A Choice Between Two Girls
I would like to
begin the sermon for today by telling you a modern parable from my
own life. As most
stories from my life, it involves a little bit of history and a
great deal of fiction, and I will leave it to your discerning ear to
distinguish where history leaves off and fiction begins.
But whether history of fiction, the story is fundamentally
true. This parable is profoundly part of our daily lives.
Listen to history, fiction, but foremost, a parable.
It happened one
Friday night in October. The
year was 1955 Thompson’s Café.
That is getting way ahead of the story because it all began
much earlier. I was a
freshman in Junior High School and as a ninth grader; I had fallen
madly in love with a young girl by the name of Adelma Garbage.
Adelma Garbage was beautiful; she was round; she was good
looking; she had long blond hair, blue eyes, a cute figure and a
pudgy squat nose. She
was a farm girl, and like so many farm girls, her skin was as smooth
as peaches and cream, except for occasional flashes of acne.
Our relationship began because fate had destined that her
locker was to be next to mine in our ninth grade year.
Every morning, she would come to her locker, and so I saw her
first thing at least once every day.
Soon, I developed the courage to walk with Adelma to class
and then I developed the courage to sit with her in the school
library and finally I developed the courage to telephone her on
Monday night, and thereafter on every Monday night, I would call
her. On Friday nights,
after the basketball game, we would meet at Thompson’s Café and
have a cherry coke and would listen to her favorite song on the jute
box, by the Cordettes. Her
song was “Eddie My Love.” Our
relationship grew and grew into a deep and profound friendship and
then I graduated into tenth grade and a new school and a new hall
way and a new set of locker friends. No longer was my locker next to Adelma’s; instead my locker
was near that of Lorna Finkelbaum.
Lorna, through no fault of her own, was a pretty young thing,
with dark brown hair, big brown eyes, a peppery personality, and she
too had a round, short, pug nose.
Even though I was still infatuated and in love with Adelma, I
could not resist the temptation to see Lorna every morning.
It wasn’t my fault that her locker was near mine.
It wasn’t my fault that she was there every morning. So regardless of my feelings, I started walking her to class,
and then sitting with her in the senior high school library, and
then calling her every Tuesday night, since Monday nights were
reserved for my first love, Adelma.
I must confess that I found myself in a rather complex and
delicate situation. I found myself in this delicate balancing act, trying to
juggle the feelings of two girls at one time and it wasn’t
working. I wasn’t
sleeping well; my acne was acting up again; my pimples were growing
to gigantic proportions, so it seemed in the mirror.
Tensions were mounting in my life and my loyalties were very
divided. And then one
Monday, the first day of school, as I came into the hallway that
morning at 8:00 A.M., my heart stopped because at the far end of the
hallway were none other than Lorna and Adelma in rapt conversation
with each other. My
heart skipped a beat. They
didn’t see me but I watched as they seemed to talk intensely to
each other for hours, but it was a mere five minutes.
That same night, Monday night as normal, I called Adelma and
you could feel the icicles in the phone, and it wasn’t very long
before I knew what was coming. She said firmly but quietly;
“You are going to have to make a decision; it is either
Lorna or me. It is not working out.”
I answered indignantly and defensively:
“What do you mean, make a decision. Why do I have to make a
decision? I like you
both. You’re both nice girls.
I am just a young guy having a good time, and I don’t have
to make a decision.” She
hung up and the night passed. The
next night was Tuesday and naturally I telephoned Lorna, and
needless to say, the voice on the other end of the telephone line
was frosty and frozen and she gave me the ultimatum;
“You are going to have to make a decision.
Either me or Adelma.”
And I said, “Why? I like you both. You
are both nice and…” She hung up on me. I
was trapped. I knew the
inevitable was happening and I was being forced into making a
decision about two really nice girls whom I really liked, and I
didn’t want to make a decision.
I stalled for time, hoping that the ultimatum would dissolve
or be forgotten. I
straddled the fence. I
played the middle. I
played one against the other for days and weeks.
I was proud of myself for my flexibility and adaptability.
Three weeks later it happened.
It was Friday night in October, 1955, at Thompson’s Café
in Jackson, Minnesota. As
usual after the ball game, I walked into the café, looking for my
friends, and there sat Adelma, round, smiling, beautiful, listening
to our theme song from the jute box.
