Deut 30.15-20, Luke 14.25-33
We live in an age and in a society where choice seems to be king. We are offered choices in almost every area of life. We take it for granted that it is better to have a choice than not. There are more than 250 products to choose from in the coffee aisle of Tesco online. I counted, so you don’t have to! Instant and filter and expresso, strong, medium, smooth, from different parts of the world, fairtrade and organic, individual servings or catering size tins… No wonder most of us just go for the same thing every time – it would take for ever to consider all the options.
If all that choice is difficult in small things, it is even worse in the big things - schools, medical care, jobs, houses… The world is your oyster, is the message of our age – all you have to do is decide what you want and go for it. Of course, it’s not really true. We are all restricted to some extent; by our income, our ability, our family responsibilities and so on. But we are at least aware of the many paths through life we could take, in ways that our ancestors probably never dreamed of. They mostly did what their parents did, lived where they’d always lived, and never thought it could be otherwise. Are we better off? Probably, but it can feel pretty exhausting. Whatever we choose , we know there might have been a better option that we missed.
The trouble is that when you have a choice, you feel you have to make a choice, and we often don’t really know how to. Whether it is choosing a partner, having a family, putting our roots down in a community, embarking on a career, we find it hard to commit ourselves, because we don’t want to close off other options. And the years pass and eventually we realise that somehow, not deciding was just as much a decision as deciding would have been. Our lives have been shaped just as much by the choices we didn’t make as the ones we did.
We have many options our ancestors didn’t have, but our Bible readings today hint that when they did have a choice, they sometimes found it just as challenging as we do to make that decision.
In our Old Testament Reading – the first one we heard today – Moses speaks to the Israelites. They’d spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, and now, finally, it is time to cross the border and settle there. Reaching the Promised Land isn’t the end of the journey though – in fact it is just the beginning of the real work. They aren’t just facing a new geographical landscape as they look across the River Jordan; they are facing new social and spiritual landscapes too. These ex-slaves aren’t used to running their own lives and organising their society. So Moses calls them to remember all they’ve learned as they have wandered in the desert about themselves, each other and about God. Those forty years in the wilderness have taught them - often the hard way - what really matters to them, their values and priorities – encapsulated for them in the 10 commandments. Even though the physical journey is coming to an end, says Moses, you need to keep walking on that spiritual path, because that is the path that leads to the blessings you long for. Choose that path and you will choose life.
In the Gospel reading Jesus isn’t promising his followers an easy journey either, but he too encourages people to ponder what route they will follow, what pattern they will live by, because their choices will have consequences for them. Many of them were persecuted for their faith, so they needed to be sure that they knew what they were committing themselves to, and why those commitments mattered.
Today, Jon and Rebecca are making decisions and commitments about the way they want to bring Seth up. Of course, when he’s grown, he will have his own ideas about how he wants to live and that’s exactly as it should be, but right now, in this as in so many other things, they have to make choices for him, decisions that will shape his future to some extent at least. Baptism might not seem as immediately important as some of the other choices they’ll make, choices about nurseries and schools, food and drink and routines of life, but it actually touches on some very profound and fundamental questions about the basic orientation towards life they want to encourage him to have.
In a few minutes I’ll be asking them three short questions. “Do you turn to Christ? Do you repent of your sins? Do you renounce evil?” I’m not asking “Are you good people, people who have it all sorted out?” – no one could answer yes to that. I’m not asking “Will you make Seth, by hook or by crook, grow up to assent to a particular package of doctrines?” Frankly that would be impossible to promise – Seth will make his own mind up and will have his own ideas. In any case it’s not about theological abstractions – it is far more important than that, and far more real. What those questions really ask is “which way are you heading, what direction are you facing in, what will Seth see in front of him, what will be on his horizons, as you lead him through his first steps in life? Do you turn to Christ, to the way of life he preached, to the things he lived and died for? Do you turn your back on the things that might pull you – and Seth – away from those ways of love and peace?" Those are tough, and very real, questions. If they feel a bit daunting then that’s because they are daunting.
But I’ll also be asking for some other commitments too, not just from you but from the whole congregation; the commitment to give you and Seth the support you’ll need as he grows up, and to share with him the tools for living, the wisdom and the gifts which Christian faith has to offer. Christians – like those of other faiths and none - have stories to share, travellers’ tales , things that might help him when the road seems tough. We can help him too, to learn to reflect, to pray, to wonder, to care for others. Most of all we can remind him when he struggles that God walks alongside him, even if he is going in the wrong direction; that God remembers him, even if he should forget God, and that God loves him with a love that nothing can destroy.
We live in a world full of choices, and we often struggle to commit ourselves to anything in case we miss out on something else. In the end, though, life takes us on one path or another, whether we like it or not, and if we don’t choose consciously, we will find the choices have been made for us. Today Jon and Rebecca are making a deliberate choice to open up this particular pathway of Christian faith for Seth and take the first steps along it with him. For all of us, though, this is a day to ponder our lives, to ask ourselves whether we are heading in the direction we really want to, the direction that leads to joy and hope and justice and peace. It’s a day to ponder what we really value, what really matters to us and to set our steps towards that. And it’s a day too, to remember God’s promise that wherever we walk he walks beside us. Choose life, says Moses. Choose life.