The vast hall reverberated with silence. The stunned students sat looking vacantly toward the man who stood before them, seemingly unwilling to speak. Perhaps he could explain the events of the past few hours. Perhaps he could give meaning where there seemed only madness. The silence dragged on, and none dared to breathe, or look at the one bruised and beaten boy who sat among them but was obviously not with them. He was somewhere else. Reliving some dark moment, some unspeakable truth, carrying a weight none of them could imagine.
As if suddenly coming to himself, the headmaster began to speak, but not the hoped for words of comfort and assurance. Instead he confirms for their already shaken souls just how ugly the world has gotten, just how their simple dreams of safety and security were shattered. “Dark times,” he breathes as though hesitant to even speak the words he knows he must. “Dark times lie ahead of us,” he pauses as if to gather up the gaze of each fearful face gathered before him, “and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
Of course, that was fiction. The final chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Albus Dumbledore speaking to the gathered Hogwarts students after Harry’s encounter with the returned Voldemort, the evil of dark wizards. Just typing it here makes me feel a little silly. Wizards and magic, not something we have to deal with in the real world. Kid’s stuff, fantasy, dismissible. Let’s get to something of significance, something that makes a difference in how we live our lives each and every day. We’re not surrounded by trolls and dark wizards or elves and orcs, but duties and responsibilities, joys and heartaches. So, how shall we live?
Luke 9:23-25 Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
Which book of the bible uses the word “choose” the most? Surprisingly, it is Deuteronomy, that book we skip over in our read through because we think it is full of the rules of regulations of an ancient and nomadic culture. And, to be frank, I haven’t spent a lot of time in Deuteronomy either. Sure there is the heart of the law there, the second listing of the ten words given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and the core statement of the faith called the “Shema” in Hebrew after the first word “Hear.” “Hear o Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” To that Jesus added the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves to give us the Great Commandment. That has its roots in Deuteronomy.
But aside from that? Well ... Apparently there is a lot of choosing. It is as though inherent in the design of being the people of God there is choice. Well, duh. Scriptures are full of choosing, and the memorable ones are more dramatic than what we find in the book of Deuteronomy. There is Joshua – “Choose this day whom you will serve ... But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” Ah, there is the terrible enemy Goliath (the “He who must not be named of the nation of Israel) – “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.” Makes you shiver just to imagine him bellowing those words across the valley of Elah. There is the taunt of Elijah to the priests of Baal – Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first for you are many, then call on your god.” There is Isaiah singing the song of Emmanuel, saying “he will know how to refuse the evil and choose the good” while still a toddler, just beginning to eat solid food, our great hope.
Then there is the man who reminds Jesus that he has a choice to make too. “Lord, if you choose you can make me clean.” And the response “I do choose. Be clean!” He chooses the twelve. And then reminds them that he chose them they didn’t choose him, just as he is about to leave them and send them out to choose how to live their lives without him at their side as he had been for these all too few years. Then the church chose a replacement for the one who chose wrong. The grand sweep of choice reverberates through the whole bible. Wrong choices and right one, and many left un-chosen as examples for us.
The church has grabbed hold of choosing, and laid it out like a diploma we can grab, like a mountain that we climb and then have conquered. Have you chosen, we ask, in lots of different ways. “Are you saved?” “Are you born again?” “Have you said yes to Jesus?” We present it like it is a one time thing.
Luke’s version of Jesus saying presents a different though. These verse appear in all four gospels, that makes it somewhat unique. Adds a little extra weight to the words by the repetition. But Luke’s remembrance is a little bit different than all the others. He is the only one who adds the word “daily” to the call to discipleship. “Take up their cross daily” Jesus says. Them, us, the followers who would be. The ones trying to make our way in this world. The ones who face a mind-numbing array of decisions on a regular basis. Daily, one could say.
And most of those decisions don’t seem to matter much in the greater scheme of things. No big deal, really. What difference does it make, we ask ourselves, here and there if we choose this and not that, if we go one way or the other. How will these little choices lead me astray or get me off track or make a hill of beans kind of difference in the world around me or within me?
Hard to say, really. Maybe it won’t, maybe they don’t make a difference. Except that Jesus seems to be describing a life here, not just a choice. Not just a one time are you in or are you out kind of checkpoint we wander through. But something more like orienteering. Something like finding our way through the wilderness of living. In which case every choice, not just big ones, but every choice serves to move us closer to where we want to be. Or away from that goal.
A step here or there, doesn’t seem like it would matter all that much. Until Jesus begins to talk about end results. “What would it profit to gain the whole world and lose your soul?” Hey, Jesus, how about just a little off track? How about mixed up, or distracted, or confused, or angry, or hurt? Why not focus on something smaller? Something less ... eternal. Lose your soul.
That’s what’s at stake, Jesus says. In all these choices, even the ones we don’t stop to think about. The ones that don’t seem to matter all that much. The ones that don’t seem to hurt anyone. And maybe they don’t matter all that much. But what if we saw them as training for the big ones? What if we saw daily living not as something to get through, but as a part of the bigger picture, the vision of the kingdom? And that our joy is to be able to contribute to the kingdom by the choices we make?
And what if we decided that we were going to choose not what we wanted, but what was good for others and for all? What if we chose to set our desires and inclinations aside long enough to hear what the crying needs for the community around us really were. What if we chose to do not what is expedient, but what is healthy for us and all of creation even if it meant giving up what we’ve come to take for granted? What if we chose to find ourselves by not putting ourselves first, but by not thinking about ourselves at all?
What if we chose not what is easy, but what is right?
Maybe Dumbledore was on to something after all.