I have set before you life and death (A Sermon for Epiphany 6A)
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (Cypress, Texas)
February 12, 2017
It strikes me often as I read through the Gospels that Jesus must have walked through much of his ministry with an inner smirk. Walking amidst the law givers, the law keepers and the stringent law followers, so much of Jesus’ ministry was about tilting the rule book, changing the context and helping his followers understand the heart of the law rather than the rule of it.
Today’s Gospel comes from the Sermon on the Mount, a famously subversive passage that captures the law and infuses it with new life. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.
Our first reading today comes from Deuteronomy. Moses engages the people of Israel in a Covenant renewal ceremony as they prepare to enter the promised land. Moses speaks to the masses in his third and final address knowing that the folks to whom he speaks are consumed by a longing to reach the promised land. Moses provides a reminder to God’s people that following God’s laws and keeping the covenant are necessary to live peaceably in the land. This, of course, is tied to a reminder that their current status is a consequence of their disobedience.
Moses’ call to the people of God comes in the form of a line drawn in the sand: choose life or choose death. There is no grey here. Nothing lies between the two. To us, in our postmodern context, this sounds like a challenge – a threat. Break a rule and be punished, we might read. But to the people of God who heard these words spoken in Moses’ time, these words were meant as a gift.
However we hear the words, one thing is certain: heavily steeped in each of our readings today is choice – a choice for life, a choice for the law, and a choice to live life differently.
Growing up, I heard the words “choose” and “choice” often. When did you “choose” to follow Jesus? When did you make a “choice” for Christ? These questions always left me with a bad taste in my mouth. As a baptized, confirmed, Lutheran (and now Episcopalian), I didn’t always buy into the “one shot” choice to follow God. My life had been steeped with opportunities to choose; and good, bad, or otherwise, I made choices every day that either put me in line with the life God called me to or took me right off the path. I made the choice to follow God, or not, every day.
A choice for life is not a choice we make once, but a choice we make every day.
Take Jesus’ discussion of the commandments in today’s Gospel. In each one, what we are called to do, what Jesus calls us to do, is not for ourselves. We are called to reconcile – to forgive and be active in seeking forgiveness, to honour and not shame those whom we partner with in this world, and to provide the life giving gift of our honesty and integrity to the world around us.
A life of discipleship calls us to choose. And our choices are about who we are every day as we walk out our life of faith.
This week I was reminded of Harry Potter. I’ve struggled with Potter, and I think he really is a bit of a whiner. He’s supposedly the hero, but to me it seems his strength comes from those he surrounds himself with. His close friends who support him through several seemingly impossible situations, his mentors – who, however bizarre they may seem, always show the way of truth and love in the face of incredible evil. Early on in the series, one of Harry’s mentors, his headmaster Albus Dumbledore challenges Harry as he faces yet another challenge, he says, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
And the choice for life is not necessarily the choice for our own life. Choosing life, of course, is not about choosing the easy way. Most often it is the way of challenge. But it is always easier to make the hard choices, the choices for life, when we live in the strength of our community.
That’s why at the crux of all of these choices, I believe, God calls us into relationship – with God and with one another.
God calls us to relationship. God has ALWAYS been calling us to relationship. In the garden, in covenant relationships with the people of Israel, in Jesus Christ, God calls us to relationship.
Life, faith, and reconciliation can all happen in some form individually, and the choices we make are our own. But God’s call to life is a life that involves more than just you, more than just me, more than just making one choice, one time.
God’s call to life is a call to relationship and sharing the life-giving message of peace, love, hope, and justice with our world.
God’s plans for our life together are big. The people we encounter, the opportunities we meet, are part of our call to give life. As we approach the altar each week, we are called. As we go forth into the world, we are called, and as we choose life each day, we are called.
We are called to follow God’s way. God’s way of life.
God’s way is loving, liberating and life-giving. God’s way changes me, and you, and us, all together, every day. And that, my friends, will change the world.