Sunday, October 23, 2016

A New Perspective

Proper 25 + Year C                                                                           
Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
24, October 2016    + All Saints' Hampton                                                                                  
A New Perspective
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22                                                                                                                  
Psalm 84:1-6        
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-8                                                                                                                     
Luke 18:9-14

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command;… Do you notice anything odd in that collect.  It says faith, hope and charity or as we would call it today: love, are gifts.  Do we think of these as gifts?  In perhaps the favorite text used at weddings (perhaps inappropriately) we read this:And now these three remain: faith hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (I Cor.  13:13)  In an earlier text we read: God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5) So what is this saying to us this morning? Let's explore it through the gospel reading appointed for today. 

It is all a matter of perspective.  In the 1997 movie Athe Devil=s Advocate@, the devil, played by Al Pacino, opposite his attorney, Keanu Reeves says, A"Vanity is my favorite sin."  A perspective that some might hold, but no one would dare to admit it in public! A retired Bishop friend of mine used to say to the effect that people are fond of condemning and confessing the sins of others, sins to which they are not tempted.  And yet I wonder.  If we are fond of confessing the sins of others, are we not putting ourselves in the Pharisee=s position?  What is the posture in the story that honors God and wins his salvation?  It is the words: AGod, have mercy on me, a sinner.@ 

This morning we read: Jesus said of the tax collector: Athis man went home justified rather
than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will
be exalted.@

What is justification?  Justification is the process by which one becomes a child of
God.  It is a change of standing before God but more, it is a covenant relationship with
God.  It puts us in a different place with Almighty God, it changes God’s perspective.
It is more than an act of work and more than an act of the will, ours and God’s .  It is an
act of grace not originating with us but originating with the Holy Spirit.  It from this
same spirit that come the gifts of faith, hope and love.   

Notice the words of the Luke describing the Pharisee in today=s lesson:The Pharisee stood
up and prayed about  himself (!) : `God, I thank you that I am not like other men‑‑robbers,
evildoers, adulterers‑‑or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I
get.'Do you believe it? He prayed about himself...?  His prayer was more a job report than
a prayer.  He sets himself apart from everyone else and he has contempt for them is
proportionate to all that he believes he has accomplished: I fast twice a week; I give
tenpercent of all that I get;  I read by Bible God and go to Church every Sunday.  (I=m
sure there was more to the list but the gospel writer didn’t want us to lose our
breakfasts!)  Face it though: he was a good, moral, upstanding guy.  Just the kind you
want on your church vestry and supporting the church with his income...so what=s the
hitch?

It=s all a matter of perspective: his own of courseIt was his attitude. Jesus was
addressing a problem that we probably have all wrestled with if we are seeking to
follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Remember, he told this story to the DISCIPLES,
not to the Pharisees!

What was the state of standing before God of that Pharisee: Aboy aren=t you lucky God
to have such a good servant!=  One commentator said: Athe great danger for people who
attain a personal discipline that enables them to live up to a high standard of behavior is
that they will feel contempt for all who do not observe their standard. So it is with the
Pharisee in this story.  He feels secure in his superiority to robbers, swindlers and
adulterersBand to the tax man he sees in the temple courtBalthough he has no
knowledge of any sin the man may have committed beyond his occupation.@(Synthesis)
He had the perspective of Religious Christianity.  The root of the first is religio.  Religio
speaks of a work we do.  Religious Christianity is the idea that your performance,
devotional practices or morals make you right with God. It premise is that
righteousness is achieved rather than received. (Tyler Speegle , Five Reasons Why I hate
Religious Christianity, Huffington Post, May 9, 2016.).

The Phaisee didn=t need God’s help.  He thought of himself as having accomplished all
That would make him acceptable to God.  All he had to do was , do, do, do, do !  It was
a delusional perspective.

Father Luther discovered in his neurotic pain and guilt, that no one can be justified on his or her own account.  Our efforts without the Holy Spirit living in us do not make us right with God.  It is necessary that God intervene.  We don=t understand the measureless of Divine Love, that grace is no longer grace when we try to earn it.  Yet we too often would rather fall back on the works righteousness model that seems to make more Asense@ to us.  

