Sermons

Sun, Mar 05, 2017

Choices and moral ambiguities

Series:Sermons

Regular mince, heart-smart, or premium––

Hmm––

which one has the lowest fat content?

Now should I make rissoles, chilli con carne, or perhaps Spaghetti Bolognese?

And, if the latter, what tinned tomatoes should I use––

diced or crushed?

Should I use one that’s ‘made in Australia’ from Australian ingredients?

And what about the company, is that Australian owned?

But which one’s the cheapest?

Then again, perhaps I should have fish tonight.

The Nile Perch is on special this week.

Of course, it has been frozen…

because it comes from Asia or Africa…

and I have heard reports that it’s grown in heavily-polluted water.

But I’m not that keen on Atlantic salmon.

Hmm…

perhaps I should have a look at the butcher’s shop instead.

Or, maybe, it will just be easier to go out for dinner…

perhaps somewhere close by and not too expensive…

maybe Indian…

or Thai…

or maybe just the local pub?

 

Life is a series of choices.

Some aren’t terribly significant and some aren’t that hard to make.

Although something as simple as grocery shopping is becoming increasingly difficult…

as we try to balance all sorts of complicating information––

including health related issues…

the impact on the environment…

and the effect on local jobs and the national economy.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not…

the choices that we make––

and howwe make them––

usually reflect much deeper issues.

The choices that I make reflect my sense of identity…

my values and beliefs…

my self-image––

the sort of person that I would like to be…

and the sort of life that I would like to live.

In a very real sense, our choices shape and define us.

Indeed, in so many respects, our lives are the sum of all of our choices.

Go back and change any one of them and…

theoretically at least…

everything else––

and even who we are––

would also change.

Our lives are a series of choices, and our choices shape and define us.

Some choices are easy.

Most are not.

 

Our reading this morning from Matthew’s Gospel is a story that’s very familiar to many of us––

the Temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.

And we can see, here, Jesus faced with a series of choices as he contemplates his future ministry.

And it’s quite common for us to take this story and to try to personalise and individualise it.

That is, we can see, here, Jesus confronting the sorts of choices…

and moral ambiguities…

that are common to the human condition––

the sorts of choices and moral ambiguities that all of us face.

The temptation to turn stones into bread––

in other words, will we use our abilities to get what we want or need…

will we fall into the trap of ‘could’ equals ‘should’?

The temptation to throw himself off the Temple…

and to trust in God’s power to protect him––

in other words, will we take responsibility for our actions…

or will we shift that responsibility onto others?

The temptation to sell your soul to get what you want—

in other words, is it okay to compromise our beliefs, values, and integrity…

for the sake of expediency?

Does the end ever justify the means?

These are, indeed, choices that each of us continually face…

and moral ambiguities with which each of us must wrestle.

And yet, there’s more going on in this story than Jesus as simple human exemplar.

It’s a story that originated in the life of the early Church…

as the Church reflected back upon Jesus––

on whom they believed him to be…

and what his significance was.

It’s a highly symbolic story:

here we have Jesus in the place of Israel…

wandering in the wilderness for forty days––

rather than forty years––

being confronted with the sorts of choices and moral ambiguities…

with which the wandering people of Israel were faced.

And yet, the early Church suggested, he didn’t make the mistakes that Israel did.

Here, then, Jesus represents Israel as it was meant to be.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t just represent each one of us…

he represents all of us…

collectively…

facing the sorts of choices and moral ambiguities that we face as a Church…

or as a community.

 

So, for us, what’s the temptation to turn stones into bread?

As a small, ageing congregation…

is it the temptation to ensure our survival at any cost?

Do we welcome people who come because of what they can contribute to our life…

or our survival…

rather than looking, always, at what we can give to them?

Do we use the resources that we have to sustain our existence…

or do we use them to give life to others?

 

For us, what’s the temptation to throw ourselves into danger…

trusting in God to save us?

Is it, paradoxically, almost the reverse of the first one?

Do we need to be sensible and cautious in how we use what we have––

not throwing caution to the wind, so to speak––

but being responsible?

Perhaps, rather, it’s calling us to take responsibility for where we are.

We can easily come up with all sorts of excuses as to why we’re in the ‘predicament’ we are––

blaming young people, who won’t commit to anything…

blaming cultural changes and shifts in societal values…

blaming hard-line fundamentalist churches that give us all a bad name––

but maybe we’re being challenged to consider what we need to do differently…

if we want to continue to live.

But, at the same time, we’re reminded…

that we can’t resort to tricks or gimmicks…

or slick re-packaging.

Responsibility and integrity––

the two go hand in hand.

 

And, for us, what’s the temptation to sell our souls…

to worship another ‘god’…

in order to get what we want?

Perhaps, following on from the previous one…

in considering what we need to do differently…

we can’t compromise what we hold to be central for the sake of expediency.

As a small, ageing congregation, the end doesn’t justify the means.

We can’t pretend to be what we’re not.

We can’t talk about God’s love as inclusive…

all-embracing…

and unconditional…

if we don’t actually believe that ourselves…

and if we don’t live that as community.

We can’t talk about a God of mercy and justice…

if we don’t believe in and live justice and mercy for all.

In the end, this temptation is a challenge to us…

as a congregation…

to practice what we profess.

 

And the reassuring note…

at the end of Matthew’s story of the Temptations…

is when we wrestle with these issues…

when we seek to live with integrity…

despite what we face…

that it’s then that we discover the sustaining power of God…

and authentic life.

Powered by: truthengaged