Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday in the Week of Ash Wednesday

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Luke 9:22-25


We face choices daily. Some of the choices are simple: what to eat, and what to wear. Others are more complex: how to handle our household or departmental budgets, what to do about concerns in our relationships.

But there is a third category of choices that we make: choices of utmost concern. In particular today, I want to focus on the choices we make when it comes to faith.

To be certain, walking a Christian life is not a simple matter. The basics of the faith might be easily summarized in a creed, but spouting off random lines from said creeds hardly cuts it when we are asked a question like, "It's surely OK to move some of this money around without telling anyone, right?" Reciting a creed doesn't tend to make an impact when we are presented with an enticement to a sin we enjoy far too much. I mean, when is the last time that a glutton stopped and recited the Apostles' Creed as a 'weapon' against eating that entire deep dish pizza that they just ordered? Creeds are great. Liturgy is wonderful. Scripture is powerful... but the three are effective only to the extent that we have allowed the Spirit to use them to reprogram our fallen nature. 

In our reading today from Luke's gospel, Jesus gives the crowd a choice - turn away from selfishness, take up the cross daily, and follow him. He clearly calls us to abandon any vestige of our lives that would drag us back into slavery to sin and death. This is in keeping with our Psalm too. Those who walk in the way of God's laws find joy and hope. They find peace. They have made a choice that bears life, and they are contrasted with the wicked, whose choices lead to death. 

Moses' words in our first reading are even more stark: You've got a choice - prosperity or disaster; life and death, blessings and curses. Your actions, your embrace of the Spirit, your following in the lead of God will determine the outcome. 

All three of our readings today extend to us an affirmation of free will. But it's important to remember that our free will is compromised by the fall. In Proverbs 14 we are reminded: "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death." In fact, the phrase is so important that it's repeated again, two chapters later. Our free will has been marred by the fall. Our base instincts fail us, and respond in kind with this sinful world in which we live. We don't like to be reminded of that fact, but it's true. The world, and its inhabitants, are no longer in the state that God created them to be in. Emnity, hostility... both were foreign to God's plans in creation; but yet, because we were created in his image, we had to be created with a will that was truly free, even free to fall. And yet, while our wills today are in bondage to the havoc that the Enemy caused in the fall, the prevenient grace of God, and let me define that for you in case prevenient is a term you've never heard of: it means the grace that precedes or 'goes before'  —that grace which precedes human action and reflects God’s heart for his creation. It testifies to God’s being the initiator of any relationship with him and reveals him as one who pursues us. The words of the prophet Joel speak eloquently to this grace: "I will pour out my Spirit upon all people... In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike." (Joel 2:28a, 29). 

We are fallen, unable to save ourselves, unable even to reach out to God without his Spirit, and yet we are also fully accountable for our choices, and our choices have the power to change our lives, here, and hereafter. Sound like a contradiction? Well, I hope you're comfortable with contradiction, because sometimes, that's the way God works - using seeming contradiction to illustrate the faith which we hold. I think he does so, because we exist as contradictions. We were created in the image and likeness of God, and even in our fallen state we still bear that image and likeness, and yet we are fallen and far away from God. How's that for contradiction! There is a tension that exists in our faith between seemingly exclusionary concepts. Some can be easily explained, but others, like the balance between free will and our fallen nature, are far more difficult. I'd say that frankly, even the greatest theologian's attempts will fall short, because no matter what we do, we are still trying to explain the heart of our God in human terms, and he operates far beyond our limited vocabulary.

Suffice it to say, for today, that we cannot save ourselves. We must lean completely and totally on God to do that for us. And yet, as his word teaches, we are accountable for our choices, and he sends us the grace that 'goes ahead' of us to enable us to choose rightly. Next time you're faced with a situation that has the potential to lead you into sin, to rupture your relationship with God, instead of trying to recall the intricacies of the faith, a simple cry of your spirit to the Holy Spirit, "HELP!" might be far more beneficial. 

During this Lenten season, may we make it our goal, daily, to implore the Father to send the Spirit to us in unmistakable ways during times of decision-making, especially when our decisions are being made in difficult or tempting situations... so that, in the days to come, we will be more resilient when faced with the choices of this life, and comforted to know that Christ is preserving us through his passion and his power, unto life everlasting.


That the leaders of the Church
may consistently proclaim the mercy of Christ,
not just during Lent,
but day by day,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the hearts of those burdened today by difficult choices
would call upon the Spirit to help them choose life, prosperity, and blessings
in the midst of a world whose wisdom
would often lead us to disaster and death,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That our minds may be so firmly rooted in the faith
that our cry during times of trial and temptation would be for the Holy Spirit's help,
and not for the pleasing of our own base instincts and desires,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who struggle with feeling unforgivable
and unworthy of love
may find, in the suffering and resurrection of Christ,
the eternal message of worth and redemption
that brings salvation to all who respond to the calling of the Spirit,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For our patients, staff, and visitors,
for our own families and friends,
and for the special needs and concerns that we bring with us this day...
... let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.