Three people die and go to heaven: a nurse who has worked with dying cancer patients for 30 years, a teacher who has spent his whole life working with educationally challenged youngsters and the CEO of an HMO. St. Peter meets each and reads the file: to the first he says, Acome on in@Bto the second he says Acome on in!@Bwhen he gets to the CEO he reads his file and says to him: AhmmmByou can come on inBbut only for three days.@  Is that salvation?   Do we want that perspective?  

It’s all a matter of perspective on the source of faith, hope and love. One of the distinguishing marks that Christianity holds differing from all world religions is the understanding of grace.  Paul said clearly, AFor it is by grace you have been saved, through faith‑‑and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God‑‑not by works, so that no one can boast.@
The grace is the receiving of a free gift and entering into a relationship with the Giver.  That is what baptism is about.  That is why at confirmation the question: do you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior?.. Do you promise to follow him as your Lord? are such important questions.

In this sacrament, it is not the parents= perspective, the priest=s perspective, or even your perspective that counts, it=s God=s. The prayer, AGod be merciful to me a sinner@ is the posture of the Christian or the one who would come to Christ.  

What about works?  Martin Luther was very famous for insisting that salvation is by faith alone.  He went so far as to state that he wished the book of James purged from the Bible because if its stress on works.  It is both.  God gives faith.  We enter into relationship with him but as James says: AWhat good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?@  (2:14)


The collect prays that God will increase in us the gifts of faith, hope and charity, and so that we may obtain what these spiritual gifts promise to our livesBwe pray that God will make us to love what He commands us to do and be.  This is the point of being a part of the Church.  This is the end of baptism.  This is the promise of confirmation.  AGod be merciful to me a sinner@, AI accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior@, AI promise to follow him as my Lord.@  So much guilt can be assuaged by this blood of forgivenessBso much strength and comfort received from the sacraments.  It=s all a matter of perspective: will we take God=s perspective or for some reason choose to follow our own or that of another person.  Our faith is a revealed religion from a personal Father who chose to adopt an unruly race of people, but that adoption requires our participation.  How do we participate?   We receive those gifts that God gives: faith, hope and love and apply those gifts to the world around us, for Jesus sake.  AMEN  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Love Letter from the Father + God



Proper 24 + Year C                                                       
Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell +
16, October AD 2016                                          
All Saints’ Church, Hampton, SC
Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Mercy: what an extraordinary word.  What an extraordinary concept.  What a quality that rights so many wrongs, brings peace to so many lives, transforms so many states of being!  The collect states that: God has revealed his “glory among the nations.” and implores that God should “Preserve the works of (His) mercy”.  In his encyclical in 1981 John Paul II said that:  mercy is love’s secnd name and that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. So, contained within the concept of mercy is another powerful word “love.”  In Peter’s Epistle we read that “love covers a multitude of sins”. (I Peter 4:8)

Our collect and readings today bring us an image of the God we worship and tell us much about his character and heart. Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote in his work Questions of Faith this declaration : over the generations Jewish scholars have read the Torah not a as a novel to see how it ends, but as a love letter.  For instance, why did he use this word instead of that word? Why is there a space here?  Why a comma here instead of a period? That’s the way you read a love letter and wonder >what did he or she mean by this word?  We Jews have seen the Torah as not just a book of stories or law codes, but as a love letter from God. (p. 64)

The Catechism on page 853 of the Prayer book asks: Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God?  The answer is: we call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and be use God still speaks to us through the Bible.  I haven’t preached a lot on inspiration or the belief that God is the author of Scripture, but today the reading from Timothy confronts us with that doctrine head on.  The interesting thing about it is the reality that the other readings don’t matter if the reading from Timothy is not true.  But we live in a culture of relativism and everyone from about age 35 and younger has been taught by the culture and the media that there is not such thing as Truth@ with a capital T.  No, there’s your truth and my truth.  Everyone has a valid truth and it is not to be disputed. But is your truth, TRUE?   When does another person’s truth become invalid?  When the 9-11 hijackers chose to act against our nation, they were acting on their truth.  It doesn’t matter to the relativist is that truth is right or wrong, it is true for them!  But is that how God looks at it.  We believe as the Church that the Bible is both Truth, that is, it reveals God who is ultimate reality, and it is True, it cannot and does not mislead intentionally. 

