Sermons from St Faith's     

Choices and Commitment
Fr Dennis Smith, Sunday, March 29th, 2014

Politicians often speak about the importance of choice. Parents, they say, should be able to choose which school their children attend. Patients should be able to choose which consultants they see or which hospital they enter.
Choosing what we shall buy, what gadgets we shall have, how important a fashion or style will be for us, how we shall spend our time, where we shall go on holiday … choosing takes up quite a bit of our time and energy and in the end determines not just what we do and how we spend our money, but who we are.  A recent BBC2 “Horizon” documentary told us that every day we make between 2,000 and 10,000 decisions.

We are what our choices reveal of us and make of us. Sometimes the effect of our choices is obvious, a person becomes an engineer, dentist or doctor a passionate campaigner for justice for poorer people; a single minded worker in the church, a political party activist. For most of us, the effect of the thousands of choices that shape our lives is subtle; we have broad interests, we are not easily pigeon-holed.

Two of today’s readings are about fundamental choices which shaped both individuals and the world. The choices in the Genesis story were complex. We don’t know the origin of the Genesis story. We know only that it was adopted by the people of Israel because it answered some of their profoundest questions about why things were as they were. Who created the world was the least of their worries. Why people were unable to live consistently good lives was a more pressing problem.

How was it that two sons brought up in the same family, having been given the same love and same opportunities turned out so differently? Is knowledge, which is ever-increasing, a good thing and how does it relate to faith in God?  The answer which for them shed most light on these questions was found in a fateful choice. Adam and Eve, the representative man and woman, had made the choice. They were disobedient and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge and became self aware.

In the story, sin entered human experience because of their choice. With sin came the power to go on choosing; sin gave humans a new freedom. Had there been no sin humans would have lived always unconsciously within the confines of the will of God. But according to Genesis humans broke free and the result is the world as we know it: a world of love and hate, of good and bad people and societies, of ever-increasing knowledge and opportunities and their consequent blessings and problems.

For the people of Israel the story explained the ambiguities of daily experience. The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus came to show humans how to use their freedom, to suggest some of the choices they might make to use freedom wisely, to choose the truth of love over hate, respect for all people over enmity, equality over privilege, forgiveness over holding grudges, sharing over hoarding, generosity over meanness, unity over disunity... the freedom of the truth that all people are children of god. But that’s to rush ahead.

The Gospel reading took us to the story of Jesus’ temptation, to the question how, in setting about what Jesus believed he had to do, should he use his freedom? At the beginning of any new enterprise, if we are wise, choices have to be made. Many hours are spent in board rooms or in church committees, in political meetings or conference seminars mulling over how an idea might be implemented, how proposal could become a practice. Jesus was about middle-aged, (the average life expectancy being then about 40) when he stopped working in the family business.

It’s hardly surprising that he needed to spend some time thinking through hi priorities. There were choices to be made. Many of his fellow citizens were poor and hungry. Should he begin by organising a supply of free food? It became evident later that he was concerned that people should have food, that he would also use bread as an image of his own relationship to his followers – he would become the bread of life – but he chose to begin with the abundant living of the Word, rather than with bread.

Magicians always drew a crowd. Should he astonish the crowd by attempting an incredible feat in the hope of being rescued by God? Even if such a feat worked, would it be a responsible use of human freedom? Jesus decided it wouldn’t. Only by taking responsibility for himself, working in daily partnership with God, would his new work have authenticity. There was to be no crowd-pleasing. Nor any short cuts. Being a man-about-town, who adopted the ways of the world, could not fulfil Jesus’ purpose. The world understands power as status, prestige and money or as force and conquest. Jesus chose not to go the way of the world; the peace he would offer wouldn’t come by the world’s route to peace.

Jesus made his choices and is remembered for the time he spent living his choices. But his life-style and teaching so riled and unsettled the leaders of the nation that they led to his arrest. From his temptations to the cross there’s a direct line. We are all free to make choices and in the ordinary round of daily life, as we work, go shopping, pay subscriptions, visit friends; many very ordinary choices will be made.

But this season of Lent could be a time for deeper reflection. We could set aside time both for reviewing the choices we’ve made and for making new, and bigger, choices. How should our freedom, our knowledge of good and evil be used? If we’re c omitted to Christ how should our commitment be expressed? Is there a direct line between our faith in Christ, whose way was the way of love and equality, and out political and social actions?

In a church struggling among a distracted population, do we maintain Christ’s costly way of love or do we look for short cuts to get quick but superficial results? If we’re committed and uncommitted, prepared to let Christ, as it were, take us by the hand during Lent – not to make petty choices about eating chocolate or drinking wine – but to enter closely into his life portrayed in the Gospels, so that we can be more confident about how we use our freedom and that our priorities are His? 

And someday, a child or man or woman who lives nearby or may be far distant, might give thanks to God because in the mysterious way in which the consequences of our decisions ripple out, their lives are blessed.

Time is the ticking of a clock, and each tick is an opportunity to make a choice for God.

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