Summary: In Christ we have freedom to choose. In a choice laden world do we make the right choices. We made the big choice, God, but are we daily making the right choices? Are we taking our sin seriously? With freedom comes responsibility.
Freedom to Choose
When I was working on the book I published on the Great British Hymns – John Parker and I visited Oxford and whilst there visited one of the oldest English churches in the centre of Oxford. On a pillar near the pulpit was a small plaque commemorating those men martyred by Queen Mary in the street outside that very church. I looked up the story when I got home and the most powerful account is that of Thomas Cranmer – who had been the Archbishop of Canterbury – when Henry VIII had been alive he supported Henry’s break from the Catholic church and provided much of the theology that let Henry justify his rejection of the Popes rule over the church. But when Mary came to the throne she insisted that Cranmer and other church leaders denounce the Protestant faith and write a letter of submission to the Pope. 5 times Cranmer wrote that letter – tearing it up 4 times. Mary didn’t believe his final letter of submission was sincere so made him sign it in public on the floor of that church in Oxford – but in the end he refused – and the historical record in the archives at Winsor report his words, "I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe with my heart. When the flames are lit, this hand shall be the first to burn." He was led outside and tied to a stake above a pyre of hay and wood. When the fire was lit around his feet, he leaned forward and held his right hand in the fire until it was charred to a stump. Aside from this, he did not speak or move, except that once he raised his left hand to wipe the sweat from his forehead.
I wanted to start this morning with an example of an extreme choice – but a choice that in many ways is the perfect context for our study this morning. The theme this month is Freedom in Christ – I wanted to invite us to think this morning about our freedom to choose - the detail and depth of the choices we make and the importance of that freedom in the covenant we have with God our father through Christ.
From the outset God determined that his creation would not be under his direct control. He gave us life – and a complex and beautiful world full of everything we need to not simply survive but to flourish, to enjoy. The tree, literal or symbolic, but real nonetheless, represents Gods openness to mans self-determination. He told his creation to leave it alone, he gave them all they needed and more, and still they wanted what they couldn’t have, their refusal to deny self won out and they squandered Gods precious gift in the garden – and they were free to do so….
When Joshua laid out the choices to the Israelites it wasn’t for the first time. He asked them to choose who would be their God ‘choose today who you will serve’ he said in Jos 24. Choose between the true God of heaven who had delivered his people or lesser false Gods? For us as it was for them we are presented with a choice between the God of heaven who makes some demands on us to sacrifice our own interests and the lesser God of choice, to be able to satisfy our immediate physical and earthly demands and desires. A modern translation of Joshua’s challenge is to choose this day whom you will serve – God or Self? For Cranmer it may have looked like a choice between survival and martyrdom – but that’s too simple. For Cranmer I imagine it was a truly deep spiritual wrestling with an even bigger issue – choosing between life here and now and his eternal destiny – his choice was the ultimate act of faith, faith in action in the most difficult circumstances – acknowledging that the big choice we all make, is one between the here and now and our eternal life beyond this place.