The Bible is different from any other book.  It portrays the scandalous about the great saints of the faith.  It airs all of the dirty laundry and yet it is about a God who relentlessly pursues the people he seeks out and loves with an inexhaustible love.  Yes, it has sometimes been misunderstood, but using the principles of consistency of interpretation that our protestant reformers taught us, we learn that scripture interprets scripture, that tradition is also a guide in interpretation and that as the Catechism says, we understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the church in the true interpretation of the scriptures. When these premises are followed and they are read through the love letter eyeglasses of Rabbi Kushner, the scripture truly applies its Truth to us and lives are changed and made new.

 What does scripture do for us?  It is profitable; it is of help to us in a profitable way: It is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. How is it useful?  It helps us to know what is good and what is not.  It helps us to have healthy and happy relationships with God and neighbor.  Its principles keep us walking in healthy paths of body, soul and spirit.  Paul encourages the young Timothy and the church to be aggressive in using it in these ways because the time is coming when people will shut their ears. Have you ever shut your ears to God?  That sort of "selective@ hearing that husbands are famous for, except we all use it with God at times. 
             
 We believe as much of the Bible as we live...and we wonder why Church doesn’t do anything for us or we don=t get anything out of the sermons or whatever we may say. “I know the Bible says love my neighbor but, I don’t want to.”  “I know it says forgive, but you don’t know what he or she did to me!”  I know it says don’t lie, but it’s just a small one! In a movie I saw once, Jack Lemmon playing a priest said something about “a harmless lie” and his seminarian deacon said “I didn’t know there was such a thing.” Last example: “I know it says don’t steal, but...well they’ll never miss it.” Yet when we need it: God bless me! or please answer my emergency prayers or I’ll never do it again, if you’ll just do this or that for me.

Does that mean that LIVING the Word of God is a cakewalk?  Not a chance!  The Bible gives examples in scripture of non-cakewalk belief..Jacob, the deceiver, the cheat, the dishonest salesperson, the betrayer of his own brother has finally enough rope to hang himself.  He doesn’t know whether the next day will bring him death for his past deeds or allow him to live and be forgiven by his brother who had sworn to kill him.  That night God comes to him, whether in a dream or a vision, the word is the same in Hebrew, and they have what we used to call down south a come to Jesus session.  He fought and fought with this messenger from heaven.  In some mysterious wrestling match that scripture does not explain, he messenger requests that Jacob release him.  Jacob says I will not let you go unless you bless me.  He was crying out to God and insisting that God answer his prayers. The messenger gave him a new name and a new purpose. That name is the name of his descendants today: Israel. The new name means “you have striven with God and prevailed.” 
That is what this same God wants to do for each of us.  That is why we are baptized and we or our parents invite this God to give us a new name and a new identity.  But we like Jacob must come to that point when we lay it all upon the grace of God and say: bless me.  Make me yours and use me.  The second example is one of a poor widow.  We are not told her name or what her grievance was. Without the support of a husband in that culture and no social security or Medicare, her husband=s property would have passed on to their sons or his brother but not to her.  She lived on the edge of Hebrew society.  Jesus told this parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. She goes to this could care less judge with a lot of nerve. Some of you are like that.  She goes and demands that her grievance be addressed.  Over and over, again and again she goes.  At last, because of her persistence, he vindicates her.  Now understand, Jesus is not telling us that God is like the judge. Rather Jesus goes on to say, “will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?   I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly."  This sorry version of Judge Judy finally helps this woman even though he cares less about her.  How much more will God who loves us with a love do deep that we cannot begin to fathom it, help his children who cry out to him...we just don’t always like his answers to us.  Sort of like children who don’t like the answers that parents give them, even if the parents’ words are in the child’s best interest.  We ought to pray and not to give up! 

