Choose Life!

Sermon, Epiphany 6A (Proper 1)

Sunday February 16, 2014.

Deuteronomy 30:15-2015 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

There are some times in life when you have a choice to make that will make a huge difference to your life. 

  1. When you commit to asking your partner to marry you. When he or she says, Yes”, instantly your life takes a different course – a good course!

  2. When you are aware of the love and kindness of God in the person of Jesus and you respond to Jesus’ call to give your life to him and follow his word and way. That shapes your life completely.

  3. When set your mind and heart on a career. You decide that you will engage in the learning and doing of a specific vocation. That has a huge affect on how life will be for you and those around you.

I remember not wanting to be a pastor when I was younger. I remember resisting the suggestions from others. I remember finally not resisting anymore and committing myself to testing this thing out. I remember those heavy hands on my head at the Brenton Langbein Theatre in 1999 as the bishops laid hands on my head and put the red stole on me. My life would be lived under that stole – that call – those hands – Jesus’ word…..

What big moments have come your way so far?

  1. When you decided to really engage in learning at school.

  2. When you decided to commit to going beyond the normal commitment and have a go at a leadership role at school?

  3. When you knew the love of God for you in the person of Jesus and said to yourself – “I am his and he is mine”.

  4. When you committed your life to the farm, the family, the job, the degree, the experience…?

Big moments come and we have to make decisions. They are not easy to make at times. Sometimes the decision is clear and we are keen and committed. Other time we are unsure and things are not so clear and we doubt our ability to do the thing we have to make a choice on. 

Here in the book of Deuteronomy, we are with the great man, Moses, in his last will and testament. This is the last of the first five books of Moses – the Pentateuch – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. 

This is the end of a whole generation of life for the new people of God, freed from slavery in Egypt, now ready to inherit the farm – inherit the land, the place, the future God gave them way back before any of them were born. The promised land of Canaan is just over the Jordan River from where they are on the Plains of Moab.

Moses has led these people through thick and thin, flood and drought, heat and bighting cold. And now he calls on them to make an almighty decision as they get ready for the massive change in their lives –

  1. from being a nomadic community to being a settled community,

  2. from being a self-contained nation to mixing it with all kinds of other people (The Canaanites and others live in this land about to be occupied by Israel!),

  3. and the spiritual challenge they will face when their wandering days will be over and they will begin to live the good life. That is when the real danger to push their relationship with the Lord to the side will come – when things are a lot more settled and comfortable.

So, for a people of promise, it’s time to make a choice. As far as Moses is concerned, today is decision day. And the choices are very limited. Moses calls for a selection between two options: life and death. Choose “life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong.”

What does it mean to choose life or to choose death?

Deuteronomy’s answer concerns action and heart. Choosing life here is about keeping faithful torah (God’s teachings). That means faithfully engaging with the community in God’s presence in the tabernacle (worship) and that worship extending to the keeping of the commandments to love the Lord and each other. 

The people have been given a complete worship rhythm for all of life. They have also been given the commandments to order their relationships with God and with each other. They are by this stage well aware of what choosing life practically means. 

And choosing to worship the Lord and him only in the way he has given and conducting their relationships with him according to his commands, is all centred on and powered by relationship. Covenant relationship. Choosing life is keeping the covenant relationship of love and mercy and blessing. 

God is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God (Deuteronomy 7:9) who has established a covenant not just with the ancestors of old (such as Noah and Abraham) but with the people alive during this time as well (Deuteronomy 5:3). God has created a relationship (covenent) with his people for the people’s own good life. 

At a secondary level, but very important for practical reasons, choosing life concerns the land. This land of promise has been promised already to Israel so that their possession of it in the following books of Joshua and Judges represents God’s fulfilment of God’s promise to Father of them all – Abraham (Deuteronomy 1:21). 

Choosing life includes these three elements — torah, covenant, land. And the benefit of choosing life with God? Obedience brings blessings and life, while disobedience leads to curses and death.

In our text, the choosing of covenant life in God is beautifully described. Moses calls us;

to love God,

to walk in God’s ways,

to keep God’s commandments, statutes, judgments. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

In verse 20 he puts it slightly differently;

to love God,

to hear God’s voice,

to cling to God.

