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