Sunday, August 26, 2012

One choice: eternal life

(image: Bosch)

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

You'll probably think I'm very stupid, but for the longest time as a child, I couldn't make any sense of the old saying: you can't have your cake & eat it too. It was a saying that my mother used to use … but when she said it, I simply didn't get what she meant … how could you eat your cake, I thought, if you didn't have it … and if you're eating it, you must have it!

You're all quite smart here, I am aware, so you probably never had any trouble understanding what it was that I was missing about the point of the saying … it's that you can either eat it or keep it … once you eat it, it's gone and you don't have it … and if you want to keep it, then you can't eat it … maybe I would have understood better if the saying had been 'you can't save your money & spend it too!'

Whatever! The point is, that it is about choices … and often when you choose one thing, then you exclude something else … sometimes many other things … choices have consequences ... and all three of our readings are about choices today: about choosing to follow God and the consequences that follow from that.

Our Old Testament reading shows us Joshua challenging the people of Israel to follow God … the consequence of that choice is that you can not then follow other gods or idols … bear in mind that this would have been a remarkable concept in the Ancient Near East, the idea that you could only follow one god … they were used to following all kinds of gods … but the people of Israel get what Joshua is saying … they don't say: 'ah Josh, come on; do we have to be so anti-social? Our new neighbours will be throwing some good parties & fetivals to honour their gods … wouldn't it be rude of us not to go?' What they do say is: ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods' … Because they understood that it was an 'one thing or the other' choice: you could worship God or you could worship idols; but you couldn't do both; and if you did worship the idols, they you were forsaking God, whether you openly declared it or not … to worship idols was to forsake God.

But when you make that choice, the work isn't over. That's what our Epistle reading from St Paul is telling us. 'Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.' There's a lot out there tempting us to go astray … there's a great book by CS Lewis called the 'Screwtape Letters' … if you haven't read it, then I highly recommend it … I re-read it again last week, and I have to say that it bears repeated study … one of the points that it makes is that one of the best ways to make a Christian go astray is to trick them into thinking that they are a good, devoted disciple, when in reality they are as worldly as the most ardent secularist.

Here's a few thoughts for you to illustrate what I mean: would you ever stay out so late on a Saturday enjoying yourself, that you couldn't make it to Church on Sunday? Do you have one or more social activities that you would go to on a regular basis instead of going to Church? What about money? When things are getting tight, what gets your priority – giving for the work of the Church, or funding the next holiday, a new car, your social budget, or some other 'nice to have' that you could really live without? And very importantly, do you tell yourself that you don't have time to pray, or read the Bible, or read spiritual books … but yet have plenty of time for television, the latest thriller, or going out for drinks or coffee? We need prayer in our battle against all there is to tempt us away from the path we are called to and have chosen: 'Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication' we hear St Paul telling us today … we need God's help to stay strong and on track … and without it, we risk all that God offers us …

The choice of some of Jesus disciples in today's Gospel is to simply walk away. This is a hard teaching they say. And they were right. A lot of what Jesus teaches us is hard … but we really shouldn't surprised that being a Christian is hard, should we? Jesus told us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him … he said that his followers had nowhere to lay their heads … and the reason he sets this hard life before us is because he loves us … and he wants us to understand that this life matters little when compared with what waits beyond it … many things of this world will get in the way of our getting to heaven if we let them … St Peter understood that … when Jesus asks the twelve if they also wish to leave him, St Peter says: ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.' To choose not to follow Jesus is to say 'no' to eternal life. You can not say 'no' to his words, his hard sayings, the self-denial, and your own personal cross and still say 'yes' to Jesus … we may fool ourselves that we can … but when we do, we're not being any smarter than that little boy that I was so many years ago who couldn't understand it when his mother tried to explain that choices had consequences. St Peter saw clearly what the right choice to make was; to follow him who had the words of eternal life whatever the personal cost … and it is something that I pray that you will also have the grace to see clearly … in the Name of the + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sermon notes 26 August 2012 (12h after Trinity)  

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