It's Your Choice

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, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, & to Jacob.

Our lives are filled with choices and that is a good and wonderful thing. We say it is the American way. There is probably no where else in the world where folks are offered the wondrous array of choices we have. We insist on it. Why else would so many of us shop at the Wal-Mart?

I am going to ask you to make some choices this morning. Here is your first choice. You are going out to eat - you have your choice of fast food restaurants - MacDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Arbie's- Which one will you choose? Raise your hands. Now, everyone who chose MacDonald's, move over here to this section, whoever chose Burger King, over here, Wendy's right here, and Arbie's, here. Now don't get too comfortable, there are still more choices for you to make!

Sometimes, there are so many choices, we feel confused and don't know which to choose. The other night, a guy sitting in the bleachers at Camden Yards caused quite a stir. No matter whether the Orioles or the Yankees made a hit or a run, he cheered for all he was worth. Finally, the man behind him tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Hey Buddy, Why are you rooting for both teams? Don't you understand this game?" the guy answered, " my wife and I are traveling and I am so excited to be at a ballgame like this, so I thought I'd play it safe and root for both teams. That way, no matter who wins, I can go home happy." You don't have to be a sports fan to know that you just don't root for both sides. You really ought to decide which side you are on!

Next choice I am going to ask you to make is this - you are going on a vacation - where would you most like to go? Europe, Canada, the western U.S, or stay home? Raise your hands. Now, everyone who chose Europe, move over here to this section, whoever chose Canada, over here, western U.S., right here, and those who would rather stay home, here. Now don't get too comfortable, there are still more choices for you to make!

Sometimes there is no decision on our part but we have to rely on the decisions of others. Take baseball umpires, for example. Charlie Moran, the old National League baseball umpire, held himself in highest regard and took his decisions seriously. He enjoyed demonstrating to the ballplayers who was really the boss behind the plate. The day came when there was a really close play at home, the runner and the catcher awaited Charlie's decision with baited breath. The umpire hesitated, and the catcher shouted, "Well, is he safe or is he out?" Moran pulled himself up to his full height, cleared his throat, and said to the catcher, "Mister, until I calls it, it ain't nothin' at all!"

Next choice - you have won a contest and are going to make an appearance on a TV show - what's your choice? Everybody Loves Raymond, ER, Jay Leno, Fear Factor? Raise your hands. Now, everyone who chose Raymond, move over here to this section, whoever ER, over here, Jay Leno right here, and Fear Factor, here. Now you can get a little comfortable, your next choice won't be for a little while!

Most of our lives, we ARE faced with choices. The other day, driving down the street, I saw a bumper sticker that read 'Choose life, your Mom did.' We can all be glad for that - if our parents hadn't made this right decision, none of us would be sitting here today.

In our O.T. lesson, Moses (or the deuteronomist) presents the belief that turning again to God is a matter of life and death. This calls for the people of Israel to make a decision: "If they obey, there are blessings; if they disobey, curses and death." Faith needs always to be awakened and maintained. New fuel is continually needed to fire up the furnace of faith. Faith can flicker and go out. The prophets sensed this was happening. There is a solution. "Turn, repent, live." They are exhorted, 'choose life so that you and your descendants may live. Love the Lord your God, hold fast to him for that means life to you.'

Israel did not. Israel died as an independent nation. The failure to rouse the people and to restore a strong faith to Israel points to the real answer: God must become a faithful Israelite who can show Israel the way back to God.

If I were to ask you today, 'do you choose life,' what would you say? I would like you to ponder these words and this choice as we consider what it means for us to choose life.

Have you ever felt as if your life was perfectly under control? Life is great and things couldn't be better. You have a good job, loving family, glowing health. Suddenly, without any warning at all, crisis strikes and life as you know it changes dramatically - it could be your health, your marriage, the loss of a loved one, the loss of your job…and suddenly your life spins out of control. The crisis is overwhelming. Life has dealt an unfair blow and anger and pain threatens to engulf you.

