Choices (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

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Most of us love having choices.  Choices give us freedom, opportunity and sometimes the sense that we can control what’s going to happen in our lives.  Indeed, most of us expect to have choices in most areas of our lives, and when we don’t have a choice, it can feel like we’re being denied an inalienable right.

Still, sometimes choices are hard.  And as much as I like having choices, I sometimes have a difficult time making a choice because:

  • There are too many choices!  Sometimes, I look at a menu and find five things I’d really like.  Which to choose?  Or I have to “pick a color” from 5000 options.  I don’t know!  Often, too many choices create a “paralysis of analysis”…
  • All of my choices look bad.  There are times when I don’t like any of my options (I’ve voted in elections like this.)  But it’s sometimes the case that when we need to make a choice, no choice looks all that good and we have to figure out what the “least bad” choice is…and of course, not making a choice is also a choice, and often another bad choice option…
  • I’m afraid of making a mistake with my choice.  Almost always, when I look back on big choices I’ve made in my life I’m content that I made a good choice.  But for some reason, I’m often still haunted by the fear that my choice, which seems good right now, might turn out to be the wrong choice, and so I end up agonizing over choices that really don’t require that much thought…!

In today’s first reading, Joshua has led the ancient Israelites across the Jordan River and into the promised land.  They’ve settled in and begun the new life that they’d all been waiting for.  And as they begin, Joshua calls them together and asks them to “choose this day whom you will serve.”

Were they going to serve the God who had brought them out of slavery?  Would they serve the Mesopotamian gods their ancestors had served long ago?  Or would they serve the gods of Egypt whom they had served in their time of slavery?

Make a choice, says Joshua.  And it sounds like a happy ending, because they all answer, “far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods!”  But as the story continues, that wasn’t always the way it was.  Sometimes, those folks and their descendants served the LORD.  Sometimes, they served other gods.  And not infrequently, just to hedge their bets, they served both the LORD and the other gods.

The choice wasn’t a one time choice.  It was a choice they and their descendants needed to make every day.  Who did they think God was?  How would they live in relation to that God?  And how would that relationship drive the way they lived in community with each other?  Those questions raised all kinds of choices which they were called to make each day.

And those are the same kinds of choices we’re called by God to make as well.  Who is God in our lives?  How do we live in relationship with that God?  And how does our relationship with God affect how we live in community with each other each day?

Those questions pose a myriad of choices for us each day.  But while our readings today focus on the choices of the people, what’s in the background is the choices that God has made, and continues to make, each day.

While our choices can often be hard and confusing, the choices God calls us to make are always made in the context of:

  • God’s choice for us – the people of Israel got to make a choice because God had chosen them; God was committed to them.  And God makes that same promise to us in baptism; we get to make choices because God has made a choice for us in Jesus; and no matter what choices we make, God’s choice for us doesn’t change …
  • God’s help in making our choices – in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus also asks the 12 to make a choice – are they going to continue to follow him?  This is an issue, because Jesus has been leading a Bible study in the synagogue, and all this “flesh and blood” stuff has just been too much for some of his disciples.  And yet, the words that Jesus speaks somehow help the 12 to see God’s promise of life, and that’s what helps them to make the choice (at least that day) to continue to follow Jesus… (the choices God calls us to make aren’t like that old game show where you just randomly pick door #1 or door #2 or door #3 with no idea what the right choice is; instead, God is always working in our lives to help us with our choices, even if figuring out what God is saying is hard, as it was during that Bible study!…)
  • God’s promise of forgiveness – we make the wrong choices all the time; the ancient Israelites did, too.  But in the Bible, whenever anybody asks for forgiveness for their wrong choice, God always chooses to forgive, and they get the opportunity to make new choices; and if God can and will forgive us, we can give ourselves the freedom to make what seems like the best (or at least the “least bad”) choice …(this is what Luther meant when he told people to “sin boldly, but believe in Christ more boldly still”!) …

Usually, I like having choices.  But sometimes choices can be hard.  Choices can be confusing.  And sometimes, I’m not sure whether I’m really making the right choice.

But whether our choices seem good or bad, easy or hard, Jesus has shown has that God has made a choice for us that never changes.  Jesus promises to help us in making choices that are healthy for us and for our neighbors.  And most of all, Jesus promises that even when we make the wrong choices, God’s forgiveness and love is always there for us.