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Date: February 12, 2017 (Epiphany 6) 1. Texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Ps. 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37. 2. Subject: Christian identity. 3. Topic: choose God and life, rather than self and death. 4. Aim: to encourage the choice for God and life. 5. Proposition: “We are not passive victims. We are active choosers, so choose life.”

BE WHO GOD DESIGNED YOU TO BE

Coming home from Edmonton recently, a black F-150 passed me as if I were travelling only 80 kmh as opposed to the 110 kmh indicated on my cruise control. A few minutes later I passed that F-150 as if he were standing still—which it was because an RCMP cruiser had pulled him over. “Well,” I thought, “he’s getting what he deserved. After all, he chose to speed.” Shortly after that came the shootings in Montreal. While the victims were only victims, no one forced the men to shoot. They chose terror over life and I hope the consequences of their choices will be severe. All this brought home to me that we are not always passive victims of life. More often than not, we make choices about life, choices about who we are and what we do. We identify ourselves much more frequently and more effectively than we allow someone else to define us. We choose much more than we allow others to choose for us. I began to become a little uncomfortable with this. In the midst of this uncomfortable line of thinking came the realization that God is far more concerned about our choices than he is about our circumstances. His concern is about who we are rather than with what happens to us. In God’s eyes we are much more active choosers than we are passive victims. At least, that’s what the Scriptures seem to indicate. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 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, Page 2 of 5 -Cooperating with God’s intent for usand ordinances, then you shall live…But if your heart turns away…I declare to you today that you shall perish…1 Then Jesus said, But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,” you will be liable to the hell of fire…But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.2 According to Jesus, the attitude of one’s heart makes the difference between genuine guilt and innocence. The Bible seems to say that our choices define us. We choose and so reveal who we truly are. This is a divine reality. As God’s actions and choices reveal who he is, so our actions and choices reveal who we are. It is with that revelation that God is concerned. That revelation will demonstrate whether we are headed in God’s direction or in a contrary direction. This divine reality challenges us to think about ourselves differently. We are not the passive victims of someone else’s choices—we are the engineers of our own future, a future that God intends should include salvation. We are to choose God and genuine life or we may choose anti-God and counterfeit living. And we are to constantly make that choice considering what has happened to us, but not letting our circumstances define us. We choose, influenced by our circumstances but not controlled by them. Daily the choice between life and notlife, between God and not-God is set before us through our circumstances. We will choose and then live out the consequences of our choices. Now, this might be sounding a little bleak, but there is some genuine hope. First of all, God created us with a God-shaped hole in the middle of our souls, which only God can fill. We can try to fill this vacuum with any number 1 Deuteronomy 30:15-16b, 17-18a. 2 Matthew 5:22, 28. Page 3 of 5 -Cooperating with God’s intent for usof things—lust, power, money, position, achievement, whatever—but only God is shaped like God and only God can genuinely fill this hole. So, we are created to have God at our centre. We are actually designed to be filled and guided by God, so that is what we are actually looking to do. We muck it up lots of times, but our spirits know their true future. Second, God chooses to put himself in our centre. Time and again he reminds us of this. We can always choose to refuse, but it is God’s desire to be at the centre of our lives and he is constantly working to fulfill his own desire. This is good. Lastly, while we are predisposed to choosing not-God and not-life, believers have the presence of the Holy Spirit always challenging us to choose God and life. God’s Spirit calls out to us in the midst of our circumstances and invites us to again and again choose God. Believers have an advantage over nonbelievers because God himself is already at work in and through us. Now we have to figure out how to choose God and his life. Well, we do have the Bible which is the authoritative and normative library of God’s dealings with his Chosen People, the Jews. The Bible sets out the history of those people who worked to choose God and so provides some authoritative guidelines for us. We learn from their choices so that we might make our choices. We also have the Church, the Body of Christ, the family of the faithful both on earth and in heaven. This gives us access to the reflections of the past and the present. Our choices can be supported by the community of all those who are also working to choose God and life. Given this, it may be possible to even outline our choices with which the Church can then help us. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 3 Jesus said this to his disciples shortly before his death and with that sets out the 3 John 15:13. Page 4 of 5 -Cooperating with God’s intent for uschoice for life, which is the choice for love. It is not coincidental in the Germanic languages that life and love are so much alike. Think about living and loving— one letter difference! To choose God is to choose life and to choose life is to love, the centre of which is sacrifice. On a daily basis God calls us to love others by putting their lives ahead of our own. The result of this choice, says Jesus, is the abundant life for which we were created and for which he came to earth.4 Then the prophet Micah wrote, [The Lord God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?5 God’s goodness is expressed in our choices to do justice, to love kindness and to walk in humility before him all our days. The disciple chooses justice, righteousness, kindness and generosity, thereby revealing God’s work in the world. We learn to rely on the Spirit and constantly make choices that reinforce his work in us, choices that lead to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.6 Because of Scripture, interpreted by reason, tradition and the influence of the Holy Spirit, we can actually outline what our choices will look like. It is also of great value that we don’t have to make those choices on our own. We have the blessing and freedom to rely on the Body of Christ for love and support. Now, that does take courage and a relationship healthy enough to support our decision-making. But it is precisely that kind of support for which God created the Church. The New Testament is overflowing with examples of one disciple relying on Jesus or another disciple or a group of disciples for guidance and support. St. Paul can only figure out where to go with the support of the Church. Timothy is experiencing anxiety over being a bishop and has to rely on Paul for support. St. John writes to a beloved lady in support of her quest for Christian love. We have to make choices and our choices will reveal our true 4 John 10:10. 5 Micah 6:8. 6 Galatians 5:22-23a. Page 5 of 5 -Cooperating with God’s intent for usidentity. But that identity is already grounded in the community of the faithful, in the Body of Christ. Today we find ourselves in the same position as the Jews in Deuteronomy: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” In fact, God sets this choice before us every day. We are confronted with whatever happens to us and we have to prove what kind of disciple we are through our choices. I can definitively say that Jesus wants for us genuine life and love. So, maybe for this day, let’s choose to support one another in our choosing. Then God’s life and love will be made real in us and through us. AMEN.