First, choosing life involves loving God. Remember, this is not primarily an emotional feeling of love that is called for. “You shall love the Living God, your God, with all your heart, and with all yourself, and with all your might.”

Love is depicted as a whole person experience involving heart, engaging the mind and conscience, as well as body. To love God is to gather with the community in his presence with the whole self engaged in the ritual and rite and word and to practically then do the commandments in everyday life. 

Second, choosing life involves discipleship/following/learning/doing. It involves a holistic commitment to be and to do – both in the gathered community in God’s presence and in daily life lives in God’s presence. Choosing life is  choosing life involves walking in the ways of God and listening to the voice of God. Here we are talking discipleship. Psalm 1 uses this same image of walking to conjure up notions of following and listening: “Happy are those who do not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the path of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers.”

Deuteronomy describes discipleship in a way we might find a little harsh. Moses calls the people to “obey God”. For us, obedience, especially mindless obedience to authority, has a bad reputation. We don’t like the idea of being submissive or uncritical in nature. But that is not what the call to “obey God” is here. Here Moses “obeying God” is responding to God’s covenant love. Obedience is active — walking and listening in the Lord.

Third, choosing life involves keeping God’s commands and clinging to God. Again, the keeping of God’s command was not about mindlessly and slavishly keeping rules lest you step outside of God’s blessing and suffer the consequences, although there are consequences for turning your back on Gods grace and love for sure. 

No, keeping God’s commandments is the way to live life to the full – with grace and love for God and others. God’s people were given a way to order their relationships for the well-being of all and their relationship with the Lord. The commands were not burdensome or impossible, as they are often viewed by people, but a way to remain faithful, to live with integrity, to know who you are and whose you are, and to respond to God’s giving and serving and blessing of you. 

Luther really got that when he crafted his little explanations of the ten commandments.

The point of the commandment is what they lead you to do:  that which is good and wise and positive for yourself and others.

EG. Seventh Commandment: Do not steal.

We should love and honour God and so we should not take other people’s money or possessions or get them in any dishonest way.Instead, we should help people to keep and improve what they have.

Now that is choosing life, That is loving God as we love each other. That is the freedom and gift of this call to choose life. God calls us to choose life not to avoid death but to live life to the full with him.

Jesus knows this full well. On that grassy green hill by the lake he radically teaches a return to choosing life In our gospel text he is the new Moses who speaks on his own divine authority as he sits as any self-respecting Jewish teacher would and interprets the word of God for the people (Matthew 5:21-37). 

Friend, whatever your choices are at the moment, let this choice undergird them all and they will be better choices anyway. 

In your thought about what you will do when you leave school, what you will do when this job is finished, how you will live out the vocation you have already been given by God, whether or not he is calling you to a different vocation, choose God’s word, God’s relationship and God’s place first. Choose him. That is what Jesus is saying. 

God has chosen you. You are already chosen. Now respond.

Jesus calls out to us all and says;

“Choose life. Choose me and in choosing me I call you;

To love God with our whole selves.

To follow God’s voice as we walk.

To cleave to God by keeping commandments.

This is the way to life, not death.

So, choose life”!

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Read the text carefully noting down anything that catches your ear, fires your imagination or raises a question and share these in the group…

Recall a story about a time when you had a big decision to make and share how you went about making that decision and what affect this decision had on your life.

How do you choose life in the decision you make? Deuteronomy says choosing life is keeping our relationship with the Lord primary as we make decisions. How you practically do that? Share your experience….

What were the circumstances for you when you committed yourself to the relationship between yourself and Jesus? Share those stories and reflect on how this has affected your life.

Jesus in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount really speaks as the new Moses who uses his own authority as God to reinterpret the Torah (teachings of God). Read Matthew  5:21-37 and see how he interprets the commandments. What’s different and what is similar between Moses and Jesus as they call the people back to the relationship with the Lord? Note your pooled thoughts….

Grab a small catechism and se how Luther beautifully and simply interpret the commandments in a positive way as the way we choose life everyday. Read commandments 3-10 especially because they are the ones that speak of how we love each other.

PRAY

Jesus, draw me mind, heart and body closer to you as you speak you mind, renew my heart and feed me with you body and blood for forgiveness and life. Amen.

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