I looked at her and started slowly sauntering towards her,
and noticed that there was another young man sitting there with he
in the booth, flirting with her and ignoring me altogether.
I was angry. I was upset.
How embarrassing. So I turned around and looked for my other friends and there
she was, Lorna, brown hair, brown eyes, smiling face, listening to
our song that was still playing on the jute box.
So I sauntered smoothly over to her, and I noticed that she
too was with another guy; he was obviously enjoying her company.
It was the Friday night massacre. I didn’t know what to do.
I was dumbfounded and embarrassed and then symbolically, the
song on the jute box stopped, and it was momentarily quiet in that
back room of Thompson’s Café.
And there on that Friday night in October of 1955, I learned
a very vivid lesson about life.
It is difficult if not impossible to love two beautiful girls
at the same time. Ultimately,
I was going to have to make a decision to love one girl or the
other. I was going to have to make a painful decision or possibly
lose them both. Thus
ends the parable, with a little bit of history, and a lot a bit of
fiction, but the parable is profoundly true.
The meaning of the story is as true as true can be.
What is the meaning
of this parable? Obviously,
this parable illustrates the basic tension found in all of us.
This parable is not basically about Adelma and Lorna but this
parable is about you and me. This
parable was not about a choice I had to make whether to love one
little pretty girl or another pretty little girl, but this parable
is about the choice that you and I have to make between the pretty
alternatives in life. We
have a choice to love the gods of our culture and live a fun-filled,
self-centered life that is a pretty attractive life that America
makes possible for us. Or,
I have the choice to love the Lord God, the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ, and to be filled with his sacrificial love for God and
others. It is hard when you have two such attractive choices:
between the gods of pleasure and the God of our Lord Jesus
Christ; and therefore it is difficult to chose when you have two
such pleasing alternatives. This parable is about a choice that you have to make about
the kind of pleasure you want in this life.
It is the pleasure that grows out of living a self-centered
life, satisfying all your goals, ambitions and idolatries. The other choice is equally attractive and beautiful:
to chose the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his call to
discipleship, to love, give, share, and lose yourself in loving
others and God. It is a hard choice precisely because each
alternative is attractive.
The sermon today
grows out of the text from Joshua:
“Chose this day whom you will serve.
Either chose the gods of the land in which you dwell or chose
the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who brought you out of the land
of slavery. As for me
and my family, we will choose the Lord.”
All Christians have
always had to make a decision.
All Christians have always had to choose.
All followers of Jesus Christ have had to make that choice:
either to love the gods of the land in which we live or to
love the Lord God, the Father of Abraham, Isaac, the eternal
presence of God in Jesus. You
cannot escape that decision and neither can I.
Like with Lorna and Adelma, I played the middle, wiggled and
waggled, and hope that decision would fade into the woodwork.
But it never did. And
you and I can wiggle and waggle, play the middle but one day, we
will have to choose. That is just the way it is. Jesus said, “You
cannot serve two masters. It
is either/or. One or
the other. God or mammon.” So
Jesus and Joshua are the same:
they force you into a choice that you don’t want to make,
just as I was forced into making a decision between the two young
In Joshua’s day,
the gods were not the gods of pleasure and hedonism as they are
today. The gods of
Joshua’s day were made out of wood and stone, and the Jews carved
little Baal’s and little bulls, and they worshipped these wooden
carvings in their day. In
Martin Luther’s time in history, the people worshipped the statues
of Jesus and Mary. But we do not have a problem with these gods today.
The god that is
tempting your life today is the ancient goddess of Dionysus, the
goddess of pleasure and fun, the goddess of the good times.
This goddess of the good times is all around us, on every
television program, in every newspaper, blaring over every radio
station. Don’t buy it
if it isn’t fun and a good time.
Today, I am
speaking directly to you young people and young adults.
I think that the goddess of the good times is the most
attractive idol for you. I worry about you, not because you are going off to worship
some little statues of bulls or plastic images of Jesus. These are not the gods of our culture today that dominate our
lives. The gods of our
culture are everywhere around us, seducing us, enticing us, slowly
persuading us to follow the style of recreation, ease and pleasure.
Let me give you
some examples that I see when I observe the goddess of the good
times in action. I
often hear you young people say:
“I will not come to church unless it is a good time. I will not go on a church retreat unless I know the retreat
is located where we can have a good time.
I will not help an old person unless it is a good time. I
will not help the suffering people unless it is a good time.
