SERMON: The challenge for us is to turn the simplicity of a binary choice into a life well lived in all the mess and the muddle that we face!
The challenge for us is to turn the simplicity of a binary choice into a life well lived in all the mess and the muddle that we face!
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 17 February 2019
Binary choices present themselves to us in life and they can be quite uncomfortable! The most recent was of course the referendum when we faced a simple in/out over our membership of the EU. For most of us, behind this binary choice of in/out, probably lay a lot of ifs and buts, but those weren’t on the ballot paper!
Of course subsequently politicians have been arguing and debating about all those ifs and buts and in particular about the border in Ireland. The simplicity of the binary choice that was offered to us, has turned into all the mess and the muddle of democratic politics in our parliament!
Binary choices are a feature of the Bible.
Often the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked are contrasted, as in our reading from the book of Jeremiah where we read:
‘Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.’
And a little later that’s contrasted with those who trust in the Lord who are called ‘Blessèd’.
The Psalm set for today, the first psalm in the Psalter, is very similar, placed at the beginning to act as an introduction to all the psalms, setting out the binary choice between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked.
The way of the righteous is portrayed attractively, as being ‘like a tree planted by streams of water bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither and whatever they do it shall prosper.’ In contrast the way of the wicked is passing and useless, ‘like chaff which the wind blows away.’
Presenting a binary choice in this way is something that Jesus too uses on occasions – it’s a very effective way pf teaching. I’m thinking of the story that concludes the Sermon on the Mount – ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock…..And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.’ And we all know what happened to that!
Today’s gospel reading is the opening of Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. This is sometimes referred to as the Sermon on the Plain because, as we heard, Jesus comes down and stands on a level place.
Then, just as in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes, but unlike in Mathew’s gospel, these four Beatitudes are contrasted with four Woes:
‘Blessèd are you who are poor…
Woe to you who are rich.
Blessèd are you who are hungry now…
Woe to you who are full.
Blessèd are you who weep now…
Woe to you who are laughing.
Blessèd are you when people hate you…
Woe to you when all speak well of you.’
As with the referendum, the Bible offers us a binary choice: the way of the righteous or the way of the wicked, a house built on rock or a house built on sand, blessings or woes.
And not unlike the referendum, the challenge for us is to turn the simplicity of a binary choice into a life well lived in all the mess and the muddle that we face!