Sermon at The Episcopal Church in Okatie
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 12, 2017
Choices. We all have choices to make as we walk this earth, from the small inconsequential ones such as which brand of tissue to buy, to big ones regarding vocation, what kind of person we want to be, or even becoming a mission of the Episcopal Church in 2014. Today’s readings offer many choices, and indeed in Deuteronomy we hear these words, “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Five persons of this congregation are coming forward today to publicly declare their choice, to choose life by following Jesus as Savior and Lord in and through the Episcopal Church.
We have been given an amazing gift from God, that is, the gift of free will. While it is true that there are many things that occur over which we have little or no choice, we can choose how we are going to respond to whatever it is life brings us.
We who are gathered here do so I trust, because we are saying that it is our desire to live a life that seeks to follow the way of Jesus. Again from Deuteronomy, “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...” At the same time, the gift of free will can be used to have our “heart turn away, not to hear, and thus are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,” such as the gods of power, entitlement, money, success or class. You can make your own list.
As Christians, we are always called to look at the life choices placed before us, to search our hearts in prayer, and in the context of the Tradition passed on through the centuries examine how our choices honor God and God’s people, or not. Its not always easy, especially when we come up against conflicting values, but even then what we are seeking is the way of Jesus: to seek and serve Christ in all persons; loving your neighbor as yourself; striving for justice and peace among all people; and, respecting the dignity of every human being. No small things are they? They involve big choices nearly every day because as we know, being a Christian is supposed to be a radical statement.
Pat was a parishioner of mine some years ago when I was the rector of a parish in Southern Virginia. In the early 70’s, before I was her priest, she was outspoken about the overt racism evident in the area. In that day and in that place it was a risky thing to do, and of course it still is in many places. Members of the parish told me that Pat’s home, where she lived with her husband, would get pelted with eggs and spay-painted with epithets too vulgar to repeat here appeared on her garage door. When I was her rector in the mid-80s I heard these stories from others and one day, when visiting with a then elderly Pat, I asked her about those days and why she was motivated to speak out. She said, beautifully and simply, “Because I promised to follow Jesus.”
Pat chose life, life for all God’s people, even at great personal cost and in the midst of foreboding circumstances. She chose the life of Christ, God acting in her and through her, resting in the assurance of her baptism that God has claimed her as his own. When the five folks coming forward today say, “I do, and with God’s grace I will follow him (Jesus) as my Savior and Lord; when all of us gathered say we will support them in this journey and by our own prayers and witness join them in following Jesus; we declare that we are a part of the Jesus Movement to transform the world for God’s vision of justice, peace and reconciliation for all. Their choice is a sign of hope and encouragement for all of us.
I recently saw on a church sign these words: “For those who have much, our responsibility is to build larger tables, not higher fences.” This is not a political statement. It is a statement of faithfulness. It is the way of Jesus as God leaves us with the free will to choose the way of life or death. It is the choice God places before each of us in some way every single day whether it be while standing in a grocery store line, discerning how to be the best steward of our resources, or even what kind of church we want to be in our service to the community.
Jesus is always upping the ante, if you will. We learn in Matthew’s Gospel today that it is not only the act of murder, or adultery or swearing falsely that is the problem, he challenges what is going on in the motivations of the heart before any of those behaviors even get manifested. His way is always the higher way, the harder way, the more demanding way, the faithful way. After all, it cost Jesus his life, why would it not be costly for us too?
The Good News for us today is that in and through it all, we are loved completely and utterly by a God shown to us in Jesus who desires to be in relationship with us. From St. Paul, “We are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” We are not left alone in our choices. God remains with us even when, and perhaps especially when, we don’t get it right. God chooses us and in thanksgiving we can choose God in the way of Jesus.
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Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.