"The Keystone Of Decision Making"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - November 17, 2002

Psalm 78:1-7; Joshua 24:1-4, 14-18

     How many of us are aware of all the little elements of life that determine how we make our decisions?  Many of us believe we are in charge of how we choose one thing over something else.  Yet when we take an honest look at what we seemingly "reverence," it might surprise us the little control we actually exert over our decision making.

     For example, some of us build our Sunday observance around whether or not one of our children has a soccer match.  There is a genuine tear in the spiritual fabric of many of us when we have to choose between supporting our children or nourishing our spirits.  In many cases there is no contest; soccer wins.  There could be a collegiate scholarship down the road if our child has the necessary athletic ingredients and develops them.

     Another example was mentioned the other evening by one of the news commentators who was discussing how various terrorist organizations are wielding enormous power because of  their ability to prey on the fear-prone instincts of people.  He said that they can immobilize regional and national economies with little or no skill at all. 

     When the snipers were on the loose, a number of mothers could be seen running with their children as they were delivering them each morning to our Early Education Center.  Everything from restaurants to shopping centers were feeling pressure from the reduced clientele.  People were cautious and not venturing out unless there was a necessity.   

     He estimated that the car bombings in Bali that took so many lives several weeks ago will cost the tourist industry there an estimated one billion dollars.  That is a lot of leverage for a couple hundred dollars worth of explosives in the hands of a few people committed to performing hate crimes against people they do not know.  Fear is one of the elements of life that silently determines how we make our choices.  If we are not careful, it will probably gain increased dominance over us as we move into the New Year.

     In a more benign arena, department and grocery stores have many Americans spoiled. We base our decision to go shopping on Hechts' sales' coupons that allow us to take an additional 15 percent off their existing sale prices.  We are more likely to buy Tropicana orange juice or Land O Lakes butter when we see the asking price of "two for four dollars." Savings and zero interest rates motivate us to act now rather than later.

     While we may claim that we are only exercising our common sense options, the truth is that every area of life is filled with what molds our opinions, shapes our attitudes and pressures us to decide.   We have developed specialized routines and commuting routes if we drive into the District.  Some of us build our evening social schedules around certain television programs.  We consider this normal behavior.

     The list of such "hidden motivators" is quite extensive while we conclude that people are simply busier today than at any other time in history.  Without realizing it we have become a driven people.  We may not be aware of how much our energy is siphoned off by such stimulants. We often come home from work emotionally drained as a result of competing choices.  Ever so slowly our spiritual identities begin to buckle under the stress from all the demands.  Again, we consider this normal; we will take a couple of aspirin and feel better in the morning.

     There is a marvelous passage in our Scripture lesson for today.  Joshua raised the bar on decision making among those who were listening to him.  This is what he said:

Honor the Lord and serve him sincerely and faithfully.  Get rid of the gods which your ancestors used to worship in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, and serve only the Lord. 

     If you are not willing to serve God who has done so much for us, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors worshiped, or the Lord.  As for my family and me, we will serve the Lord.

     What we try to do is fit matters of faith into the matrix of what drives us all over the landscape of our lives.  We think we are in charge and in control of our spiritual health until we observe the number of symptoms that are outcropping in many of us. 

     People turn to fast foods because of busy schedules.  Suddenly our concerns about gaining weight insert yet another variable into our lives.  High blood pressure and cholesterol levels are heading off the charts of normalcy for many of us. Do we change our lifestyles?  No indeed, we compensate by taking beta blockers and any number of products from the family of Statin drugs.

     Some scientists are speculating that our declining rational capacities has more to do with our passion for watching television, our lack of exercise and our reliance on computer software that thinks for us. Ease and convenience contributes to our decision making yet there will come a time when we will have to pay the piper.  What we do not use, we lose. 

     We need to give serious thought to what Joshua was telling his people.  "Decide today," he said, "who you are going to serve."  Joshua was talking about the gods of the Egyptians and the Amorites.  Of course, we can dismiss this appeal as not applying to us.  We all know that we have one God but where does God fit into our schedules, our tithing, our consciousness and life-patterns?  Do we come to worship services in an attempt to convince ourselves that God has a place in our lives?  If so, that will not work!

