed, there is a resistance on the part of the clay that the potter must counter in order for a shape to emerge. NO resistance would result in nothing but a useless blob. Just the right amount allows for the potter to work against the centrifugal force of the wheel and the density of the clay to make a whole new vessel.
It’s the tension – the struggle – the give-and-take that I find so interesting as it seems to mimic my own internal process in decision making.
That’s when Jeremiah understood. God is the potter we are the clay. Just as the potter works on the clay – God is working on me to help me become fully the person God intended me to be. Taking that metaphor one step further – we also engage in that same process in our own decision making. Working, and struggling, and deciding – sticking our toe in the water – testing it out – doing what we do and making decisions that will result in consequences not only for ourselves – but also for our children and all those who follow. This is what Jeremiah noticed and prophesied. [Pause]
It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, “The true test of the morality of a society is what is does for its children.” Or as the often-quoted Native American saying describes, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
It all suggests that there are consequences and trajectories — in our life and on all life — based on the decisions we make today – all of which will have an impact NOW and in the future. So my decision whether to conserve water will affect me and those who follow. My decision to drop trash in the ocean will affect me and those who live there. My decision to vote (or not) will affect me and future of our democracy. And my decision to listen for God’s call and direction in my life (or not to) will affect me, those in my care, AND my children. [Pause]
This weekend we recognize and celebrate the 184th birthday of Queen Lili’uokalani. When you read the history of the Hawaiian kingdom you realize just how cruelly she was treated. Deceived by those who surrounded her – including those from the Continent whom, she thought, supported her sovereignty and the Hawaiian kingdom – you realize just how much her decisions following the overthrow were based on grace, forgiveness, and the love for her people – not revenge.
I think she understood this idea in Deuteronomy AND this image from Jeremiah about how God was using her life – shaping and reforming her in ways where she was given the internal strength to Choose Life. And, in so doing, modeled a way of life that spoke even more powerfully than her words — and continues to do so today.
Today, we make a decision – once again – to engage in the practice we were taught by those who went before us as together we eat the bread of life and drink the cup of blessing. As we do, we model a faith that is slowly being shaped and formed into a new vessel. Our resistance and the hands of the potter are both necessary to become the child of God that God alone envisions.
Let us do so today confident in the grace, forgiveness, and love of God who invites us to follow — and DECIDE to live in ways that bring life and add to the lives of those who follow.