26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 21), Year B

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Do you ever feel like there are so many choices that the right choice is simply out of reach? At the very least, the "absolute" right choice isn't "absolutely" clear. For example, most of us have multiple career options. It's not as though anyone measures us, sniffs authoritatively and assigns us a lifetime career from which we have no escape. And what about our relationships? Most of us are blessed with multiple communities...our work, our church, our neighborhood. No one is really telling us who the right people are. Perhaps this is most notable in our choice of life partner. How do we know when we've found "the one." There are so many options. How do we choose? And is there really a right "one," a single right answer, a right career, direction, path, fork in the road. And really, what is our primary indicator of what is a "right" choice? Doesn't it usually have something to do with how we benefit?

This week's texts take a very specific look at some of the choices we face - specifically our choices made for the benefit of others. Whoa. Now take a look at some of those examples above - what would it mean to choose our career for the benefit of the good (and some do). What about choosing to live in a specific spot - say in a specific country or neighborhood because our gifts and abilities are desperately needed in that space. What about choosing to live a specific way - with little garbage, lots of recycling, lots of locally grown foods, because we want to treat the earth well for a next generation?

Queen Esther's plight is pretty well known in popular literature. In order to save the Jews from slavery and servitude, she positions herself to marry the King and then further works her magic and favor with the King to reveal how Haman has plotted and positioned to guide the King's policies and destroy the Jews. As a result of Esther's work, Haman is hanged (on the very gallows he was preparing for Mordecai) and Mordecai, Esther's uncle, sends word to the Jews far and near to establish a day or remembering - Purim. Now Esther made some pretty tough choices. She essentially wooed the King with her feminine wiles and it is hard to know whether this was initially for personal gain or for the benefit of her people. Somewhere along the way, Mordecai convinced her that she could do a great thing with the favor she found in the king. But what if she had chosen something else? Was there another way? And what could Mordecai have done differently? One of the the things he does is leads the newly liberated Jews on a rampage of pillage.

The psalmist is raising praises for the Lord who has saved the Israelites from the enemy time and time again. And we wonder what role the Israelites play in their own saving each time? As we look at their history (and this psalm as one little window in the middle of it) we can see again and again how there were moments they made the choice to follow God and there were times they did not make the choice to follow God. And how did they find themselves in each pickle? It seems like we are always making choices....even when we are not actively choosing.

James is challenging the community to ask for what they need and to give thanks for what they have and to aid one another with prayer. This writer is encouraging his audience to make a choice toward God in every aspect of their lives. And it could be true that his underlying premise here is "you will certainly not find God on your side if you to not reach out to God, but by reaching toward God with your whole life you increase your chances." Of course, the writer of James is operating with a bit more confidence than that. He is certainly a "If A = B, B = C, then certainly and without a doubt A = C". It is an over simplification to say th writer of James is encouraging folks to view God as a cosmic vending machine....put in a prayer and you will get what you want.....but then again, maybe it is not an oversimplification.

Now in the gospel of Mark, Jesus is helping the disciples to understand how they can lead and relate. He encourages them not to stand in the way of people who are trying to know Jesus and his teachings. "Those who are not against us are for us." Wow. Jesus is reminding the disciples of an important choice...they can draw the circle large or make it very narrow. But to make it narrow is not what Jesus is recommending. Here is one of those great pieces of quoted text that is so often taken out of context - if your hand, foot or eye causes you to stumble, get rid of it! But in the context of this story, Jesus is specifically referencing actions in which the disciples choose to keep people out of ministry. He's pointing out how actions can draw the circle smaller and keep people out. He's warning them that they need to choose to be inclusive for the movement to work.

God of so many things...
Sometimes I am certain Free Choice is a bad idea.
Many days I would prefer to not have an option.
I would often trade in my humanness to be
a God-loving, Law-abiding robot.
It is too hard to always Choose the Good.
It is too much to look at all the available options
and find the Right One.
My only hope is that what Saint Merton said is true:
Hopefully my desire to make Good Choices
counts for something.
Hopefully my intentions to follow You
can balance my inability to always see The Right Way.
Hopefully my dream of servanthood
will keep me moving toward You
even when I don't know where I am
or where You are.

© matt & laura norvell 2009 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

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