“You didn’t choose me,” Jesus says in John 10, “but I chose you.” Let’s get that abundantly, patently, crystal clear before we go anywhere. God chooses to have a relationship with us. There isn’t anything that we are going to do or say that will keep God from having a relationship with us. There’s nothing that we don’t do or say that will keep God from having a relationship with us. God’s love is given to us—without us even asking. It’s a given, in more senses than one. But even something that is given to us is useless to us if we don’t…make use of it.
The relationship that God has with us is relatively meaningless, at least in this life, if we don’t choose to act like it matters. People are always so worried about whether they believe the right thing about God in order that they’re saved, but we are saved—saved by grace through faith. The real question is—why do you care if you aren’t going to act like that matters? God tells us over and over and over again, and even shows us in more ways than one, what our lives are to look like when it matters to us that we have this inalienable relationship with God, yet so often we get caught up in the things that just don’t matter. So for us again today, as it is every day, throughout the day, day by day, day in and day out, the question is, how are we going to live our lives like it matters that we have a relationship with God? What difference does it make that we live and move and having being in one who promises us never to abandon us? That’s our question, as it always is. Consider it once again as we go forward.
Let us pray. May the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Who here still uses a checkbook?
I know that Paul does. I’ve seen him. I think he even enjoys his checkbook. Any one else?
They didn’t even teach me how to balance a checkbook when I was in high school. I understand they used to do that back before my time in school—back when they taught you how to add and subtract with an abacus. A checkbook, as a quick reminder, contains two parts—for those out there who are my age and under who might not know how this high-tech technology works—is a pad of checks and a register. This register a way to keep track of all the money you put into your account and all the money you spend from this account. That’s the part that Paul enjoys the most. It’s a way to keep track of your money and see how your spend it. When I first got my checkbook, I would’ve been better off with an accounting degree trying to balance it. In fact, balance sheets and so forth are still not my forte! Thank God for those on Finance who know how to add and subtract better than me!
We use checkbooks and other accounting tools to keep track of how we spend our money, and our money is a tool we use to help us make choices. That’s the simple explanation of economics—how we make choices. Today, we primarily talk about economics as being about money, but economics is basically about how we make any kind of choice.
When we make a choice to do something, we also make a choice not to do something. Every choice we make also entails a cost. We call that cost an “opportunity cost.” When I made the choice this morning to come get wait til 6:30 to get up, I also made the choice not watch the morning news. When I make the choice not to go to the gym this afternoon yet again for the seventh year running, I also make the choice to store an extra 500 calories that’ll go directly to my waistline. Our days are full of choices. At every moment of every day, we have choices to make—choices we don’t even realize we’re making. Our days are full of opportunities, used or unused, and each choice we make has a cost—the cost of an opportunity not used.
In today’s first reading, Moses puts a choice before the Hebrews: life and prosperity or death and adversity. What a way to be blunt! Moses makes it clear what each choice entails. Following the commands of God means life and prosperity. Going another way, that is, not following the commands of God, means death and adversity. Pretty basic. But the choice is there—even if it’s stark.
St. Paul lays out for us, though, that it’s not simply following the rules that brings life. “All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come,” he tells the Colossians, and us. “The substance is Christ,” he says.
And then Jesus today tells us, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” That means to give it all folks, everything. Take up a means of death and follow Jesus…
These are tough readings! Life and death readings, really…And at their heart is the matter of choice. Will we choose to live our lives like our relationship with God in Jesus matters, or will we choose business as usual? That’s the basic gist of it.
When we join the church, that is the, the body of Christ, not Emanuel in particular, but the whole church, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, we make promises—not so much to God, but to one another.
When we join the church, we choose to live with them among God’s faithful people, we choose to immerse ourselves in the Word of God and partake in the mystery of Holy Communion, we choose to pray as Jesus taught us, to confess the faith of our forebears down through the ages, and to strive to live according to God’s commandments handed down at Sinai; we choose to devote ourselves to regular and intentional prayer, conversation with God; we choose to strive to live a life befitting the name of Christ, the title of Christian, that by our lives we might proclaim God’s love through our words and our actions; and we choose to seek God’s justice, love, and peace, not only for ourselves, but in every nook and cranny of this world wherever we find ourselves. This is what it means to choose to live our lives as disciples of Jesus—as living, active members of the body of Christ.
This choice comes to us at a cost—it comes to us at the cost of living our lives for ourselves. Popular wisdom would whisper in your ear. In fact, no—popular wisdom would shout at you all the time, from every angle, that a fulfilled life is one that makes use of every opportunity presented to you that will satisfy your wants, satisfy your needs, satisfy your desires.
Popular wisdom says to you, “Reward yourself” for doing exactly what is expected of you. Popular wisdom asks you, “If God loves you, why aren’t things easier for you?” Popular wisdom puts the achievements and contentment in front of you and says, “You know, if you just prayed harder and lived a better life, good things could be yours too.” Popular wisdom is always framing the choice, framing the opportunity in terms of you, in a way that comes back to what you want, what you desire, or what you need. Popular wisdom offers us a good deal, a cheap bargain—and it’s hard to resist.
But that’s not the way of the godly life. That’s not the choice that Jesus made. Jesus looked at his life as an opportunity to further God’s purpose, to further God’s peace—not for his own self, but for the sake of the world, for your sake. It’s ingenuous to say that Jesus didn’t consider the cost of his choice to live a life of obedience to God’s will. But in considering the cost of living his life in a way different from what the world would insist upon, he made the unpopular choice. And his obedience not only revealed to us an example for godly living, but it revealed to us the whole depth and breadth of God’s love for us, love that considers no cost too great to have good relationship with us. It’s this same love that Jesus calls us to as his disciples, and tells us that the world will know we are his disciples when we have love for one another. The opportunity is before us, even if the cost is great.
A monkey sees a glistening diamond in a clear plastic jar. The monkey reaches in and clutches the diamond, holding it in his fist tight. He tries to pull his fist holding the diamond out of the jar, but he can’t because his fist is balled up too much to get through the narrow opening of the jar. He gets frustrated and bangs the jar against the floor and wall, all the while clutching the diamond in his fist. The jar doesn’t give, and neither does the monkey. He is frustrated and angry, but he still possesses the diamond. The monkey fails to understand to have the diamond and his freedom, he must first let go of his clenched fist and consider the problem from another angle. Turn the jar upside down and the diamond effortlessly falls out.
To choose life is to look at things from an upside-down perspective, from a way of looking at things that is different than the one that popular wisdom would preach to us. We must first look at things through the life of Jesus—the one who chose to live his life for our sake, the one who chose to look not for gain, but for give. This same Jesus beckons us to likewise choose the same life that he did, not for our sake alone, but for the sake of God’s goodness—a goodness that encompasses, those we love and those we despise, those we know and those we don’t know, and the whole creation.
This is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. It means to choose to life that is bigger than ourselves, a life that stretches wide and embraces, not as burden, but as opportunity the call to give of ourselves in loving devotion to each other. Life as a disciple of Jesus is an opportunity not only to take part in God’s peace now, but to be an active contributor of that peace, in sharing and spreading that peace through lives lived with love—that is, with consideration, generosity, discipline, compassion, authenticity, and forbearance.
The cost for this opportunity is your whole life, your whole self, but the return is the peace of God that surpasses our comprehension. The opportunity is before you. Embrace the cost. Choose life.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.