Friday, November 13, 2009

Gotta Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan once wrote a song titled "Gotta Serve Somebody." And in it he speaks of the entire range of humanity - everybody from rich to poor, weak to strong, famous to infamous and the arrogant to the humble. Everybody, regardless of their station in life has gotta serve somebody. He doesn't define exactly who that "somebody" is. In the chorus that's repeated again and again throughout the song he narrows it to one of two choices. He sings...

You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

The devil or the Lord. That's it, two choices. And it seems like a simple enough choice. Lord, devil. Okay. And if it were always so simple a choice, a choice as clearly defined as saying "Okay, chocolate or dirt?" Chocolate (and feel free to insert here anything you'd choose to eat over dirt). Where it becomes tricky is when we have a buffet of choices laid out before us. Maybe not chocolate or dirt, but perhaps chocolate or apple pie or cake or ice cream... or maybe something healthy or less fattening or... CHOCOLATE! Life throws a buffet of choices at us and they're not all good choices. But they certainly are tempting.

I remember once going with my family to the Double-T Diner. The menu at the Double-T is like most diner menus I've seen - page upon page of choices. If you can't find something to eat at the Double-T then you're just not hungry. Hundreds of entrees and sandwiches and appetizers and platters and desserts in all price ranges, and breakfast served 24/7. My daughter was about 9 or 10 at the time and as she went through the menu you could see that she was getting really upset. And in no time she had a complete meltdown. Why? Too many choices. It was more than she could handle at that moment. And that's what it's like for many of us at times in life. We have so many choices thrown at us that we reach a breaking point where we can't think properly, where we can't discern properly. It's then that we often take the easy way out. And that easy way is usually not the way of God.

It's not easy making the right choice. In Luke's Gospel Christ says "No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (Luke 16:13) The word "mammon" represented material wealth, or the greed that rises within us in the acquiring of earthly treasures. But the word means more than just things or the acquiring of things. It's about the deification of things. About our tendency to create false gods out of the things we desire, the things we crave, the things we accumulate. Whether it's food or drugs or alcohol or our cell phones, computers, money, cars, property, etc., etc. we all can fall into that trap. Because that's what our culture tells us. Buy this! You have to have that! You can't LIVE without this! Everybody else is doing it, shouldn't you? You don't want to be left out! To fit in and be accepted you have to do this! I'm astonished how all of us - and especially young people - are constantly bombarded by the message that it's acceptable to allow ourselves to become enslaved by desire, or being told what it is we should desire and there must be something wrong with us if we don't desire it as well.

We constantly need to be assessing and reassessing our priorities. Sure, it's great to have nice things and nice clothes and a car that runs and yes, chocolate when we want it. But what we have to be watchful for is when we become the slaves. When our focus is pulled away from God and moves to other things. Things that are temporary. Transitory. When we lose sight of the long term goal in favor of the short term pleasure.

Choosing God is hard work, no doubt about it. Not a hard choice, but hard work. Because we do have to work hard to be disciples. We do have to sacrifice. We have to be humble. We have to look at ourselves and ask ourselves "What's important?" Near the end of the film "Schindler's List" Oskar Schindler has this moment of epiphany when he realizes that despite the good he has done he could have done more. He could have given up a little and gained so much more. But the opportunity escaped him. We cannot allow those opportunities to escape us. When faced with the smorgasbord of life we have to be careful in our choices, and understand that all of those choices come down to just two - Lord, or devil. Whatever the choice we make, we gotta serve somebody.

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