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Edward F. Markquart

A Choice Between Two Girls

Confirmation          Joshua 24:14-28

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 women.

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 vacations.  Everyone 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 over time.

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.  Amen.

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