Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
¬I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
This morning we have already made a large number of choices, most of them not very important, perhaps we had to choose marmalade or marmite on our toast, tea or coffee to drink. Some of the choices we make don’t even seem like choices, to get up or stay in bed, to get dressed or not get dressed, these kinds of choices we make without even thinking about them, we always get up, we always get dressed but even so they are free choices that we make. We all make choices all the time, some of them important and life changing, many of them small and unimportant. We have all chosen to come to church this morning. As a teacher part of my job is helping young people to make good choices in all aspects of their lives. Jean Paul Sarte said ‘we are our choices’ and in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Harry Potter is told, ‘it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’ As Robert Frost said our choices make all the difference. We make choices and they have consequences.
In our reading from Exodus this morning the Israelites had to make a choice. They were about to leave Egypt, they were about to begin their long time of wandering in the wilderness before they reached the Promised Land. Slavery was what they knew but that was about to end. They were coming to the last of the ten plagues. Now, up till then the plagues had been targeted at the Egyptians and the Israelites had been pretty much untouched, the flies, the hail, and the darkness affected the Egyptians not the Israelites, they had stood back and watched as God worked out his plans, as Moses tried to convince the Pharaoh to release then from slavery, but up until then they were not involved in the process of their own freedom. They were like a prisoner sitting in his cell whilst lawyers work for his release.
But now this all changed. The lesser plagues had not changed Pharaoh’s mind but now comes the big one, God was turning the tables on the Egyptians, just as they had killed the Israelite children, God was now threatening to kill the first born of the Egyptians. Up till this point the Israelites had not had choices but now it was their turn to choose. The choice was brought before every household. Should they show their allegiance to God and Moses by following the complicated rules that Moses set out for them rules about how the lamb should be slaughtered, how it should be eaten how the blood should be painted on the doors and so on, or would they stay with what they knew? Every household had a choice to make, as the last visitation from God draws near, they have to take a part, and a very decided part, in showing that they know and understand that they are Israel, God’s chosen people, the covenant people who enjoyed a special relationship with God. The Angel of Death comes, treating everyone who is in Egypt as belonging fully to Egypt, and it is for the Israelites to show by some significant act the deep difference which separates them from the Egyptians. Throw in your lot with God, believe his promises or choose not to, you decide! Everything depends on the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the door, the sign and seal of the covenant with God.
And you know it must in the final analysis have been a hard choice to make. All they knew was slavery, oh yes they moaned and complained but there is a certain easiness in being a slave, other people make the decisions, you don’t have to think too much or take responsibility for yourself. In the excellent film the Shawshank Redemption there is man, Brookes, who has been in prison for most of his life, at long last he is released but he finds that he cannot live on the outside, it is too scary and he kills himself. Freedom is scary. And the Israelites have to decide, choose slavery or choose freedom, Choose death or choose life.
Right from the start in the Garden of Eden God gave humanity free will to make choices. God told Adam and Eve ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; ” but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’ Choose death or choose life. The choice was made and the results had to be lived with, because choices have consequences.
And in John’s gospel we read about the ultimate choice and its consequences. Jesus said these very well-known words ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ And then immediately after what is perhaps not so well known the consequences, he says whoever believes in me is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.’ Choosing to follow Jesus and live in his way is our free choice; God does not compel us to worship him, to trust in him. We are not his puppets we are given free will. God could compel us to love him but as we know one of the greatest things about love is that it is freely given. God chooses to love us and he leaves us free to decide whether or not we will love him in return. Jesus lets us choose but he also makes it clear what the consequences of our choice are. Choose death or choose life.
At the end of September we in Scotland had to make a choice, for some people it was an easy choice. But for others myself included it was a hard decision to make. Everyone wanted to make the best choice for the people of Scotland but without a crystal ball it seemed quite difficult to know which way to vote. I guess it was much the same for those Israelites in Egypt, should they stick with what they knew, what was familiar or step out into the unknown. And a lot of times it must have seemed to the Israelites that they had made the wrong choice, the hardships of their time in the wilderness made them long to be back in Egypt as slaves again. I wonder if it will be the same for us in Scotland, will we have times when we feel that we have made the wrong choice.
As a nation the Referendum choice was the most important choice we have had to make in a long time. But as individuals we all have a much more important choice to make, the same choice the Israelites had. The Israelites had to choose whether or not to trust God and follow his rules. They had to take a step of faith following God into an unknown future trusting that he would lead them aright. And we too have to choose whether or not we will trust God and follow him into the future.
And whatever choice we make there will be consequences, sometimes hard consequences. The Israelites had forty years in the wilderness, many who left Egypt never saw the Promised Land, and the result of their choice was the hardship of the journey. Many of the disciples of Jesus were persecuted, tortured and killed, as were many of the early church as are many Christians round the world today. Their choice had hard consequences. And so it maybe for us, choosing to follow Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life, sometimes it seems quite the reverse.
The Israelites, the chosen people, were told to take a lamb, a perfect Iamb without physical blemish and they were told to kill it and daub the blood on the doorposts. The blood of that lamb guaranteed their freedom from slavery, guaranteed them life not death. We here today are God’s chosen people, God has chosen us. And just as the Israelites had the sacrificial lamb we have Jesus the Lamb of God, Jesus whose blood is the sign and seal of the new covenant. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews wrote that through his blood Christ is the mediator of the new covenant so that those who follow him ‘may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.’ God has chosen us, he has chosen to send his son Jesus to be our saviour and for all those who chose to follow him the consequence is eternal life.
In our lives there will be many important choices for us to make as well as the plethora of trivial day to day choices but choosing to follow Jesus, choosing eternal life with him is the most important choice anyone can make. Joshua said ‘fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ Choose, Choose Life!