Choosing Up Sides

Heritage Presbyterian Church

6th Sunday after Epiphany
Sunday, February 12, 2023

Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and 1st Corinthians 3:1-9

If you were to journey to Old Jerusalem, I mean the original city that existed during the days of Jesus, you might be surprised at how many different sides exist there.  I don’t mean sides of town or sides of the street.  No, I mean sides in the conflict that always seems to be happening the Middle East.

We already know about the on-going, centuries-long conflict between the Israelies and the Palestinians, but the sides of Old Jerusalem that that conflict to a whole level.

Jersualem is divided into four sides:

  • The Muslim quarter
  • The Jewish quarter
  • The Armenian quarter (which is the smallest and poorest)
  • And, of course, the Christian quarter.

Yet, within that one Christian quarter are even more divisions, more conflicts, more sides:

  • The Catholic side
  • The Armenian Orthodox side
  • And the Greek Orthodox side

And here’s the most unusual point of all: the keys to the Christian quarter are kept by a Muslim official!

As a naïve American tourist, it is pretty simple to make a mistake and find yourself drawn into a conflict you barely understand.  That is why virtually all Christian pilgrims who journey to the Holy Land do so with a highly trained tourist guide.

It would seem that even in the Holy Land, choosing up sides is something that is on-going and troublesome.

It should serve as an example to us as Americans and as Christians, but I fear that lesson is lost on it.  We are much too busy guarding our turf, recruiting new members to our side, and watching suspiciously what is going on around us.

As you hear me say these things, you might be tempted to ask yourself,  “What is he talking about?  I don’t do any of those things.  I try to love and accept everyone.”  

If that is true, bless you…but please know how rare you are.

The Internet has opened up entirely new opportunities to choose up sides over topics we might never have even heard of. 

Examples might include:

  • Chinese balloons floating over our country (which we all agree we don’t like) but we disagree over what we should do about it…and when;
  • Our country’s role in the situation in the Middle East;
  • The war in the Ukraine;
  • Black lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter;
  • How the President did during his last State of the Union speech.

We are hardly any better when it comes to avoiding conflict and choosing up sides.

Our Biblical examples teach lessons in the same area, but both our readings for today approach this area in two different ways.  Let’s first look at the reading from Deuteronomy.

In it, Moses’ life is almost at an end; he mostly likely knows it and wants to serve the Lord and his people right up to the last minute.  They have finally reached the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert; this left enough time for two generations of the Hebrew people to die out and for two new generations of the Hebrew people to take their places.  God’s people were gathered on the border of their Promised Land.

Time for Moses to give them just one more chance to choose up sides.  They have done it often during their 40-year journey:

  • When they turned against Moses (and the Lord) when they were thirsty and had no water;
  • When the Egyptian army was closing in on them at the Red Sea and all seemed hopeless;
  • When they made the Golden Calf to worship while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from the Lord.

There were other times, but you get the picture. 

As God’s people, they had chosen poorly in the past – but this was a brand new day, a brand new opportunity, a perfect, Godly “do-over.”  They choose to stay with the Lord, to honor Moses and his words, and to enter the Promised Land as the people of God…

…or they could choose to leave and handle things on their own.

Funny thing, though…it doesn’t tell us their decision in the text.  All it says is that the choice was given to the people by Moses, who was speaking the Lord’s words to the people.  But we don’t get any shouts of “WE CHOOSE THE LORD” or “WE WON’T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES OUR FOREFATHERS MADE” or “JUST POINT AND WE’RE GOING THERE WITH THE LORD!”

If you remember differently, you might be thinking of the ending of the Book of Joshua, the man who took over for Moses when the people entered the Promised Land.  On that day, Joshua put the same question to them, and the people shouted their promise to follow the Lord.

Sometimes, choosing up sides is a clear, vivid choice with well-explained examples of what will happen when you choose.

Then we move to the reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Here the people were making not-so-easy, clear-cut choices.  In fact, here we are given a situation that makes us roll our theological Christian eyes!

Paul discovered that those Corinthians were choosing up sides based NOT on who believed in Jesus Christ as his or her Savior, but rather who led them to Christ in the first place!  Some are choosing the side of Apollos, some the side of Paul, and you just know there were at least one or two who had a third choice (there’s ALWAYS at least one!).  This makes us roll our eyes, shake our heads, mutter under our breath, and tell ourselves that WE would NEVER be that SILLY!

Would we?

It’s a pretty simple choice, isn’t it?  

Either you’re on the side of Jesus or you aren’t…right?

My Catholic father-in-law used to tease me pretty good at how many different protestant denominations there were, but that the Roman Catholics were still just one.  I never engaged him because he had a good point.  But I had lunch with a friend two weeks who asked me how many different branches of the Presbyterian church there were; his guess was three.

Should have seen his face when I told him there were ten…

We have no room to criticize those silly Corinthians for choosing up sides based on who brought them to Christ.

And I would contend that we cannot stand in judgment – either for good or for bad – when it comes to other choices people make in their lives.  We do the same thing…

Remember what Jesus said about criticizing others?  “Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from another person’s eye.” [Matthew 7:5]

In our own lives, we make choices all the time, every day.  Those choices don’t always involve choosing up sides, but often they do.  When this happens, it can cause trouble within your circle of friends, your family, even your church.  If we are talking about who will win the Super Bowl today, that should remain friendly banter (or expert advice).  But to take it any further is to invite trouble.  

When I recently visited our friend, JC, in the hospital, I noticed that a student nurse was on the fringe of the group of medical professionals who were gathered with his family and discussing his case.  This particular student nurse was wearing maroon scrubs and a Texas A&M logo proudly displayed on the pocket.  I smiled and asked him if he understood that JC was a tried-and-true UT fan, and he said yes.  I jokingly reminded him to give our friend his very best care, even if we were on different sides.  Praise God this young man knew I was joking, chuckled, and promised he would do his very best.

Imagine if that conversation had not gone well…what if both of us choosing up sides had turned ugly, dangerous, and wicked?

When we have a moral choice to make, there can be no hesitation.  But one cannot remain neutral either.

When we are faced with choices, we must consider more than just ourselves.

When sides are chosen, we must stop worrying or concerning ourselves whether or not God is on our side.

We must instead consider if we are on God’s side.