Scripture: Deuteronomy 30: 15 – 20
Moses knew he was about to die. By this point, he had been leading the Israelites through the wilderness for nearly forty years. They’ve finally made it to the Jordan River and are about to enter the promised land. And all of this has got Moses thinking, reminiscing about all that the last decades have held. He wasn’t just a tour guide. He was their leader. He didn’t just guide his people geographically. He guided them spiritually. And he wants to give them one last piece of advice about how to live a good life.
Moses’ farewell sermon lasts for about twenty-six chapters. I think it’s safe to say that my sermons are hardly that long and that you should be glad I’m not Moses! He’s covered his bases. He’s reminded them of everything that they’ve been through together: their enslavement, their wandering, the commandments. And here, finally, Moses sums it up. Here, on the banks of the Jordan, on the edge of the promised land, Moses lays out for them the two options they have: “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.”
So we’ve got this choice. Great. We like choices, don’t we? Paper or plastic? Small, medium or large? Should we watch it now or catch it on the DVR later? We like choices and we have a lot of them in our day to day lives.
But, you see, this choice is different. It doesn’t deal, as most choices do, with the minutia of our day to day lives. This choice deals with our life. And Moses clearly tells the Israelites, and so us, what he wants us to choose. Verse 19 reads this way: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life…”
Choose life. Well. Ok. What does it mean for us to choose life? My sophomore year of college, I coordinated the campus visit of Sister Helen Prejean, the fiester-than-you-imagine nun who wrote the bestselling book turned blockbuster Dead Man Walking. The book is about the death penalty, about capital punishment, and in the book, she does a remarkable job of weaving the stories of the murders and their victims and of pulling the back and forth, of really holding us in the moral tension that is capital punishment. There are no easy answers to such questions.
Before her last presentation while she was at Elon, I asked her to sign my copy of Dead Man Walking. She obliged and in it, she wrote “Choose life.”
It’s easy for us to take that statement at face value, isn’t it? Choose life, not the death penalty. Choose life, not abortion. But friends, as so often is the case, taking scripture at face value, ignores the complex beauty of holy texts.
So, let’s not think of choosing life in our current political contexts. How else can we choose life?
Well, Moses gives us some insight into how to answer than question. Early on in our scripture this morning: loving the Lord, walking in God’s ways, and observing God’s commandments.
Choosing life means loving God. This isn’t simply emotional love or infatuation. You might recall a famous passage found earlier in Deuteronomy: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your self and with all your might.” That should sound familiar. It’s the commandment Jesus identifies as the most important. So this is a whole love, a complete love—more than just intellectual or emotional or physical. It’s all of it.
Choosing life means walking in God’s ways. In order to walk in God’s ways, we listen for God’s voice in our lives. Sometimes, this is piece, this “walk in the ways of God” bit is simply translated “Obey God.” But, you see, obedience is active. It’s at once walking in God’s ways and listening to God’s voice.
So what is that we stay obedient to? Choosing life means keeping God’s commandments, clinging to God. God’s commandment aren’t impossible. They are, simply put, the ways we can best treat one another and God.
But these three ways that we can choose life can look different to all of us. How else can we choose life? Theologian Brett Younger offers this advice: “Walk around the block. Turn off the TV. Get together with your friends. Invite a stranger to lunch. Clean out a drawer. Read a book of poetry. Quit doing what isn’t worth your time. Do something so someone else won’t have to. Give money to a cause you care about. Stop arguing. Apologize to someone, even if it was mostly his fault. Forgive someone, even if she doesn’t deserve it. Have patience. Stop having patience when it’s time tell the truth. Figure out what you hope for and live with that hope. Worship with all your heart. Pray genuinely. Love your church. Believe that God loves you. Yes, even you. Remember the stories of Jesus. See Christ in the people around you. Share God’s love with someone who has forgotten it. Delight in God’s good gifts. See that all of life is holy. Open your heart to the Spirit. Search for something deeper and better than your own comfort. Live in the joy beneath it all. Let God make your life wonderful.”
Friends, the choice before us today is the same choice that lay before the Israelites millennia ago. God has set before us life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life. Amen.