- Rock Paper Scissors game.
Non-transitive game: if you know what I have chosen, you can beat me. It would not be a very good game! It is important to choose together. The freedom to choose is important….and that’s what we’re looking at this morning.
- Today’s choices
I wonder how many choices you have already made this morning? Off the top of my head it is quite likely that you have chosen:
- What to wear
- What to drink
- What to have for breakfast
- To come to church(!)
- Choice = freedom
Choice is very associated with the idea of freedom. One of the pleasures of growing up is the ability-if one is fortunate enough to live in an environment where these freedoms are granted-to make your own decisions, in a way that you just can’t when you are a baby or younger child.
When I moved away to university I was able to choose where to study, what to study, (whether to study!!), which clubs to join, what to eat, who to spend time with. It was a period of great freedoms, a real privilege.
A friend of mine suffered a stroke following an operation, exactly 2 years ago. He nearly died, more than once. He has made a miraculous recovery, thanks be to God. He is now considering attempting to return to work. I expressed my surprise that he would want to do this: he had previously planned to retire about now, and I thought that such a brush with death might have made him more, not less, keen to have his time to himself. However, it comes back to choice. He wants to choose when he retires, not have it dictated to him by an illness.
Equally, when it comes to our relationship with him, God made us with the freedom to choose to love and serve him, or not. We have the choice. He gives us free will. He longs to be in a relationship with us, but love is not genuine if it is not freely given. So, we have the choice. But as we know that means we can and do make the wrong choice sometimes and reject God’s ways.
- The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross
Last week I was reading this book with my granddaughter. It is an amazing book: it sums up the whole Bible story, in rather fewer pages! It made me think about the choices we have made, to reject God, and the choices he has made to out things right, if we want them to be put right.
3rd double page spread. Adam and Eve are with God in the Garden of Eden, spending time in his presence; all is well.
4th double page spread. People choose to do their own thing, they don’t want God to be in charge anymore, and sin (anything that separates us from our completely holy God) enters the picture. We can’t be in a close relationship with God anymore. He’d given us that freedom.
7th double page spread. Throughout the Old Testament people could not be in a close relationship with God. Sin was in the way. The curtain is the symbol of that barrier between humans and God.
9th double page spread. Jesus is born, God comes to live in the world as a human, Jesus has come to open the way back to God.
11th double page spread. Jesus, a man without sin, dies on the cross. As the book says: “All the bad things we do, and all the sad things they cause-Jesus took them all from us.” When he died, the curtain tore, from top to bottom, symbolising that God had removed the barrier between us and him.
13th double page spread. Jesus rose again, and now the close relationship is possible again, as Jesus has taken our sin upon himself.
- Today’s readings
We are going to look at how choice recurs throughout the passages set for today, the second Sunday of Lent, and how they might speak to us of the Easter story.
The Gospel passage comes about half way through “Luke’s journey narrative”, which describes Jesus’ progress towards Jerusalem over several chapters (9:51-19.28) The part we have heard this morning is a timely reminder to the reader of what is happening: Jesus is about his life’s work of healing, preaching the good news, and ultimately redeeming mankind through his death and resurrection.
- Jesus chooses to remain on God’s course
The Pharisees came to warn Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him, and to urge him to turn back. At this point it is unclear as to whether they are genuinely concerned for Jesus, or whether they have ulterior motives. Whichever is the case, Jesus is not to be deterred. He is clear that he chooses to follow the work God set out for him, his mission. Can you think of a time in your life when you have had to make a conscious decision to persist in following your mission, perhaps despite some opposition from those around you? (And if that opposition comes from a place of love and concern for you, it is even harder to remain resolute.) Last week we herad about Jesus being tempted in the desert for 40 days. He chose to respond to the temptations he faced with words of scripture: he chose to stay on God’s course then too.
- Jerusalem chooses to reject Jesus, and previous prophets.
Jerusalem may be being used as a symbol of Israel. God’s people have a history of choosing to reject prophets. In effect they chose not to enter the amazing embrace Jesus speaks of: that lovely image of a hen gathering her chicks. They prefer to continue their own course. (If we had heard the OT reading for today, it is from Jeremiah:
Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. 13 Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. 14 As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right.
Jeremiah is a prophet speaking out against the ways of the world. I think that he bravely chooses to speak out (he was put on trial for his sermon, a fate I hope to avoid!) although some commentators say that he did not see it as choice, rather a simple following of God’s command. Would that I could live so closely with God that I could be so sure of what God’s commands for me are!)
- Some of the Philippians choose to live as “enemies of the cross”
In the NT reading, Paul is writing to the Philippians, whom he has spent time with. It is clear that he has a close relationship with them and writes to encourage them. However, he is aware that some have chosen to live differently to the example he set them when living with them. “Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things”.
From my BIOY this week, Tim Keller says: “Why is it so hard to face your own death or the death of loved ones? It’s so hard because we think this broken world is the only world we’re ever going to have…But if Jesus is risen, then your future is so much more beautiful and so much more certain, than that.” This sounds to me somewhat similar to how the Philippians are living…they think this broken world is the only one there is. If that is your focus it is not surprising that you set your mind on earthly things. Can we resolve to set our minds on the promises of Jesus instead, and focus on the meaning of his resurrection for us today?
The Gospel reading for today encapsulates the whole Easter story in a way: we choose to sin, God (Jesus) chose to rescue us, we can choose to accept that offer of rescue or redemption.
What an amazing God we have: one who always gives us choices, and the free will to exercise that choice. Which of the Philippians will you choose to emulate this Lent and Eastertide: will you “live as enemies of the cross of Christ” or instead choose to “stand firm in the Lord”? Amen.