Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2003 (Proper 16, Year B)

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on August 24, 2003. 
Based on Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-25 (Proper 16, Year B).

Too many choices can be overwhelming. I’m especially aware of this whenever I step into a diner. The menu goes on and on, page after page offering an amazing array of culinary choices. And I’m always a bit suspicious when I see so many items on a menu because there’s no way any one restaurant can possibly do all of these things well. So, I usually end up ordering the same thing, something I’m confident any diner can do well: I order the BLT. 

This whole business of having too many choices was never clearer to me than when we renovated a kitchen a few years ago in Baltimore. Mind you this wasn’t a huge kitchen. We lived in a typical Baltimore row house with a moderately sized kitchen. But even so, the choices were mind-boggling. Every detail seemed to offer hundreds of choices. Counter tops, appliances, paint colors, faucets. It would have been much easier if someone just held up several samples and said ‘here are five choices, pick one.’ But it just wasn’t that simple. And I think I finally lost it when we got to cabinet knobs.

Our readings this morning, show that when it comes to our faith lives, we too are offered a choice. Thankfully it’s not as bewildering as trying to order at a diner or choose flooring for a new kitchen. The choice we’re offered is to serve the one, true God or to serve any number of false gods. In our first lesson, God offers the people of Israel a choice. God says to the Israelites, “Worship me or worship false gods.” And this same choice is offered to us. On the surface of things, it’s a no-brainer. We’ll just push the button to choose “God” and live happily ever after. We can stand with Joshua, God’s chosen successor to Moses, and proclaim, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 

But in reality, the choice is not so easy. This choice is not without consequences. This choice is not void of demands placed upon us. In the Gospel passage, many of the disciples who had made this choice, the choice to serve God as made manifest in the form of Jesus Christ, turned away from Jesus after it became clear that to follow Jesus was not always a comfortable existence. They had made the initial choice willingly, and I presume with great enthusiasm and integrity, but they just couldn’t keep to it. Just as the story of the Israelites, as it’s related through the entire Old Testament, is one of continually choosing God, falling away, being punished, and then re-choosing God. It is through God’s grace and love for us that we are allowed to fall away from the right choice again and again and yet never fail to be God’s own chosen people. Through this choice, we see just how much freedom God offers us. God offers us the freedom even to make the wrong choice. But God never withdraws the offer to repent and return to the right choice.

Of course, our faith lives are more complicated than a simple choice. Our faith lives are not great multiple-choice tests where we either choose the right answer and pass or choose the wrong answer and fail. Each moment God grants us is an opportunity to again choose God, to put divine interests over human ones.

By coming to church, by living out the Christian faith we are making a conscious choice. We choose God as the guiding influence of our lives. We reject the false gods that surround us, the well-known gods of money and control and power and human self-gratification. But that’s not the end of it. This isn’t a choice we make once and for all but one that we must make over and over again, each day, each moment. Each time we walk up to this communion rail to receive the body and blood of our Lord we re-choose the one, living and true God; our creator and redeemer and sanctifier. 

God’s people are the chosen ones. You and I have been chosen by God. And this was God’s own choice. We are the people of God’s own choosing and this is cause for great celebration and joy. The second choice, however, is up to us. Do we choose the God who has already chosen us, or do we reject this God in favor of false ones? God offers us the choice of a bountiful and fruitful life. But the choice is ours.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2003

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