Because if it is not a good time for me, I will not be
involved. I will stay
home. I will go to those events that promise me a good time.”
… This seduction becomes a primary attitude that rules in
our lives. We love our
pleasures; we love our nice homes; we love our nice boats; we love
our nice cars; we love our nice clothes; we love our nice trips.
We put thousands upon thousands of dollars into our pleasures
and gradually, there is a danger that the primary passion of our
lives is the pursuit of pleasure.
The center of my life becomes pleasure.
We won’t help unless it is a good time for me. Don’t ask commitment out of me.
Don’t ask me to die to self that others might live.
Don’t ask me to give myself fully to other people.
Don’t ask me to be part of the suffering of other folks.
Don’t ask me unless it is a good time for me.
Did you read the
article the other day in the newspaper about the children who were
in grade school and they were asked if they were given a million
dollars, what would they do? If
you were given a million dollars because you won the lottery, what
would you do with the money? Needless
to say, everyone in this article spent it on houses, cars and
built great homes and took grand trips but there was not one grade
school student who had the vision of giving the whole sum of money
away. Not one had the
joy, the absolute joy, of giving a million dollars away and feeding
hundreds of thousands of starving children of a similar age.
The gods of the culture today are not the statues of bulls or
the Virgin Mary, but Dionysus, the goddess of the good time.
Let me present to
you another alternative. It
is the pleasure of being a Christian.
I believe that the happiest moments of life come from loving
the way that Jesus Christ loved.
It is the love of Christ living inside of you and fills your
life with happiness and meaning, regardless of how much money you
have or don’t have. There
is a definite pleasure in loving and respecting your parents and
growing old together, with or without riches. There is immeasurable
pleasure in knowing God intimately as your very best friend and
talking with God in the morning, at noon, and at night before you go
to bed. It is the inner happiness that comes from talking with God
by the oceans or the mountains and knowing from God, not from the
ocean or mountains, that your life has a meaning and purpose.
No god of the good times gives you a purpose other than
having a good time. It
is the inner pleasure of walking in the paths of God, of doing it
right by your spouse and your family and your job.
It actually feels good to be free from having to have the
good time in order to make me happy.
It feels good to be forgiven again and again and again.
It feels good to serve the needs of others, helping others,
caring for others, and they can’t repay you with a good time.
Truly, there is happiness in serving something and someone greater
than yourself and your pleasures.
Serving yourself and your pleasures become awfully nauseating
I got the call
yesterday that my mom died in her sleep at the hospital yesterday. I
fly home tomorrow. I
had been back there just a couple of days ago to be with mom and we
had a wonderful conversation in the intensive care unit at the
hospital. She made me
wait because she was momentarily watching the news about an election
in a Central American country, and she mentioned off handedly that
she was proud of my wife, Jan, for spending time with the
“disappeared mothers” in El Salvador some years ago.
After watching the news, Mom was ready for our conversation
and me. Like always,
she was the mother who asked questions about us and our family and
our church and our life. If
ever there was a person who personified what it means to “die to
self that others might live,” my mother was certainly that person.
A long time ago, she had discovered what it means to lose
your life for others, and thereby my mom found an inner happiness.
Mom was no greater than any other person or mother, but to me, she
was the essence of Christian love, and I would give my eyetooth to
be as good and loving and believing as my mother.
It is not something that they teach you at the seminary or in
college or any school other than the school of life.
But she had something that everyone in our family admires and
loves: she had a selfless spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
We all would like to be like her.
So my mother’s
life and others like her are an option, a possibility for you and
me. Everyday of our
lives, we have two choices before us:
to worship the gods of our culture or the loving God of Jesus
Christ. To worship the goddess of the good times or the God who
gives life in all its fullness.
Joshua said and the Spirit of Jesus says:
Make a choice. Chose
this day whom you will serve. A
selfish spirit. A selfless spirit. A
pursuit of self. A
pursuit of service. As
for my family, and me we will choose the way of the Lord.
I believe that Joshua made a wise choice, and my prayer is
that you will choose the way of the Lord as well.
The Friday night
massacre. I was in love
with two attractive young women and couldn’t make a choice for
either one of them. I
waddled in the middle; I straddled the middle; I fudged in the
middle. I didn’t want
to make that choice, but life forced me to.
Life always forces to make those crucial choices.