a sermon for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany
Of all the creatures that God created, we alone have the ability to make choices. Our intelligence and freedom to choose is what makes us human in the first place. We can choose to live in relationship with God, or we can choose to live another way.
But how do we know which to choose?
Back when Jimmy Carter was running for president, he did an interview with Playboy Magazine. They asked him if he had ever committed adultery. He answered, “No, but I have lusted after women in my heart.” Now the interesting thing about that is that at the time, a lot of people thought that his answer was completely absurd. He became something of a joke for comedians. “What kind of good-two-shoes is this guy?” they said. “We’ve all lusted after someone in our hearts! But that’s not a sin, is it? Thinking about something is different from actually doing it, isn’t it?”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that we are called to live a life of holiness. It’s not enough to simply simply not commit murder, we also have to love the other guy, even if he acts like a jerk. It’s not enough to not commit adultery, we need to avoid even thinking about objectifying another person, or being with them in that way. Needless to say, this is a pretty high standard to follow. It seems as if Jesus has decided that the Ten Commandments that God gave us aren’t nearly strict enough. So given how many of us fail to live up to the Ten Commandments, what hope do we have of living up to his newer, stricter, laws?
But I wonder if that’s really what Jesus meant.
One of the things that I always have to remember, especially when I read hard passages in the Bible like this one, is that God cares about our relationships. Think about it. God created us to be social creatures who live in relationship with one another. We are born into families and are bound to one another in love. We live in communities and make laws that govern how to live peacefully together. We communicate with one another using art, language, and technology. We were created as social beings.
At the same time, God wants us to live in relationship with God, too. We don’t always do that, of course. Sometimes we forget, or we find other things to worship. That’s what happened to the Israelites that Moses was talking to in the first reading. They forgot that God was the one who brought them out of slavery. And so they started worshipping idols. They melted all their trinkets and made a golden calf named Baal and started worshipping it.
Of course, most of us don’t have giant cows in our homes to worship, but sometimes we let other things that are just as strange distract us from our relationship with God. Some of us have made idols of our jobs, or our home, or our car, or money. Or maybe it’s our iPad or big screen TV. Some have made and idol of sports, or youth, or even time with our family. Idols can be made of anything; anything that distracts us from our relationship with God is an idol.
The fact of the matter is that we are free to choose how to live and what we worship. Of all the creatures that have ever existed, we alone have the ability to make choices. Our intelligence and freedom to choose is what makes us human in the first place. We can choose to live in relationship with God, or we can choose to live another way. We can choose live in ways that promote healthy loving relationships, or we can choose to be selfish, vain, and narrow.
This is what Moses was meant in the Old Testament lesson we heard a few minutes ago. There are lots of ways you can live, he told the Israelites. There are lots of ways you can worship. Some of these ways are life-giving and affirming, and some of them can damage or even destroy us. When you are faced with that choice, choose life.
There’s a Hebrew word for this choice. L’chiam. It means simply, “to life.” It’s such a simple instruction that they even made it into a toast. L’chiam. Cheers! Here’s to life! Is your daughter getting married? L’chiam. Have you just landed a new job? L’chiam. About to graduate college? L’chiam. But what if things aren’t so good. Perhaps a loved one has died, or you’ve lost your home? What do you say then?
In life or in death we still have a choice to make. Either we can embrace the life that God has given us with every fiber of our being, and choose to follow his teachings, or we can choose to live another, self-destructive way. It’s ours to choose.
Of course, if all of our choices were labeled “Life” or “Death” things would be easy. Some things are pretty obvious, I suppose – Don’t run into the street. Stay in school. Don’t kill anybody except to save another life. But we don’t always get such clearly labeled choices. Should I go to church or stay at home and play with my kids? Which one is more life-affirming?
I think this brings us back to Jesus, whose most basic commandment was, “love God, and love your neighbor.” Treat everyone as a child of God, and give them the dignity and respect they deserve. Be honest and forthright in your dealings with other people regardless of who they are. Live in relationship with one another, and you’ll be in relationship with God.
This is how we choose life, this is how we fulfill God’s intent for us. When we live our lives as an affirmation of God’s love, we have chosen life. When everything we do becomes an offering to him, we have chosen life. We become offerings of “ourselves, our souls and bodies,” we have chosen to life a life worthy of God’s life-giving blessing.
L’chiam. To Life.