In this last example, Jesus gives one more verse not included in our readings today, when the Son of man comes will he find faith on the earth.I am convinced that for much of the Church there is a crisis of faith.  People do not know how God operates.  They do not seek the Word of God or the counsel of people of deep faith and so they live essentially without belief.  I am reminded of a professor from General Theological Seminary who wrote to the effect that,  although our church does not teach or know all that inspiration means or how God inspired, we simply know that when the Bible is preached and taught as true, human beings are made whole, healed, set free, made new.  It isn’t just true for you and me , it is true for everyone.  When we act upon and live in this faith, we begin to see with new eyes that God is working all around us and through us, that we are loved and living in God’s love we will yet strive but like Jacob’s dream, we will prevail in our living, loving and ever prevailing Lord. Then we will discover the Truth of the Word of God. Then we will begin that process of healing that God wants to give to the souls, the minds and even sometimes the bodies of his people and those for whom they pray.  Will we have faith?  Not faith in some ambivalent force we call faith...what good is having faith in faith?  Have faith in the promises of God that he is faithful, that  Jesus the Son of God died for us, in a personal and real way, that God the Holy Spirit is waiting for you to say, Acome in, I surrender my life to you.@  Prayer is ultimately about healing.  The Word of God speaks to help us along the way.  This day God is speaking to us, let us not close the door on him, but open the door wide and let that One who loves us beyond all loving come in and heal what wounds our souls.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Earth vs Heaven

Proper 20 + Year C                                                  Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
18, September 2016                                          Parish of All Saints’ Hampton

The Collect pleads with God to admonish us: Agrant us Lord not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; ...@  Have you ever even considered for a moment, how much we trust in earthly things?  We put on our dollars, Ain God we trust@, but do we really?  The events of the last two weeks have shown us a glaring short-sightedness in our national life: we are fragile. People have asked: Awhere was God when all of these things happened?@  My answer?  The same place he was before.  If he was a part of one=s life before that time, he was assuredly there at the time of the disaster.  When bad things happen to good people (as we say) we question and seemingly forget that God died on a cross for us. God in Christ did not come into the world to Areform@ it, he came into the world to save it from itself!  He came to make a new creation that begins in us, who claim to be his followers.  We are the first nation in world history to assert that Aall men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.@  You notice that even in our constituting documents, God is included.  Is he included now?   

Today we are confronted by a parable that not only is difficult, easily misunderstood and in some fashion for this wealthiest nation in the world rather shocking.  We have a gospel reading where Jesus tells a story hard to understand.  It might seem that Jesus was suggesting that being a corrupt businessman is somehow commendable!  But that is not the point of the parable.  Jesus says there are two classes of people on planet earth.  There are the worldly, and there are the other-worldly. The children of this age are bound in sin and darkness. Scripture says they are "condemned already."  Then there are the other-worldly, the children of the light.  They know the truth about sin and judgment and grace and redemption. They know the blessing of peace with God and the promise of heaven.  How do these two groups live together on this planet?

Jesus says there is frequently if not usually, a huge contradiction in the outward life of the children of God in this world. Jesus says the children of God don't live consistently with their beliefs. The world does. But the children of God don’t.
The children of this world live consistently with their goals and priorities. They live to work their system. It's the children of the other-world who don't. They say one thing and live something else.
This steward is somewhat like a stock broker or a financial planner only these guys could make real money by exploitation, by being loan sharks charging an exorbitant rate of interest and were shrewd in their dealings.
Eventually, the owner gets wind of what the steward is doing and he is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, badly using what was entrusted to him and he is fired. Now his time is limited so he is in a dilemma to put him in good stead after his firing is complete.  He comes up with a stroke of genius. He goes to the ones who owe his master money and cuts their debts.  This way the Master (for our purposes we may say God), looks like a good guy and the creditors are in the debt of the steward who now will be unemployed.  He cuts his own earnings in interest and it appears to the debtors that the Master is really a good and generous guy.
Now the Master looks great and the steward looks great, even if he has taken a hit financially. He will look good for his shrewd way of dealing with his dilemma and the master will look good to those who owe him. The Master finds out what has happened and commends the wasteful steward=s resourceful-ness.  The Master commends the steward’s shrewdness that is wisdom, insight and understanding.  He sees the steward as wise looking to provide for the steward’s own future.

