How do you make decisions? A friend of mine makes decision-making into a hobby. I remember him buying a camera – over a couple of months, he bought all the relevant magazines, he spent hours reading through all the available information; gradually building his expertise – what he didn’t know about cameras wasn’t worth knowing. And finally he came to a decision. The process of deciding was as important as the final decision.
Some of us are spontaneous when we make decisions – a bit like me and clothes – I=ll decide one day that I need a new pair of trousers and within half-an-hour they=re bought. Others like to be careful. Jo seems to go round countless clothes shops, possibly over a number of days, before she’ll decide on what she wants – and it could quite easily be the first thing that she saw right at the start of the process.
Others find making choices just too hard – they waver over the point of decision, feeling confused, getting depressed. Some wait for circumstances to dictate their options, or try to make others make the decision. If I’m honest I can do that – I’ll often say to Jo, ‘What would you like to do?’ – telling myself that I’m being magnanimous, when actually I’m placing the responsibility on her shoulders.
However we do it – we all have to make choices. And in the end a refusal to choose is in itself a decision. … All choices have consequences – if we chose not to have an operation we must live with the problem it might have solved. If we chose not to have children we have to cope with the consequences of the decision later in life. And conversely, if we chose to have children, we have to face the risk of rebellion. All our choices have consequences.
Moses put a choice and its consequences to the people of Israel. ‘Serve God and live,’ he says, ‘turn away and die.’ He makes it seem quite clear cut.
But was it ever like that? Life is never as clear cut as Moses made it sound. Making the choice to live God’s way, making the right choice, doesn’t bring automatic blessing, wealth and freedom from illness. Jesus highlights this dilemma in our Gospel reading. Holding true to what is good, making right choices will bring us into situations of conflict, people will oppose us. As Jesus says here, being his disciple is about taking up our cross and following him.
At the beginning of our reading, we heard that Jesus was travelling somewhere – he was, in fact, on the way to Jerusalem. He had made a choice, in the relative safety of Galilee, to travel to Jerusalem – a place where, he knew he would face persecution and death. Jesus choices led to his death, a death which through seeming defeat won victory; a death which however we struggle to understand it, brought healing, wholeness and reconciliation with God; a death which was finally defeated by resurrection and new life.
I cannot help thinking that many people have had choices to make that have had the same kind of consequences, choices which have put their lives on the line or choices borne from the fact that their lives are already at risk. Others have had choices made for them, they have been forced to move and to go to new places without their consent. We have a history as a nation of failing to properly support those who face such choices and we have at times forced others to fit in with our choices.
We built our wealth on the back of the transatlantic slave trade – forcing people out of their homes, dehumanising them, devaluing them, making them work, not for a good wage, but as animals at our beck and control. … When, in the period after the war, we found we did not have enough people to work in menial and manual jobs we invited people from the West Indies to move to Britain – yes we gave them jobs, but we treated them too as less than human – you may well remember the signs that were placed in boarding house windows, the anger people expressed when someone different from them moved onto their street.
We, in the West, have a history of supporting and encouraging dictators, particularly in Africa, without thought to the consequences and so, as a nation, along with many others in the West, we bear on our hands the results of those choices – the genocide in Rwanda, the expulsion of Asians from Uganda. And we have shown ourselves less than welcoming to people who have been affected by our actions.
In these times, we face one of the biggest movements of people brought about by that same need to choose. The need to choose between life in a war zone like Syria and the possible safety of our family. The need to choose between our homeland and our lives, martyrdom or an ongoing life of faith in a new country. The need to choose is at the root of almost every refugee or asylum seeker’s story. … Our choices, their choices – all impinge on us all.
Choices like these were made by people like Rosa Parks who refused, on 1st December 1955, to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, spurring the Montgomery, Alabama boycott and other efforts to end segregation. She was arrested, imprisoned, lost her job, but spawned, galvanised, a civil rights movement which spread across the USA.
Jesus asks each of us to choose … to choose to follow him to the cross. To choose to do what we know to be right, but to do so fully aware of the consequences. Following Jesus is about making a choice, a choice to live, to the best of our ability, in the way he lived. The choice is costly, it will mean changes in our lives. It will mean welcoming the stranger, reaching out to those who are different from us. It may mean sacrifices. It may mean acknowledging the shame of our corporate responsibility for the mistreatment of those different from us.
Jesus calls us to follow him to the cross. But not just through the pain of the cross and self sacrifice, but on into resurrection, to new life. Living in the light of God’s love. He calls us to be part of a new world order, to be part of his Kingdom. A kingdom or peace and of justice where we choose to live for the good of all, where all are welcomed and loved.
In the end we all have to choose, just like those listening to Moses did. Our way? Or God’s Way? Moses advice is ‘Choose life, choose life lived with God?’ Life with the risk of conflict with those who will think us odd, who may at times persecute us. Life, lived for God and for others. A topsy-turvy life of death and resurrection. But abundant life, secure in the knowledge of God’s love.