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The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 16, 2014
The Old Testament: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Sermon: "Choose Life!"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
The Old Testament:
Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 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. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 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. 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, 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."
One of the great temptations any speaker has is to overstate his or her case. I heard recently about a temperance speaker who was lecturing on the evils of liquor.
"Who has the most money to spend?" he bellowed. "The saloon keeper! Who has the biggest house? The saloon keeper! Who has the finest furs and the most jewelry? The saloon keeper's wife! And who pays for all this? You do, my friends, you do! So join the Temperance Movement with me!"
A few days later, a couple who had been in the audience met the eloquent battler of demon rum in the street and congratulated him on the wonderful speech.
"I'm pleased to see that you've joined the Temperance Movement", the lecturer said.
"Well, not exactly," admitted the man. "What you said sounded so good, we bought the saloon." The speaker didn't realize he was presenting them with a choice.
In our Old Testament lesson from the thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy this morning, Moses is calling the children of Israel to make a choice. Hear verse nineteen, "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,..." This is Moses' last great speech to God's people. The reigns of leadership are about to be turned over to Joshua to take the people into the Promised Land. So he again lays before the people the covenant he had received from God. There was no danger that he would overstate his case. The stakes were high. The very survival of his people was at stake. The choice was life or death. He calls, "Choose Life..."
Moses is saying that a time of decision is at hand. The people of Israel can no longer walk on both sides of the fence. They must make a choice. It is a choice we all are to make.
That leads us to this point this morning: THE CHOICES WE MAKE HAVE CONSEQUENCES. That is why Moses' task is so critical in our passage. Much was at stake. Israel would have to live with the consequences of their decision. Make the right choice and they would prosper. Make the wrong choice and they would perish. One of the marks of maturity is the discovery that the choices we make have consequences. If we choose rightly, we tend to reap rewards. If we choose wrongly, we sometimes pay a steep price.
I had a good laugh at a story sometime back about a teacher who has found a novel way to make students pay for their transgressions. Troublemakers at RiversideBrookfield High in suburban Chicago are being forced to serve afterschool sentences in the Frank Sinatra Detention Club. There, for 30 minutes, they have to sit utterly still; no talking, no homework, no snoozing, and listen to Ol'Blue Eyes croon songs from a bygone era. "The kids hate it. They're miserable," reports the teacher, Bruce Janu. Janu, by the way is a loyal Sinatra fan. He devised the club as a way to make detention more fun for himself; less so for the students. Said one senior, "It just got to where I couldn't stand it. It was SO BORING!" Janu isn't totally heartless though. He lets students sing along if they want, but most don't get themselves sent back enough anymore to learn the songs that well.
It is important to learn that choices have consequences. In terms of life success, it is one of the most important lessons of all. Someone has put it this way. There are two major pains in life: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. We can take the pain of discipline and follow the chosen path, or we can refuse discipline and end our lives suffering in deep regret.
The principle of sowing and reaping still holds. We sow a good life: a life of integrity, of kindness, of paying attention to our relationships with God and with our neighbor, of taking care of our bodies, minds and souls; we will be more likely to reap a life of lasting friendships, better health, and a feeling of deep satisfaction within. Try to take shortcuts, cheat, slander, betray, and eventually life will most likely find us out. As the saying goes, time heals all wounds and wounds all heels. The choice is ours. We don't have to live very long to discover that this is the way life works. Our choices have consequences. The most extreme choice of all our choices, with the most extreme consequences, is the one Moses points to this morning: the choice between life and death.
This brings us to the other point this morning: GOD'S WILL IS THAT YOU AND I CHOOSE LIFE. "I have set before you life and death . . . Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live."
The choice between life and death stands before us as well. Listen to this portion of the 14th chapter of the Gospel according to John. Jesus and his disciples are in the upper room. He is trying to help them understand all that is about to take place in the trial and the Cross. He has just told them that he is returning to God the Father, and they are very upset. Then he tells them, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.Ē
Just as the children of Israel had to choose life over death in choosing God over the idols of the nations, so we are to choose between life and death in choosing Christ over the idols of our own fashioning. Jesus leaves us no room for equivocation. There is no escaping the choice he sets before us. He is the way, truth, and life.
The disciples understood this well at another point. Listen to this passage, just a few pages back, from the sixth chapter of John. Jesus has just given the people following him a difficult teaching. He has been speaking to them of taking himself into themselves that his life will be their life. He is using the analogy of ingesting his blood and body to make the point of how he must indwell them if they are to have life. We know that Jesus does this through the Holy Spirit who indwells us when we come to faith in Christ. And we know that he renews that indwelling through the ingesting of the Eucharist. But the crowds are offended by the idea of Jesus actually being their life, and not just their teacher. They want the life they see in him, but not enough to sacrifice other options they see in their lives; not enough to make him their life. They start turning away from him.
Then Jesus turns to the Disciples and says, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Even though they understood so little else at this early point in Jesus' ministry, they understood this: the choice between life and death had been laid before them, and they had chosen life with Jesus. To choose Jesus is to choose life.
That was the choice Melvin Trotter had to make. For much of his life Trotter was a hopeless alcoholic. He came home after one tenday drinking spree to find his baby dead in his wife's arms. His child had been deathly ill, and he had not been there to help or even care. "I'll never touch another drop." he vowed. But two hours after his baby's funeral, Trotter staggered home; drunk again. He had taken the little white shoes off his baby in the coffin and pawned them for money to buy drink. In utter despair he headed along a Chicago street for Lake Michigan. He saw no way out of his miserable self but a watery death. But on the way the strong arm of Harry Monroe, Superintendent of Pacific Garden Mission, pulled him inside a hall where the Gospel was being preached. That night suicidal Trotter heard that there was the way to life in Christ. He became a Christian and for the next 40 years served as superintendent of a rescue mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From this base he started 60 other gospel missions in U.S. cities, including the one in Fresno where I frequently sang an spoke in my college years. He counseled thousands of wouldbe suicides, putting them on the road to happiness and Heaven. Mel Trotter chose to turn from death to life.
By Godís grace, most of us will never have to come that close to death before we choose life. But still the same choice lies before us. We can choose life in Jesus Christ, or we can choose death in something else. Putting it off, is making a decision. If you have never done so before, ask Jesus to become the architect and guide of your life; ask him to be your life's director, the one to whom you turn in all your choices. If you have already made Jesus your choice, but your sense of commitment has flagged, renew your choice. Ask him today. That is Godís will for your life and mine. Choose life!