It happened to me. Sure, I've had setbacks in my life - illnesses, accidents - my Mom used to say that I had enough medical challenges to cover all 6 of her children. In the fall of '98, it was my birthday, to be exact, and Thanksgiving Day, that I first received the dreaded diagnosis of cancer. It set me back on my heels. I was just about to graduate from York College and enter seminary. I'd been working a grueling schedule. I'd piled on extra college credits to graduate more quickly. I was executive director of the Hanover Area Council of Churches, sometimes working a 60 hr week there. I was still leading Stephen Ministry and teaching, etc at St. Matthew. Now I was finally graduating, resigning from everything and entering the last phase of my about-to-be-reached goal. From now on, I would attend seminary and devote myself to study. I went from what I thought was my life's highest point to what I hoped was it's lowest. I believe that there is a valuable lesson to be learned by every experience. That crisis taught me so much. In Stephen Ministry I'd learned that the word crisis, when written in Chinese, is composed of two characters - one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity. Now do you see where the choice comes in?

Life went on and I entered seminary in the midst of radiation treatments, keeping my situation to myself. After all, the doctor predicted that there was a 95% chance I would never see cancer again, so I put it behind me and went on my way, pursuing my goal. I studied and actively built up my health and I barely remembered I was a cancer survivor.

Some of you know how the story continues. I went to my internship in Danville PA, and was working hard, when - bam! In January of 2004, that dratted cancer diagnosis came back to haunt me again with a vengeance. This time the word mastectomy was a definite. I began to contact doctors in Danville at Geisinger Medical Center, thinking, "I can handle this.' Then an even more devastating blow came. My husband and daughters had come to Danville to offer their support the weekend following the diagnosis. Little did I know that it was the last time I would see my husband alive. Midnight, the following Wednesday, I received word that my husband of 37 years had died of a massive heart attack in our home in Hanover. In a fog, I packed up my clothing and made the 2 1/2 hour drive.

I descended into a black and bottomless pit. Tears and pain were my constant companion. I had to go back to internship or lose all that I had already invested in it. And I had to have the surgery and get on with my life. The seminary said so. I had a choice. Did I want to successfully complete my internship? - or not? Unlike my usual thoroughly researched medical approach, I pretty much plowed blindly ahead. I had the surgery in Danville. My sisters, daughters, and the people of Trinity Church in Danville ministered to me.

Before my surgery, I had to go back to work long enough to complete my first semester of internship - and that meant I had to preach. I can't tell you how angry I was at a God who would take my husband when I was off doing God's work. The only time we were apart for any significant length of time in 37 years! I could barely stop crying long enough to talk, much less to preach a sermon! But my experience was forced through the lens of my faith as I prepared that sermon, and I pulled out all the promises I could find in the Bible and took them for my own. I stood in the pulpit that weekend and I preached and I cried and the people of Trinity cried with me.

After my husband's death, my mother had had knee replacement surgery and was doing so well that my brother brought her to visit me after my surgery in Danville. It was her first time out and she was so happy to be there and I never guessed that I would never see her alive again. I returned to Hanover to recuperate and the second day, I received the news that my mother had collapsed and was undergoing CPR. Then the news that she, too, had died. There was no grief left for me to feel, there was no way I could possibly cry enough tears. As I sat, overcome by my darkness and pain, there came a dim light, a thought - a sure thought - my life was so out of control - I was so lost. But I suddenly realized that all of those times that my life was great and wonderful, I had no control then either, anymore than I did now. But from those promises that I had pulled out of the Bible, I knew that God can bring good out of every circumstance. I made a conscious decision that day - I chose life. I asked God to give me strength to be a survivor and this time, I would not put my experience of pain behind me, I would use it to help others. This time I realized that the learning in the experience was not just for me. It was meant to be shared with others in pain, to help them to choose life, to make a conscious decision to not be a victim of their circumstances. To exercise the only control they have over their circumstances. How they respond.

Today, at our altar rail some of our parish young people make a choice for the first time. In fact they already made that choice when they came to First Communion class last Monday. They choose life - each of us chooses life when we gather round the rail to receive the body and blood of our living Lord. He died so that we would have life.

Now I ask you - do you choose life? You may go back to your seat if you have raised your hand. God bless you all. Amen.

Read other sermons by Pastor Faye