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To Live Is To Choose

Luke 15:1-4

If we ever dare to take it seriously, Communion will shake the foundations of our lives and turn us upside down and inside out. I suppose that is why some people complain about the service. They invent excuses to stay away on Communion Sunday. They say: “It takes too long” or “It is so solemn and serious” or “It doesn’t really grip me or move me.” You have heard those excuses or some like them. But if all hearts are open, all desires known, and no secrets are hid, wouldn’t it be obvious that we do not wish to confront the real message of Communion? You see, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, perhaps more than any other aspect of the practice of our faith, reminds us that we need to repent. The Sacrament reminds us that our lives are in such a fix that we cannot do anything about them without the divine invasion of Jesus Christ.

We do not want to repent, and so we kid ourselves into believing that all is right in our lives. We douse ourselves with the sweet-smelling perfume of rationalization in an effort to eliminate the stench of our own sinfulness. But our illusion-making doesn’t work for very long. Inevitably something comes along in life to force us to face ourselves and to come to terms with who we really are. 

Arthur Miller wrote a play entitled All My Sons. It is about a self-assured businessman named Joe Keller. Keller builds airplanes and he has amassed a fortune by substituting cheap, faulty material in the planes he built. The result is the death of 21 pilots. His son Chris is incensed by what his father has done, but Keller justifies himself by saying: “Chris, I did it for you. It was a chance and I took it for you. And besides, a man can’t be a Jesus in this world.” The climax of Keller’s guilt comes when Chris hands him a letter written by his brother, Larry, who was killed in the war. In the letter, Larry confesses that he feels guilty for his father. The letter reads:

“I heard about Dad. I can’t bear to live anymore. Last night I circled the base for twenty minutes before I could bring myself in. How could he have done what he did? Every day, three or four men never return from their missions and Dad sits back there doing business as usual. I cannot face anybody anymore. I am going out on a mission in a few minutes. They will probably report me missing in action.”

The letter crushes Keller’s defenses. Suddenly, he realizes that he was responsible for his son Larry’s death. And not only Larry’s death, but also those twenty-one young men who died because of faulty aircraft material. In a dreadful moment of personal reckoning, Keller realizes that they were all his sons. Guilt overwhelms him. Racing upstairs, he kills himself with a single shot.

Joe Keller illustrates what I call “the tragedy of half-repentance.” He became aware of his own guilt, but he could not see God’s forgiving grace. When our defenses are down, when our illusions crumble, when we come face-to-face with our own shortcomings before the Lord, there are only three choices we can make: psychosis—we can plunge into insanity; suicide—we can try to end it all; or repentance—we can throw ourselves upon the amazing grace of God in Jesus Christ.

You see, Jesus came to this earth offering us the grace of a loving God. “Repent,” He cried, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And we are invited to the Lord’s Table with these words: “All who truly repent of their sins…” Repentance can be a sham and a show, a surface affair and nothing more. But Jesus demands repentance that is true and sincere. We must mean it. We cannot say: “O Lord make me pure—but not yet.” Our prayer must be: “O Lord, I confess my sin, and by the power of Your grace, I want to change the way I live and the way I love.”

Choice is basic to life. To live is to choose. And choices make the difference. The choices we make in life, in large measure, determine who and what we are. Do not let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. Remember Robert Frost’s poem about “The Road Not Taken.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And me one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then I took the other… 

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 traveled by
And that has made all the difference. 

Of course, that is a parable about life. We choose to go to this school and not another. We choose to be a doctor rather than a lawyer. We marry Sally, not Sue. We choose to be a homemaker or to pursue a career. We are formed by the choices we make. We become who we are by our decisions. And of all the choices we make in life, none is more pressing than the question of our ultimate loyalty. Whom shall we worship? God or ourselves? True repentance is not only turning away from our sins and our self-centeredness; it is turning toward the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.

Do you remember that Joe Keller in the play “All My Sons” said: “A man can’t be a Jesus in this world”? Well, that is true; you and I can’t be Jesus in our daily living, but we can live for Jesus every day. That is repentance—choosing to stop living for self and to start living for Christ.

What happens then when we repent? Nothing…and everything. Nothing, in the sense that we are still the same person with the same memory and the same physical characteristics, faced with the same problems and dogged by the same temptations. And everything, in the deeper sense that because of the forgiving grace of God we are able to look at life from a new perspective, able to confess our sin instead of trying to hide or suppress its reality, able to be ourselves and stop the senseless game of pretending, able to move through life in the grip of a great unshakable joy. Communion will never mean anything to us until we repent. Communion is not for the perfect—it is for sinners. It is for you and for me. Come then to this Lord’s Table, all of you who do truly repent of your sins…

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