You Make Your Choices
Sunday, 16 February 2020 12:00
Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him (Deuteronomy 30:19)
I do most of the cooking at home so when we go away on holiday, I like to go out to restaurants. It’s an endless agony of choice, though. First you have to decide what kind of restaurant you’re going to - traditional local, Indian, French, Chinese, whatever. Then you have to decide what you’re going to eat; especially in Chinese restaurants there can be dozens and dozens of combinations. Then when you’ve made up your mind there are other choices: do you want fried rice or boiled rice? Finally, when you’ve eaten your main course, there’s another choice. Do you want dessert and you get that terrible internal dialogue - “I don’t really need it and there’s my diet to consider.” “Nobody needs a 10oz rare steak and if you were worried about your diet you wouldn’t have ordered extra chips - before finally succumbing to the profiteroles on the basis that they’re mostly air.
Making choices. We do it all the time. In a way that is what makes us human - that we are conscious of making choices. It’s said that teachers make more decisions every day than surgeons, some of which may have significant impact on the people we teach. Of course, there are those who say that the whole issue of freedom of choice is illusory. Some say that, as from some perspectives, what is in our future is actually the past then our actions are predetermined. From a Christian perspective we believe in an eternal God for whom our futures are already known. Does that mean we have no free will? No. The issue of human choice isn’t a matter of what we will do, but why we will do it. There are those who say that our brains make choices and we simply find ways of justifying what our brain’s biochemistry decides.
I think, though, that you have to have pretty compelling evidence to refute what is one of the most common and everyday experiences of humanity - that we make choices. I hold it to be true that you and I and everybody else make choices all the time. Sometimes those are small decisions - should I wear the blue cravat or the grey one to church this morning? Sometimes they are big decisions. Should I propose marriage? Should we have children? Should I buy that guitar or that one? Sometimes they are life-fulfilling decisions. Sometimes they are heart-rending decisions. Sometimes they are life-changing decisions.
Perhaps the biggest choice you can make in your life is to recognise that, as human beings, there is a moral dimension to the choices we make. To recognise that there is a difference between right and wrong; that some actions are good and some are bad; that at any moment of our lives we may have to choose the words we say and the things that we do and that some of those choices will be right and that some will be wrong. That is an idea that pulses through the Bible right from the very first story when Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, through Moses’s impassioned plea to the people of Israel to choose life by embracing God, through psalms like the one we heard this morning to Jesus’s most challenging teachings and beyond.
Perhaps the biggest choice you can make in your life is to recognise that the choices we make have moral value: that there is a difference between right and wrong and we should try to live your lives in accordance with that difference. How, though, do we determine which choices are right and which are wrong, and why should it matter? It was struggling with those questions that brought me to God.
There are those that will tell you that the morality that informs our civilisation is somehow innate in humanity - the product of evolution. Genuinely, you have to know nothing of history to believe that. Read the myths and the writings of the Greeks and the Romans and the Vikings and you’ll find no hint of any such thing. There have been many attempts to argue for a ‘secular’ morality based on reason and logic but where they haven’t led to death camps, gulags and the tumbrils of Paris they all - all of them - import the values of the Christian faith such as compassion for those in need, self-giving sacrificial love and the equality of all humanity by the back door. There are those who say that our sense of right and wrong has nothing to do with God or religion. I say it has everything to do with it. The thing is that Christianity has been so successful in permeating our society with its values that people have forgotten where they come from.
People have forgotten that the choice to believe that every human being has rights founded on the principle of human dignity is exactly that - a choice and one which springs from the idea that all humanity is made in the image of God. People have forgotten that the choice to believe that the poor and the weak, the disabled and the sick, the homeless and the refugee are every bit as important as each and every one of us is exactly that: a choice and that it springs from the Son of God healing lepers and the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda. The choice to believe that power does not allow the powerful to inflict cruelty on the powerless but should be used to care for them is exactly that: a choice, and one that springs from the Son of God kneeling at his disciples’ feet and washing them.
The principles that inform those choices find their origins in the radical idea that God entered the world in the life of a human being as ordinary and apparently unimportant as the son of a carpenter and that that human being would die the world’s most humiliating death. The idea that, though the Resurrection of Christ, there is hope that this life is not all there is and that no amount of getting more and more power, wealth and status in this life matters in the life to come. The idea that in Christ there is no male nor female, there is no Jew nor Greek, there is no slave nor free.
You make your choices and you take your chances. Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing. Sometimes temptations get in the way - the temptation to have a quiet life and not get into arguments when folk speak of people of other races or religions with dismissal or hatred. The temptation to take the path of least resistance and go along when people beat the drums of war and insist that we look after ourselves and our own and forget the rest. The temptation to suck up to the powerful and kick down on the weak.
These are, literally, the ways that lead to death and destruction and war and division and poverty and hunger and all the rest. Choose life. The forgiveness of God, through the Cross of Christ, means that if we do give way to those temptations the God who literally knows our weaknesses will give us as many chances as we need to choose life. However far we may have wandered, whatever we may have done the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that, through the grace of God we can still choose life.
A life lived standing up for what is right - loving those who are hurting, caring for those in need, standing beside those who are bullied or hated for being different. A life lived in the light of the teachings of Christ, even if they are really challenging and in the knowledge that we will probably fall short. A life lived in a way that proclaims the idea that God came into this world in the life of a man so apparently unimportant that he was nailed to a Cross to show that everybody, from the poorest to the wealthiest, from the weakest to the strongest, of every race and tongue is important. That’s an idea that changed the world. Each day we get the chance to live it out.
Lord be with us every day and guide us in our choices. Help us to make the difficult decisions. Strengthen us when we are tempted to take the easy path when the difficult one is right. May your son’s cross be ever before us and inspire us to walk his way
Preached at Gretna Old parish church