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Who Do You Serve?

January 16, 2022

“You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.” (Matthew 6:24 – The Message)

This passage of scripture has often created conflict within the church. It has also gotten preachers in “trouble” when it challenges the conventional norms of parishioners. Personally I remember having a Colonel at my first Air Force duty station challenging me on my interpretation of this passage. That wouldn’t be the last time that I would be challenged as a preacher for inviting congregants to consider the way of Jesus over the way of the world.

I have to admit that I have struggled with that challenge myself. Right now the snow is falling here in West Georgia where we live. It’s not the sort of snow we would get in the Rocky Mountains but the snow, rain, and ice is more than enough to cause problems here. I am sitting in our study/prayer space where one wall is filled with bookshelves full of books.

Denise and I both love reading and learning which is evident by the variety of subjects these books hold. There are books in two other bookcases in our two guest rooms and some in my office (most of them are associated with Thomas Merton, his writings and books about him) so we sometimes laugh and wonder if we have a “book problem!” If we worshipped the books we would have a problem. If these books were the be-all to end-all for us, we would be in trouble. But that’s not the case at all.

The majority of these books have played a roll in our spiritual formation. Others have invited us to study history and cultures around the world. Yet others have connections to family history. These books have been stepping stones and waypoints on life’s journey. I feel a sense of the presence of the communion of saints in this room. The authors have their own stories and have made an impact in our lives. Do we enjoy the books? Yes. Have they inspired us in our spiritual journey? Yes. Are they more important than the Good Shepherd who we follow? No.

The journey of faith and discovery is important to both of us. The lessons that the authors and subjects have taught us have informed our own spiritual growth as Christ-followers. They have informed our efforts to be change agents in the church and in the community.

Thomas Merton offers me a way to look at Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:24. He invites me and he invites you dear reader to consider our lives and how we can live in the world without being of the world.

A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire. – Thomas Merton (Thoughts in Solitude)

What do I desire? I desire to have the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love to serve God and to serve others. That is one of of the ordination questions/vows that I promised to do with God’s help nearly thirty-five years ago. May the Spirit bring refreshment and renewal as this journey continues.

  1. Michael, I’ve enjoyed this post but, more importantly, benefitted from your comments. Like yours, my collection of books has grown over the years. My library now occupies bookcases in various parts of the house. The most recent significant increase in size grew out of part time academic divinity studies towards the end of my legal career. The original motivation was to write something about my life experience with disability.
    I’ve recently woken up to the realization that I’m at the point in life where I’d better get writing while I still have the mental wherewithal to do that. That will mean putting aside a few of the many interesting distractions in life. My hope is that what I write and perhaps speak about will provide helpful theological reflection on living with long-term disability. I see that as my calling for the next part of my life. So thank you for your comments about the passage from Matthew.

    • I wish you nothing but blessings as you pursue this next step in your life and ministry! Merton was originally for a doctoral program but I withdrew from it for a variety of reasons. However, I may explore Merton, Peacemaking, Non-violence, and the military chaplaincy as a way to integrate my own life.

  2. Books are such a gift. But, I’m at the point where any book that comes into the house means another has to leave. It gets harder to find the one that wants to go to Goodwill.

    • Having moved so often in the military and now post military I get that. We had to pare down before we moved to Colorado. Denise pared down when she moved out of her house. When you have to say goodbye to a book it is line saying farewell to a family member

  3. Teddy had a box that he liked to sleep in when he was alive. After he passed I decided that I wanted to honour Teddy’s box so I have stored the Merton books that I have there. When I look at the box – I remember Teddy and what a splendid boy he was. RIP Sir Teddy – Theodore Frederique Gilbert Burton [after Sir Richard the Explorer] Bushytail Flanders

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