Making Choices - Pastor John Roberts
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I
have set before you: life and death; blessings and curses.”
Which would you choose? At
first glance, we would judge someone silly at best – out of their mind at worst
to choose death and curses over life and blessings.
But when we examine the many choices human beings have to make day after
day, we have to admit how easy it is to choose those things we know are bad for
us. Why are so many of us, like
myself, overweight? It’s the food
choices we make, isn’t it? We all
know that we have made choices which end up being curses in our lives and those
curses add up to our eventual death.
So what has Moses asked of us today?
The psalmist tells us, “happy are those who do not follow the
advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread……but their delight is
in the law of the Lord and on his law they meditate day and night.”
Well, it’s no wonder then that we began our worship today by confessing,
“we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed; by what we have
done and by what we have left undone.”
It’s probably safe to say that there is not one among us today, including
myself, who has been meditating on the law of God day and night.
Does this mean we cannot be happy?
We are no different from the “large crowds” that were traveling
with Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.
They knew the challenge of Moses:
chose life and blessing or curses and death.
They had sung the psalms.
They followed Jesus along the Galilean roads with their own personal
expectations. Some expected
miracles and healings. Some
expected challenges to the authorities of the day – the Roman occupiers, the
Jewish hypocrites. Some expected
words of hope that their lives would be better. Everyone expected their own personal
prayers to be answered. Yes, we are
just like those crowds gathered around Jesus. We have our own reasons for being here
today. And we really don’t feel
that good about Jesus telling us, “none of you can become my disciple if you do
not give up all your possessions.”
We are Americans.
We define ourselves by our possessions. We are either PC people or Mac people;
iPhone or Android users. We prefer
buying a home or renting an apartment.
We are meat-eaters or we are some form of vegan.
Even the choices of charities we give to define who we are.
Do we wear pink to support breast cancer awareness or red to support AIDS
research? Do we give time to
agencies which support animal protection or time to the Red Cross?
You see, we really do make a lot of choices in our lives that define who
To all of that today, Jesus asks, “are you ready to be my
disciple?” If so, give up all your
possessions; carry THE cross; and hate your father, mother, spouse, child,
sister and brother. Oh, for that
matter: how about hate your life?
OK. Has Jesus gone
a bit too far here? It just
doesn’t seem like the Jesus we know –the one who tells us to love one another,
even our enemy. Yep.
Same Jesus. So what’s the
deal? Is Jesus contradicting
The answer is actually found in the demands themselves.
“Whoever does not
carry THE cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke has recorded this very specifically. It’s not, whoever does not carry their
own cross but THE cross. You see,
Jesus in today’s Gospel reading is still on his way to Jerusalem.
He knows what THE cross is.
It is the purpose of his being.
It will mean being judged by the authorities.
It will mean denial and betrayal by his closest friends.
It will mean watching his dear mother’s heart being broken.
It will mean cruel suffering and death. And it will mean God’s victory over
sin, death, and the power of the Evil One. This is THE cross that Jesus tells the
crowd and us to pick up and carry.
Yes, this may mean that we will suffer too.
It may mean that we will be faced by the same challenges that Jesus
endured. Watching a loved one die;
being thought of as“different” because we go to church on Sunday mornings; being
faced with unemployment, losing a house to the bank, all of the pieces of worry
we have in our lives will be there for us too. But, the true victory of our lives has
already been accomplished. When we
confess our sins – like we did this morning – we are confident that our sins are
forgiven. When the devil tempts us
to take the easy way; the selfish way; or the way that gives us more things,
more power, more, more, more – we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will
guide us as we hear God’s Word and feast on the Holy food of the Eucharist to
choose the righteous way. Don’t
you see: the judgment of our lives has already been decided and we are seen by
God as God’s own dear children.
Now it is our turn to follow Jesus and be Christ to a waiting world. We still live with the many temptations
to put other things before God.
This can include all of those tempting possessions but they can also be
the people we love. Sometimes we
are tempted to put family before God.
Shall I go to hear God’s Word and feast at the Table or will my child’s
soccer game become more important?
Will a date night with my spouse be more important than giving time to
the needs of my church? Do I give
as much time to prayer as I give to my family? It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want us to
love our families. It’s just that
Jesus wants as much of our time and our daily effort aimed at being a disciple
as we give to the other things we rightly love. Doesn’t the God who gave Jesus to the
Cross deserve your love and your life?
The good news of today is that God has centered all of life around
you. Shouldn’t you center all of
life around God?
When this happens, perspectives change and choices in life
change too. Take, for instance,
the relationship Paul talks about in today’s Second Reading.
The book of Philemon is the shortest book in the Bible.
We heard the entire book read this morning.
It is a personal letter from Paul to Philemon, a leader of the church in
Antioch in Syria; but also a letter to the whole church there.
Philemon had a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus was a runaway slave. How it happened, we do not know but
Onesimus joined Paul, together with Timothy, Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas,
and Luke while Paul was in prison either in Rome or in Ceasarea.
Paul is now sending Onesimus back to Philemon.
Paul doesn’t make any statement about either slavery in general or the
slave relationship between Onseimus and Philemon.
But Paul does two things:
he says whatever Onesimus owes Philemon, he, Paul will pay; and he says
that Onesimus, who is now a Christian and has been like his own son, should be
received by Philemon as a brother in Christ. He tells Philemon that he could command
Philemon to do this but instead, he will leave that choice, that life decision
up to Philemon. In other words,
Paul was asking Philemon to take up THE Cross and follow Jesus when he receives
Onesimus. We have no record of
what decision Philemon made but, because the early Church chose to include this
letter in the canon of the Bible, we can make a pretty good inference that
Philemon took Onesimus in according to Paul’s wishes.
Later, this little letter became an important piece of reference when
Christian nations decided to eliminate the practice of slavery.
A little choice by one Christian to change his relationship based on the
love of God in Christ Jesus helped change an ancient practice for the good of
That’s the point of all that we have heard today.
When we take the time to stop before we make choices in our life to put
God first in our decisions, powerful changes can happen for the good of the
Take up THE Cross, beloved by God!
Choose life and blessing because they are promised to you.
Love God first. Life is
richer, fuller and more powerful when you make that choice.