Trinity IV 5th July 2020 Year A Proper 9
You open the lid of the box and your eye glides around the selection of individual chocolates. You pause for a moment and then you pick the one you think you want and bite into it. THEN you either savour the delight of tasting that dark chocolate caramel or grimace that you had mistakenly taken the strawberry creme. Sometimes we make the right choice and at other times our choice totally dismays us.
St. Paul in today’s epistle extract (Romans 7:15-25a) is struggling with the act of making a choice; of making the right choice. He is quite despairing of himself:
“I do not understand my own actions. ... I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”
We all make choices every day, in fact probably in every hour of our waking day. We make so many choices daily that most of the time we will be unaware of the process. Do I want tea or coffee? Shall I watch Fr. Brown or Grand Designs? Shall I have potatoes or rice with my meal? At the time these are important decisions or choices but in the bigger picture they are rather insignificant and even if one regrets one’s choice it is not really a disaster that can’t be rectified, the next time we face a similar decision. There are also the rather more important choices we make.
Who is the one I love the most? Shall I take that job offer or that one? Do I really want to move to that flat or to that house? These choices are significant and they are not, for most of us, decisions we have to make on a regular basis. Yes, our choice will have consequences but even if they prove to be the wrong choice in the long-run they can often be corrected.
Then there are the choices we make that are very important and can affect us at a profoundly deep level. These are the choices between good and evil, sin and not sin, good and bad. As St.Paul expressed two thousand years ago:
“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
Paul is really struggling with some of the actions he has done and decisions he has made in the past, just as we do. This is Paul at his most human. Like him we can despair of ourselves at times when we have committed an act that we immediately regretted and one that we felt soiled our souls. We are all guilty of these actions but thankfully, for most of us they are not something we often do. We don’t often offend because we have a sort of rule book or code of conduct that we follow.
For those of us of faith we have Scripture and the example of Christ to follow. They both give us a path to follow that we can choose to walk along or not. Most of us for most of the time walk that path and because we do so we always know when we have stepped off the path and gone another way. Our faith gives us a framework around which we can build and live our lives with thought to God, others and ourselves. We are not dictated to by God but freely offered a ‘life giving way’ by which to live happy and contented lives.
Paul refers to this as the ‘Law’:
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self.”
He rightly expresses his joy in the Law as a guide to life but he acknowledges that with every major decision the opportunity to ‘sin’ or not to get it right is always there. This is the dilemma we all live with.
A dilemma many of us are facing as lockdown eases and we seek to re-enter ‘normal’ life. Good intentions may not always be the right decision. Yet, that is the ‘normal’ life we lead. The best prayer we can send to God is always:
“Lead us not into temptation...”
For in doing so it makes us question the choices we make and can help us live with the outcomes of that choice. We can be assured that in making any decision we are not alone. God is with us and the example of Christ is there to guide us, should we choose to follow him.
We can also be assured that even when we muck it all up and rue the choices we have made, we can try again and that God will forgive us if we ask him. None of us are perfect and we will all continue to make choices good and bad but it is in the trying not to make the wrong decision that can keep us out of the temptation of sin.