Psalm 119:1-8 (Responsive Reading)
“The most important choice”
Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine
30:15“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. (Deuteronomy 30:15–20, NRSV)
Let us pray: Great God, you are the divine gardener, you give growth to our seeds and to the towering forest trees; you raise to abundant life that which seems dead. Teach us to choose blessing and life rather than death, so that we may walk blamelessly, seeking you through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
My name is Stephen Caine and I want to talk to you about choices. Did you know there are more than 300 kinds of breakfast cereal to choose from? Did you know that you can choose from hundreds of slightly different shades of red lipstick? Have you ever found yourself standing in the Ice Cream section of the frozen foods aisle at Kroger’s overwhelmed by all the choices of flavors of ice cream? These are just a microcosm of the thousands of choices we must make each day.
We have an unparalleled array of options when it comes to nearly everything. These choices can lead to a paralyzing confusion when we’re faced with whether to buy Grape-Nuts or Grape-Nuts Flakes, choose between fire engine red or sunset red lipstick, and choose between Moose Tracks and Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream. Not to mention all the choices that spill over into our lives.
This mindset of constant choices can have a very negative effect on the way we make a commitment to something. Choosing takes commitment. Choosing one person or choosing one thing means giving up the possibility of having countless others. Today we feel that we are masters of our own destiny — unlike many generations before us — so our decisions seem to carry more weight. When it feels right, it probably is — and if you’re happy, it’s all right to stop searching for the next new or better thing. At least that is how many of us shape our choices!
Sometimes we get advice about the decisions we make. Sometimes that advice is solicited and other times it is not. Advice is exactly what Moses offered the children of Israel in today’s scripture from Deuteronomy.
Standing on the far side of the River Jordan waiting to cross over, Moses gives his last charge to his people. Moses won’t be crossing over with them. These are his final words to them because of his impending death. He tells the Israelites that they now have two choices — “Look: there’s life and there’s death. There’s obedience and there’s idolatry. There’s blessing and there’s curse, so Choose life.”
It almost sounds like a like a parent releasing your young adult into the world. Have you ever gotten some last-minute advice from your parents before they dropped you off at summer camp, for college, at your new apartment, on your wedding day? Did Dad tell you to study hard and don’t skip class? Did mom tell you to be nice, use your manners and look people in the eye when they speak to you? Maybe it was you who gave the advice. “Look son nothing good happens after midnight so be careful.” “Listen honey, you know right from wrong, so live up to your family name. Remember who you are when you make decisions, when you’re faced with choices.”
The Israelites were waiting, staring across at their freedom, the future, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They had arrived, now they had decisions to make, questions to answer, and choices to deal with. Where do they go? What do they do? Who do they follow? How do they live? What next? Their leader through this whole journey, who knows he can’t go with them, looks them straight in the eye and tries to impart on them the hard reality of choices. Moses told them to base their choices on their identity as Jews, God’s chosen people. He wants them to think ahead of the moment, to plan, to know who in their life will be accountable too, who they will live for.
He is not telling them that they had better watch out because “God is taking names and kicking butt.” No, this is not a scare tactic, instead he is reminding them who they are and whose they are. Make a wise decision and stick with it. You stick with the choice, come thick or thin. It is not about perfection, but it is about faithfulness, keeping our eyes set on a destination and sticking with it.
It is a powerful message, a reminder to the Israelites, whose whole existence is about to make a radical shift – as they move from the wilderness and their total dependence-on-God, to the Promised Land, freedom and unlimited choices and the exotic seductions of land, power, and wealth.
It seems that their life is about to get a whole lot easier. In some ways, it will. No more slavery, no more wandering in the wilderness, no more hoping for the freedom of the Promised Land. But with this easier life comes choices that can and will pull them away from their core being and faith.
With this freedom comes temptation. The Israelites will be tempted to find their meaning and identity through self-fulfillment and possessions. They once had nowhere to turn except to God as they wondered in the wilderness and God provided for them manna and a pillar of fire but now they were on the threshold of freedom and the destructive forces of self-fulfillment and the easy way possessions can dominate their lives. Their decisions effect more than their own lives.
What does that mean for us who’ve been 2000+ years in the Promised Land? It means that we must examine our lives and the choices we make. “How have my choices and my commitments distorted and obstructed my vision of and passion for choosing the next right thing?” Who are we and whose are we? How have my decisions effected those I love?
Choosing God, choosing life, is about placing trust in God and not in stuff; about living in the abundance of God’s grace, as difficult as it is, and not following the ways that lead to death in the glitz and glamour of temptations in our hyper consumer driven society.
The challenges to choose life, discipleship and the way of the cross are ultimately about where we place our allegiance. Just as the Israelites were warned of dangers of idolatry, and of the costs involved when they allowed their hearts to be turned toward other things that ultimately bring only death. We too are reminded when we choose life, we love, and we hold fast to God.
Human beings are notorious for choosing death, or at least making destructive choices that lead us through chaos, mayhem and unhappiness. Moses knew what we know, what most every parent knows: simply telling people to choose life is no guarantee that they will choose to do so. It is a story repeated a thousand times (maybe a million times) every day.
It’s really rather simple, Moses says. Because God loves you, God has given you the gift of the Law, which is your Owner’s Manual for life in this creation. So now choose life! Make good choices, take the positive paths, don’t forget who you are and whose you are, and take care of your neighbors, shore up your marriage, strengthen your families, and promote peace so that all can flourish and thrive in God’s world. God has shown you what is right: now do it!
Of course, everyone makes mistakes. We all make spectacularly bad choices. People choose death all the time. So, the good news is this:
As Christians, we know that we have been saved by grace not works. Simply following the rules in order to curry favor with God or work our own way to heaven will not save us either. God’s giving us the Law is itself a grace, of course. It is a gift. We are not saved by keeping the rules; we are saved only by God’s grace.
Friends, my name is Stephen Caine and I choose life, I choose Jesus Christ! How about you?
Let us pray: Ever-gracious Father, whose Word is steadfast and true, may its saving message enlighten our minds, direct our thoughts, enrich our faith and enflame our hearts. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN