When Russ and I were new young parents we registered for a parenting course – at our church, by the way. The method of parenting that was being promoted was based on the psychological theories of Adler, one of the three great Swiss psychoanalysts of the late 1800’s, Freud, Jung, and Adler. The text for this course was called “Children, the Challenge” and it was written by an American psychiatrist named Rudolph Dreikurs. Forgive me if I don’t remember much about Adlerian psychology. What I do remember is that the theory stressed in our classes was called “natural consequences” as in if you pull the cat’s tail the natural consequence is that the cat will scratch you.
I remembered natural consequences as I read and reread today’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Today’s passage concludes Moses’ farewell address to the people of Israel gathered on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Moses reminds them of what they have been through: slavery in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, receiving the commandments, and wandering in the wilderness. Then, on the edge of the Promised Land, Moses lays out the two ways between which they must decide: “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity” (30:15).
I wonder, do you think St. Stephen’s might possibly be facing a similar situation?
Moses makes it clear to the people that the natural consequence of the right choice is a long future. If not, Israel’s days are numbered. For Israel, life and prosperity (the right choice) meant that all human activity would be under the protection of the Divine. They would live securely on the land, their land would be fertile and prosperous, and they as a people would be blessed with many offspring and descendants.
Part of the Israelites choosing life means they have to choose to be obedient to God and God’s ways. Obeying God means that the people are to love God wholeheartedly; to walk in God’s ways, which are ways of justice, righteousness, and loving-kindness.
Two additional points to stress are that Moses speaks to a gathered people. He is not giving instructions to individuals about individual lives. These rules are for communal living. This is how the community must function. Secondly, the law is always given as a gift. The law is God’s little instruction book, God’s gift to the people to help them get more out of life. And notice that these laws are given after God has declared that Israel is God’s people. This means that the law is not the means by which they are to become God’s people or earn God’s love, but rather it is a gift given to God’s people because God already loves them.
What would it mean for St. Stephen’s to choose life – the natural consequence of obeying God’s commandments? How do we love God with all our heart, mind, and soul? How do we give to the poor and fight for justice? How can we care for the hurting, treat others fairly, share food with the hungry.
At the annual meeting two weeks ago those who attended read the stark financial news presented by our treasurer. If your reaction was anything like mine, you came away alarmed. But, blessedly, if you attended that annual meeting you also came away encouraged because we elected six additional vestry members who are eager to join others in this community in turning things around for this parish.
Last weekend your vestry went away overnight on what is euphemistically called the annual vestry retreat. Let me tell you right off the bat, there was nothing retreat-like about our day and a half together at the Duncan Center in Delray Beach. As a former bishop of mine used to say “This church doesn’t need a retreat; this church needs to advance!”
Well, I can assure you that your vestry started its year by advancing all over our strategic plan. “Our Faith, Our Future 2017-2021” has three goals, 13 strategies (or plans), and 56 initiatives (or ideas that will carry out the plans). It’s a very ambitious strategic plan but it comes with a lot of good news. We have five whole years to do it and there are a lot of us. Each goal area has vestry champions now and for each of those three goal areas we have specific answers as to the questions how and when we’re starting and who is on board.
For example, one of the first strategies we are going to attack is enhancing internal and external St. Stephen’s communications. We are going to recruit and train parish greeters and develop a new brochure and gift bag for guests. If you’d like to be part of that new ministry, speak to Allison McNeill. We’re going to be hosting more community events like the recent Comic Cure at which eleven guests completed a response card indicating they’d like additional information about St. Stephen’s. And we’re going to be sure that our signage during the upcoming construction is prominent and inviting so that it will be know to all that St. Stephen’s is “open for business.”
Pick up a copy of the annual report and the strategic plan at coffee hour and think about what part you are going to play. No, pray about what response God is calling you to make?
As Moses told his community the choice is ours to make. The natural consequence of faithfully choosing life is prosperity, growth, and long life. It was so for the ancient Israelites for at the end of the book of Joshua, in the context of a covenant ratification ceremony, the people publically commit themselves to rejecting idolatry. They say, “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God” (Josh. 24:18).
In a few minutes we will ask our new vestry to come forward and we will commission them for their service. They will make a commitment to serve faithfully and you will be asked to support us. Will you? Will you make that promise? Will you commit yourselves to choosing life, to choosing that prosperous, healthy future for St. Stephen’s Church that is the natural consequence of honoring God not just with our words but with our actions? Today I set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose