Sunday, 15 May 2011

Choose Life!

It’s one of the buzz words of the day.

So much depends on it.

At every turn, be it in health care, or in education, in life-style, or in television programming …

What counts is

Choice.

Choose the treatment you receive in hospital.

Choose the school your children go to.

Choice.

The snag is ‘choice’ is not as simple as that.

All sorts of things limit the choices we can make.

Circumstances we find ourselves in, our state of health.

We are free to choose – but our choices are limited.

In those last words of Moses to the people as they stand on the threshold of the Promised Land, it all boils down to choice.

But the choice is quite a stark one.

In a sense it is the greatest freedom, the greates gift God gives.

But in another sense it is a choice that is presented to us. It is not one we devise for ourselves.


It is one, however, that is realistic.

It is one that is within the grasp of each one of us.

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ 14No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

So what is the choice?

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.

That’s a pretty stark choice.

It is also a no-brainer.

We touch something now that rounds off the whole of the Torah, the books of the Law. But it is also something that is going to run like a strand through the next section of the Old Testament.

For the moment we will take it at it’s face value. But whole books of the Old Testament are devoted to the difficulties this choice poses to us. We’ll come to those in due course.

If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God* that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

That’s it – that’s the choice.

Obey God.

That’s the key.

That way things fall into place. Things work. Things hang together.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Choose life!

That’s the key.

But what does that involve.

This is the fundamental life choice.

To follow God.

There is at this moment a link – obey God, all goes well. Disobey God all goes badly. That is the theme that’s going to run through the next few hooks. And it is as a general truth, the insight that goes to the heart of our faith.

The difficulty I spoke of is that it doesn’t always work out that way. So often it is those who disobey God who get away with it, and those who obey God have the hardest of hard times. That’s the big issue that the likes of the Book of Job grapple with.

Jesus is very aware of this fundamental choice – the command is there to Love God, Love Neighbour. He then takes that so much further. But he knows that God is there as much for the person who is facing hard times.

In fact, Jesus’ insight is that when things go really well that is the point at which corruption all sorts of things set in and things begin to fall apart.

He too sets out the blessings and the curses in no uncertain terms.

But it’s interesting that what comes first is the way God’s love reaches out through Jesus to meet the needs of those who are facing the biggest troubles, for whom that prosperity has been so elusive they have collapsed in so many ways.

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
The starting point is the healing.

Then the alternatives – blessing or curse.

There is something really challenging here. It’s taken on board the Choice in the Law, the grappling with it in Job … and it presents us with a remarkable insight.

And then Jesus goes to the nub of the matter, with the word that for him is ALL IMPORTANT.

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Yesterday marked the end of a three year partnership the Federation has developed through Christian Aid with One Respe in the Dominican Republic. What was good about that project was that it not only gave us a focus for raising more than £30,000 for a key project in the Dominican Republic, but it also enabled us to build up an understanding of Christian Aid at work and a real contact with the people involved in that project.

Yesterday saw the start of a link with the second poorest country in South America, Nicaragua. The aim is once again to raise money – but more than that, build up links. It will be interesting that way to make that contact more real.

What is interesting is the extent to which we have so much to learn – we have as much to receive by way of that very real blessing, and much that must make us think again about our priorities too.

Good that we should share that here at the start of Christian Aid Week … it is that sense of involvement we have with those in so many parts of the world, not least there in Nicaragua that is so important.

Jesus builds up to that key word in his vocabulary – Love.

And he invites us through the generosity of a love that reaches out to all to commit ourselves to Mercy and so shape the world we live in.

And it all boils down to that choice we are invited to make.

Choose life!

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