Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Deuteronomy 30:11-20, John 8:1-11.

Choose Life

 

Father God, we thank you for giving us your word. We pray that we might be faithful to it as we listen to your voice. May our thoughts and desires be pleasing to you. Amen.

 

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that?

I’m sure you have heard that before, at least in part, from the film Trainspotting – an iconic film, which actually I have never seen.  But like all good students, I have a healthy reliance on Wikipedia to bring me swiftly up to speed with all the necessary facts.

Tonight we are going to look closely at both the passages we heard read to us, from Deuteronomy and John and find out about the life and hope that God offers to us through Jesus. We’ll look first about the matter of life and death, then how Jesus offers us a new way and finally what that might mean for us and for our lives.

A Matter of Life or Death

Somehow, a film about drug addicts in 1980s Edinburgh is very similar to tonight’s passage from Deuteronomy, where God speaks through Moses to the Israelites, telling them that they have a choice between death and destruction or life and prosperity. They have the freedom to choose for themselves which way to take. One way leads to destruction, curses and death, the other to prosperity, blessings, and life. Seems like a no brainer to me really, when you put it like that, doesn’t it?

 

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career.

But is it actually that simple? What does choosing life involve? If it was that easy, surely everyone would be a Christian, wouldn’t they? Equally, if it was that simple, no one would be a drug addict either. Everyone would live to a ripe old age and be rich and happy. And that doesn’t happen, does it?

What’s more, the commandment we heard was to ‘Love God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.’ There were 613 commandments spread across Torah, the first five books of the Bible. That’s quite a lot of rules to obey, about what you wear, what you eat, how you work and how you pray. In seems a bit of a death sentence, doesn’t it?

And that is why Israel failed to keep up. Other ways of life appeared so much more attractive to them. They chased the gods of the surrounding nations. They trusted in those nations to protect them from invasion, rather than relying on God. And the prophet Amos tells us how the people were abusing the poor and how they couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so they could get back to their dodgy dealing and corrupt trading. Ultimately Israel was divided into two countries and each was invaded before eventually being scattered for rebelling against the Romans. They were headed for destruction.

But God intervened, despite all of this, through Jesus. Thankfully, we do not have to worry about not preventing a third-generation Egyptian convert from marrying into the Jewish people, not cooking meat and milk together or not eating fruit from a tree less than 3 years old, because, through Jesus, God has offered us a new covenant; a new way of living with all the sins of our past paid for.

A New Way

This comes out in our story from John’s Gospel about a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Imagine the scene. It was early in the morning, but the quiet hum of Jesus teaching in the temple was disturbed by the shouts of accusation, a dishevelled woman facing the consequences of her actions, and the expectation that Jesus would be shocked and horrified and instantly call for her execution, in accordance with the law of Moses. It is a three-way trap for Jesus, caught between the demands of Torah, the popular support for his ministry from the masses who would welcome compassion and the potential wrath of the Roman authorities for advocating stoning someone. It may also be a trap for the woman, as there is no mention of any man being punished. And it takes two to have an affair.

But instead the scene plays out very differently. Jesus ignores the accusers, and is apparently captivated in writing something in the sand. The tension of the scene mounts until he says “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”.

He doesn’t look any one in the eye. He doesn’t need to. Everyone knows that they have done things wrong. These Pharisees and teachers of the law know that they haven’t always kept to the commandments all the time. We know that we do things that displease God and go against his standards. Sin is a reality.

People slip away, gradually, one by one, until it is only Jesus and the woman left. No one has condemned her. She is given a fresh chance at life, and the opportunity to make things right. Jesus does call her to leave her life of sin though. He isn’t condoning her behaviour and letting her continue in the hurtful pattern of the path of adultery. But he doesn’t condemn her, and he gives her the opportunity to leave her sin behind.

Choose life. Choose obedience. Choose a new way.

And Jesus does the same for us. We can be free from the things that we do wrong, because Jesus died on our behalf. The book of Romans tells us that “there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

 

I’m sure most people here have seen the new film of Les Mis? Jean Valjean is set free from a certain death sentence of being unable to find work and shelter as a convict. He meets a Bishop who invites him into his house for the night. Valjean succumbs to temptation and steals from him. Caught by the police the Bishop lies on his behalf and says the stolen candlesticks were a gift. He even gives Valjean more valuables to take and sell, and give himself a new start in life. And as a result of this grace, Valjean changes the lives of many others.

 

Choose life. Choose forgiveness. Choose grace.

So What?