God created His people in Christ to love people and use things.  The world has it backwards.  The world loves things and uses people.  Worldly resources promise much but so often can vanish in a moment.  Make friends means to care for neighbors in their needs and be willing to give up everything if need be for the kingdom. There is a principle here: we cannot show we love God unless we love and provide for others.  What may be a shock is that Jesus says that it impossible to serve God and money.  Jesus tells them to use worldly wealth to make friends and establish good will. Money itself is a spiritual power that moves to direct, control and possess human life. How is the steward a model for we Christians?  One commentator suggested it is this: he was adept at assessing a dire situation and acting accordingly to fix it. The Greek word is the same Jesus uses for the wise man who built his house upon the rock rather than our sand. The steward was thinking of the future not simply the here and now, as our credit card companies would like us to live.  Jesus is telling us to live with an eternal perspective.   It is not telling us not to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.  It a practical Christian teaching. Earthly wealth is how we practice being faithful.  Even crooks know how to use it for benefit, how much more should the righteous be able to do

Let me return to the collect for a moment. We prayed: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Anxiety!  How our present times are rife with it!  But it is not only a characteristic of our time, but in most of the history of human existence.   What makes you anxious?  I know for me it has been more often than not money!  But my sisters and brothers, There is nothing in this world that we can say is truly our own.  Wealth is an illusion.  Possessions are an illusion.  No my friend you really cannot have your cake and eat it too.

We practice with small things.  Jesus says being faithful in small things will teach us faithfulness in much.  Yet we live in a culture that is brainwashed to accumulate more and more and more.   How much is enough?  Just a little bit more they say. Worldly wealth has no eternal value, so let us use it for the good of others. We have a saying: “what goes around comes around.”  When we read the collect a moment ago, we know the truths of what we prayed.  Wealth is passing away No you can’t take it with you.  But what we do for neighbor, will endure. 

A new church opened a couple of years ago in Portland Oregon name Christ Church.  They have welcomed many of the outcasts that the Episcopal Church welcomes. The final straw that the Evant3lical Covenant denomination broke the camel’s back was the pastor’s support of same gender marriage.  I have always liked their operating mission statement: “For God’s Glory and Neighbor’s Good.  

Is that not what Jesus is teaching in this parable?  Is it not how we are called to live our lives?  Let’s think about it. Let’s pray on it.  Let’s do it.






Sunday, September 4, 2016

Counting the Cost in Christ



Proper 18 + C                                                             The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
4, September AD 2016                                                            Counting the Cost in Christ

 On Sunday 8 April 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and a leader in the Confessing or Lutheran Church in Nazi Germany. He had just finished conducting a service of worship at Schoenberg Prison, when two soldiers came in, saying, "Prisoner Bonhoeffer, make ready and come with us," the standard summons to a condemned prisoner. As he left, he said to another prisoner, "This is the end -- but for me, the beginning -- of life." He was hanged the next day, less than a week before the Allies reached the camp.  He was only 39 years old.  His most famous work endures.  Its title? The Cost of Discipleship.  The Cost of Discipleship attacks what he calls "cheap grace," meaning grace used as an excuse for moral laxity.  In that book, he wrote these words: AWhen Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die@.  Oh, that will sell. AGood one Jesus@, yet Jesus said Awhoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.@
Few of us think when we approach the baptismal font that we are coming to be baptized into the death of Christ Jesus so that we may be raised with him in his resurrection!  For many years we have basked in a culture formed and shaped by the Christian world view.  Only now do we begin to experience a cultural attack on that worldview. Only now are we confronted by extremists who will kill others for only professing Christ.  Since 9/11 Islamic radicals have carried out more than 29000 attacks on persons claiming to be Christians.  No Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Have we counted the cost?  Have we?   What is the cost of following Jesus!  You see,  Jesus didn’t call us to a Achurch franchise@ to go and purchase bits and pieces of God and enjoy them at our leisure.  Jesus called us to a way: a following, a pattern of living, loving and believing that leads to life.  I believe that it was the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton who said: Athe glory of God is a person fully alive.@   I don=t know about you, but when I get around some Christians who are shall we say, Ajust a little bit too much >alive=,@ I=m tempted to say, Ahey, crank it down a notch@.  Would I ever say the same thing if they were watching a ball game or a road race?  Of course not!  They=re supposed to be Aexcited.@  But about Jesus?

Are we aware that this age is the only age in history where people have dared to claim that one can satisfy spiritual needs through material resources? It begins in the home, then the school room, television, advertizing. People think that the more Astuff@ they accumulate, the happier they will be. And if you don=t believe that, then why are people willing to give their very economic livelihood and risk everything in order to have the latest gadgets? Living on credit has become a way of life. We think if we just get more, the Aitch@ will go away, that’s certainly what advertisers hope we will think. Soon the new toy is old and like a five year old, the novelty has worn off.  So...we must get a new thing.  These are distractions.  That which endures has a cost, it is the way of the love of God in Christ Jesus.  He paid the cost we could not pay.  Grace is free, but grace is not cheap!

