Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Choose God, Choose Life -- Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 6A (Deuteronomy)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

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                We have choices to make in life. Sometimes the choices are inconsequential, such as a flavor of ice cream. Other times, they determine life and death. I’m not of the mindset or theology that suggests that God has everything planned out. That’s not to say I don’t think that God is active in the world, it’s just that I think we contribute a great deal to our futures. In my understanding of things, we have free will and so our choices make a difference. Such is the message we find here in Deuteronomy 30.


                In his closing message to the people of Israel, as they prepare to cross the river, Moses offers a warning of sorts, as well as a word of blessing to the people of Israel. They will soon enter a new land, the land of promise. Their future prosperity depends on the choices they make. Will they embrace their God who led them to this point? Or, will they depart from the ways of God? Moses won’t be crossing the river them. Whatever happens on the other side of the river, will happen without his involvement.  This will be his final resting spot. He’s made his choices, but those who cross the river will have their own choices to make.

                If they desire prosperity and life, rather than adversity and death, then the people will love God, walk in God’s ways, and obey God’s commandments. The heart of their life together is rooted in the commandments as summarized in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is your God, the Lord alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5). In other words, their future is wrapped up in the covenant that God had made with them as they left slavery and crossed the desert toward ultimate freedom. The choices they make as they prepare to cross the river will have consequences for them, but also for their descendants. That is why, after Moses delivered the Commandments to the people, he told them to pass on the words he shared to their children (Deut. 6:6).  

                So, if the people choose wrongly. That is, if they choose to give themselves to other gods and other ways, they will experience death. Remember the foundation of the covenant is choosing to love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” So, if your heart is led astray and you embrace other gods, you will experience the consequences of those choices. You will perish and not live for long in the land of promise. The key sin here is idolatry. So, we are faced with a question. Are we given to idolatry? Are we tempted to give our loyalty to gods other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob? The consequence here ultimately is alienation from the Land. You shall not live in it for long, if you don’t keep the covenant stipulations. Brett Younger puts it this way:
Most of our decisions do not seem important, but life and death are before us every day. We choose death when we ignore God and choose anything inferior. Death is a slow process of giving ourselves to what does not matter. Modern life is impoverished with a lack of purpose. We rush to meet deadlines that are insignificant and bow before ideas that are not worthy. [Feasting on theWord, pp. 341, 343].
So, what is significant that we should give our attention to it? What is God’s desire? What is it that God wants from us?  The prophet Micah offers some clues: justice, mercy, humility (Mic. 6:8). At this moment in time we’re confronted with the plight of refugees who flee persecution and war. How is this a concern of God? What is required of us? We witness a diversifying of our communities. How is this a concern of God? If these are concerns of God, and the word to us, is to walk in the ways of God, how should we respond?

                I spend time with social media, probably more than I should, and what I witness are choices being made. Some are productive, many are not. Indeed, many of our choices as expressed on social media are destructive. They express our idolatries, our desire for power and prestige. They give vent to our anger. These are often choices that bring death not life. So, how do we move from death to life?

                As we read Moses’ final sermon, his summing up of the Law, it’s not all bad news. Remember there’s a choice involved. Moses would rather the people choose life. Yes, “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

              I again turn to the words of Brett Younger, who writes:
Worship with all your heart. Pray genuinely. Love your church. Believe that God loves 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. [Feasting on the Word, p. 343].

These are wise words. These are words of life that are reflective of the message of Deuteronomy. The choice is ours. We have free will. We’re not beholden to idolatry, even if t sometimes comes easily to us. The river stands before us. We have choice as to whether we will cross over into the promised land. Once there, we’ll have other choices that are matters of life and death. Which will you choose? Life or death? 

Picture Attribution: Church, Frederic Edwin, 1826-1900. Moses Viewing the Promised Land, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55653 [retrieved February 6, 2017]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moses_Viewing_the_Promised_Land_Frederic_Edwin_Church.jpg.

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