This has been an incredibly mild winter. I had a garden flag hanging that reads, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” I finally put it up because this isn’t going to be the year for that. Spring is coming early and that is fine by me. There has been enough darkness of late and not just in the sky.
God knows a lot about darkness. That’s why in the beginning of Creation, God separated the day from night so darkness would not always rule. God knows a lot about darkness and our night fears, so He sent us a Light that would forever shine in the darkness. He sent his only child, his only Son, Jesus Christ, who would not just be a light in the world but The Light of the World.
I share this reminder with you because sometimes when you glance at Scripture, especially the Old Testament, it can seem rather dark, so let’s cast the Gospel light on it. In Deuteronomy, Moses says to his people, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” He tells them that if they choose to follow God, they will be blessed, but if their heart turns away, if they bow down to other gods and serve them, they will perish.
This isn’t the God of Wrath but the God of Truth saying, “Be careful how you orient your lives and be careful what you worship. All that glitters is not gold.”
When Moses tells his people they will be prosperous, there’s more than one meaning implied. It’s more than economic success. Webster’s Dictionary also uses such words as thrive, flourish and vigor to define prosperity. This is a prosperity gospel that has little to do with money. It has everything to do with how we orient our lives.
That’s what we do on Sundays when we come together to worship. We come to be reoriented. A compass is always supposed to point to true north, but during the week we can become misdirected. A political conversation in an office becomes heated. We forget to listen. We forget to love. Righteous indignation just becomes indignation, and the compass needle begins to turn away from true north. There are no winners, just losers. A little bit of our soul withers and we find that we aren’t flourishing. And we wonder, how did that happen?
We take that same attitude into social media where we don’t have to see people face to face. We don’t have to see the nuclear effects of our words; we find ourselves acting in ways that aren’t our best selves. We forget to listen; we forget to love. And a little bit of our soul withers and we find that we aren’t flourishing. By the week’s end, the compass needle is just spinning and we have lost our direction.
In the Episcopal Church, we have a very physical way of being redirected. It is literally following the cross. The cross leads us into worship and then the cross leads us out into the world. It was Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who pointed this out, especially when we do what is called the Gospel Procession. That is when we take the Gospel and read it from the middle of the congregation. When the cross and Gospel are being carried into our midst, we turn and face it, no matter where we are standing. It’s another way of being reoriented. Follow the cross. Listen to the Gospel! And as we do, the compass begins to turn to true north again. We can breathe again. We can flourish.
And anytime the cross passes us, we bow. It’s called reverencing the cross. We bow to this cross and no other. We bow to this God and no other. We allow Jesus to get under our skin and remake us and save us; sometimes it’s saving us from ourselves. And listen to that word – allow – God doesn’t override our will. Like a homeless person asking for a handout, God begs to come in, and we have the free will to say yes or no. To God. Who remains homeless unless we give God a home in our heart.
The little gods that can suck our soul dry are more than just the usual suspects.
Listen to this poem that humorist Judith Viorst shares in her book How Did I Get to be Forty and Other Atrocities:
I’ve finished six pillows in Needlepoint,
And I’m reading Jane Austen and Kant,
And I’m up to the pork with black beans in Advanced Chinese Cooking.
I don’t have to struggle to find myself
For I already know what I want.
I want to be healthy and wise and extremely good-looking.
I’m learning new glazes in Pottery Class,
And I’m playing new chords in Guitar,
And in Yoga I’m starting to master the lotus position.
I don’t have to ponder priorities
For I already know what they are:
To be good-looking, healthy and wise.
And adored in addition.
I’m improving my serve with a tennis pro,
And I’m practicing verb forms in Greek,
And in Primal Scream Therapy all my frustrations are vented.
I don’t have to ask what I’m searching for
Since I already know that I seek
To be good-looking, healthy, and wise.
I’ve bloomed in Organic Gardening.
And in Dance I have tightened my thighs,
And in Consciousness Raising there’s no one around who can top me.
And I’m working all day and I’m working all night
To be good-looking, healthy, and wise.
And a marvelous hostess,
Won’t someone please stop me?
And that’s what Jesus says to us. Stop. Stop what you’re doing. Is it well with your soul? Is this giving you life or death? Moses was speaking words Jesus would later say, and I wonder if we listen to either speaker.
Won’t someone please stop me? Moses says, choose life so you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him and holding fast to him, for that means life to you.
Jesus says, I came that you may have life and have it abundantly. Abundant sounds a lot like thriving to me. It sounds like the truest form of prosperity. The choice really is yours. “See I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” It’s your choice.
The Rev. Cynthia Taylor is the pastor of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Martinez.