Bonhoeffer coined a phrase for a Christianity that costs us nothing.  He called it “cheap grace.”  We sing “Amazing Grace,” but then do we really think it is? I wonder sometimes what AJesus@ people have learned about.  Is it the one who died to pay a debt that we could not pay so that we might live?  Is He the heartbeat of love of the universe?  Or is he just one of many options in the cafeteria of life?  Because really following Jesus, really coming to know this one whom we call Lord and Savior, costs something.  It costs everything.  Do you remember the images of those Ethiopian Christians who were lined up by ISIS militants by the sea shore in their orange jump suits to be killed for being Coptic Christians? Do you know what those people now dead would only have had to do to still be alive and with us today?  Deny Jesus as Lord and Savior and embrace Islam...but they wouldn’t.  They wouldn’t! 

What causes a person to be willing to pay that kind of sacrifice:  a deeply carved love in the depths of the soul and heart.  That is a passionate love for Jesus. When those men and women of our day go out and defend this nation, they are those who have enlisted.  When they stand up so that every one of us might live in freedom, it is because they love this country; they indirectly love us and what we say we stand for.  It is the same to stand up for Jesus, to bear His standard, His colors.  How many times have we at a baptism heard, Awill you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?@  Did we respond lamely AI will with God=s help@ mouthing words like zombies or did we really mean it?  Who am I preaching to this morning?  Sure I’m preaching to you, but I’m also preaching to me as well.

We Christians are the ones who absolutely depend utterly and completely on Sovereign Grace.  We hear things like:  “God helps those who help themselves”?  Is this from the Bible or from somewhere else?  Although its root are said to be of Greek origin, we know it from Benjamin Franklin quoted from Poor Richard's Almanac in 1757. The first of the four spiritual laws used in witnessing in many protestant circles is this: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” And God does. God has a plan for your life!  He has a plan for mine!  We are not accidents!  God doesn’t wring His hands and say Aoops! I let another one be born!@  We were born by the sovereign will of Almighty God.  If we will let God lead us in his will for us, he will lead us.

I read once that you can make choices; however, you cannot choose the consequences of your choices.  Yet in our day: the whining, the complaining, the remonstration, the constant playing of the victim by those who made, as my now deceased little brother used to speak of making:  “the wrong choices.”   Unfortunately the choices he made in the throes of his addictions eventually caused his all too early death. Proverbs 14 says this: There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (14:12)

In our lives today God lays out the issue of choices, daily, moment by moment.  He clearly says to the children of Israel that he has good things in store, if they will but stay in loving relationship with Him.  However, if they abandon God, there will be consequences.  Why, because God hates them?  No!  It is because God loves them!  How many people have found that in the direst of circumstances, that they felt the closest to God?   The crowds, says Jesuit scholar, Joseph Fitzmyer, are “following Jesus because of the blessing and the wonderful things that he has associated with the kingdom.”1 The crowds, it seems, have counted the kingdom assets, perhaps, but what of the liabilities?  The way of the cross is the way of life, but it does not mean it will be a painless walk.  Yet it seems the peculiar condition of we humans that we don=t learn much in the easy times, it is in the tough times that we learn the most.  It begins with Jesus and comes down the pike to all who will follow him.  Yet as Moses said to the children of Israel in the first reading today, we are challenged to Achoose life@. 

Fr Brennan Manning one of my mentors in Christ once said: “The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” 
 
Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

 That is what it really means to be a Christian.  But how hard it is to make that choice.  How hard it is to see the challenge as not depriving us of life but rather through a form of self-restraint, that is Adeath to self desire and self will, putting me first and getting what I think I want@ through that self restraint actually coming alive as God in Christ fills us up and makes us a New Creation. Why Jesus= extreme statements? Because any time we think that anything is more important that fellowship with Jesus in his kingdom, we cannot learn much from Jesus.  When we follow Jesus as the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE, we open undreamed of possibilities with God whom we call Our Father. In the collect this morning we prayed in acknowledgement that God: always resist(s) the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake(s) those who make their boast of your mercy;” and how we abide in that mercy!  How we need it every moment. So in the closing words of the Bible we read: The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.  (Rev. 22:17)