As Christians today, we don’t keep to the Mosiac Commandments. We no longer have a set of laws to guide our ethics, morals and choices. Instead, we have the example of Jesus. We choose to live as his disciples, and follow his teaching. He calls us to love God with all our hearts, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

It means that when I woke up grumpy the other morning and took it out on someone I live with, that was bad. It means that when I chose to get distracted in worship a few days ago, it was bad. When I thought unpleasant thoughts…or whatever. Even when I thought nasty things about the taxi driver who cut me up the other day.

But I don’t try to obey Jesus because I have to. I obey and try to let him transform me because I want to. The life and hope he has given me through his grace has totally and utterly changed my life. I have been forgiven much. I try to love Jesus with all that I am because without him, quite frankly, I was headed for death and destruction.

As a teenager I found life very difficult. I wasn’t at all happy with the way that I looked. I came from a broken home and didn’t want to become anything like my parents. I struggled to find friends who liked the same things as me. I started to withdraw from others, and had problems with eating. Then I began to turn even more on myself and started to cut myself to try to feel better. Needless to say, it didn’t work. I spiralled deeper down into a dark hole where I was in danger of throwing my life away along with everything I had hoped and dreamed for. A friend helped me see that that wasn’t the only way and that Jesus gives us life, hope and a future, whoever we are and whatever we have done. It hasn’t been an easy path, but it is definitely worth it.

Life is shorter than we expect. As you get older, the years go faster and faster. Someone told me the other day that now I have reached 28, I am now at the age I will always feel inside, even when I’m ninety and can’t get out of a chair. Even in my group of friends recently we had a stark reminder of the brevity of life as my friend was diagnosed with and eventually succumbed to bowel cancer. At her funeral, there was no doubt that even in her short life, she had embraced everything to the full. We will never be the same again.

Choose life. Choose hope. Choose freedom. Choose before it is too late.

The life that Jesus gives us is eternal. It is a life of fullness and joy. It is full of God’s peace, expressed in the Old Testament by the word shalom, meaning wholeness and an inherent peacefulness and prosperity. It isn’t a financial prosperity but something more than that.

Our Deuteronomy passage is open ended. We don’t know that the Israelites thought when they heard it. But that also leaves it open as an invitation for us, made even more urgent through the repetition of “today”.

What might it mean for you to choose life today? Maybe you want to find out more about the life that Jesus can offer us all. Or maybe you have been following Jesus for years and it all feels like a bit of a chore. Maybe some patterns of behaviour seem so tempting or so easy and they have been taking you away from the life Jesus offers. Or maybe everything just feels very dark at the moment.

Sometimes it might mean making a choice each day to walk in the path Jesus has set us. I know someone who has told me that they remind themselves each day as they reach out to turn on the shower that their life is a gift from God and that they are choosing to give their life to him each day anew. Someone else told me that every time they are driving and see an overhead gantry on the motorway saying there is a jam ahead, they treat it as a reminder to pray for others. Others I know have people they talk to and pray with for accountability for the old patterns and habits of sinful behaviour so they don’t keep on falling into the same traps. Ask God what he wants you to do, and how you can live in response to the life he offers.

Wherever you stand, God knows and understands. Like the woman caught in adultery, we can know life and freedom, even from things that, as humans, we might find hard to forgive. Why would anyone want to choose life? Because grace changes everything. When we choose life, God shines a light even into the darkest places inside us. That’s why we want to choose life.

Choose friends. Choose a family. Choose a future. Choose life.

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Yesterday I had to write a difficult letter to someone. I had to write to ask them to be mature in a specific situation. To ask them to not continue to make things worse instead of better and to get over an event from the past so that we could grow into the future. It was difficult to write.

I decided to include the words “As a Christian, I believe that God shines a light into the darkest places and even the most horrible situations can be redeemed. I believe in grace that means we don’t need to be stuck in vicious cycles of despair, and in hope that the future can be better.”

In years gone by, I don’t think that would be how I would have summed up the Gospel. I would have talked about Jesus, the cross and how he died to set us free from the things we had done wrong. I would have talked about the need for us to make our own decision as to whether to follow him or not, and that is what makes someone a Christian or not.

But experience is starting to tell me that although those parts are obviously there, that the Gospel (literally good news) is far bigger and better than we can ever imagine. Reconciliation. Hope. Grace (and yes, have a read of Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace – I did borrow the cycles of grace from him!) Its not just the times that we forgot to say please or said a bad word. As I grow older, I see more of the good that God is doing even in the places where we expect nothing. God is bigger. The cross itself means nothing without the knowledge that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day. Sunday is coming.

So, I don’t know whether those words will help or not. But it certainly has been helping me.