     The cornerstone for all decision making begins by moving our relationship with God to the front of each day.  For some of us it will mean shattering time honored behaviors that helped bring us to where we are right now.  What would happen if we started each morning with a new frame of reference?  Suppose we entered the world centered and prepared for what will come?  If our lives are not working, we need to greet each day with a different set of tools than the ones we are currently using.

     Recently a daughter called her Dad at 6:30 a.m. She was given new responsibilities in her company, a fresh staff of people with whom to work and an enormous hike in salary.  She was thrilled and was telling him what this promotion means to her.  He was trying to listen so he could share in her enthusiasm but he could not.  One of his "gods" was calling him to make a decision.  He had to stop her.  He said, "Honey I am so happy for you but if I don't leave the house right now the traffic will be a mess. I'll be late for work.  I'll call you, okay?  I love you!  Bye."  

     After telling me this, he said, "I devastated her.  I felt terrible. I was given this glorious moment with my daughter and I blew it because of my self-imposed pressure for beating the traffic patterns.  It bothered me all day.  I called her repeatedly but she was in meetings. I never got to apologize until that evening. I was miserable all day."

     Such things are not the gods of the Egyptians and the Amorites, but we bow to them nevertheless, and when we are not careful, they can seemingly make choices for us even among those we love.  At the same time we gloss over what we used to reverence. The centerpiece for many families in our country used to be God and the Church. Today such priorities no longer carry the same importance.  What we do, however, communicates what we hold as sacred.   

     When God is the cornerstone of each morning, we become more sensitized to our role among people.  The competition on the highway becomes less important.  When we begin our day with God as the frame of reference, our perceptions change. We learn to remember that it is our kind that is needed on this planet right now. People need to see courtesy, generosity and kindness.  If we do not match rudeness, callousness and frustration with a different recipe for living, who will?

     Think of what is possible if we ended each day with some "down time" with God, instead of with the litany of horror that frequently accompanies the evening news.  How many of us retire for the evening with images in our mind of parking garages that have collapsed or the senseless results from ruthless, renegade human beings who claim to be honoring our Creator with their murderous rampages?

     Some of my best evenings are when there are no meetings and I sit in our living room with a great book and devour what is within the author's mind.  One of the greatest laments we hear from each other is that we do not have the time to read anymore.  The truth is that we always find time to do exactly what we want to do.  When God becomes the cornerstone of our thinking we learn how to decide differently. 

     Just as it has taken a collection of small decisions to bring each of us to where we are today, so more creative choices can redirect us toward what will bring our spirits into greater harmony with God.  Habits, beliefs and attitudes that are not healthy began as innocent decisions that we made without God as our reference point.  

     If it is time to create for ourselves a different path, begin with the cornerstone that will  enable us to bear bushels of magnificent fruit that will help heal others in our world.  Every day this opportunity offers itself to us.  All we have to do is begin.  "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step."  Do not hesitate; take it.  Take it now.


    Loving God, as we gather for worship, we are aware how often our public claims do not reflect the way we think.  There are times when we remain blind to the consequences of what we do.  We confess that often our best judgments can be tilted in favor of self-interest.  Our tongues speak of our trust in you while our deeds reflect our need to look out for ourselves.  Help us learn, O God, that the poverty in our understanding comes from clinging to the ghettos in our minds.  We ask today that you lead us toward what will heal the areas that separate us from you.  Amen.


    Loving and always merciful God, our hearts and minds remain the dwelling place where we will find you every moment.  Often we tend to believe that you are elsewhere.  We believe you are more easily accessible in church, or while we walk in nature, or while being inspired as we read your Word.  We often look to the sky and assume that you are away from us in some distant place that we call "Heaven." Awaken our spirits to discern where you have remained since the day we were born. 

    Comfort us during these days when we hear rumors of war and witness eye for an eye posturing in so many places around the world.  Why is it, O God, that we appear to celebrate with our news and film footage the barbaric behavior of people while ignoring the 94 percent of us who are working, raising our families and making our contributions. 

    We find ourselves on the eve of another Thanksgiving.  And as we approach this valuable signpost in our culture, may we truly remember everything that will inspire gratitude when we allow it.  Help us cleanse our minds of the clutter so that we can appreciate what we take for granted. We are grateful, O God, and we trust that in spite of the numerous distractions that call us to be otherwise, we will always find you within us. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .