Deuteronomy 30:15-20 6th Sunday after The Epiphany 12/2/17 Ascension / Methodist Service / Redeemer / Good Shepherd
Getting the choices and consequences right
We live in a world of choices and consequences. That’s life overall. Brexit. President Trump. Who you marry or live with. What subjects you choose to study. What course of treatment you take when sick. What occupation you take up. Take a call in the Lutheran Church of Australia or sign up in the United States Air Force can see you living in England!
We bring up our children and society tries to keep citizens law abiding and employers want productive employees by offering choices and consequences. Do the right thing and get a reward. Do the wrong thing and get punished. Your choice.
This can transfer also into our personal relationships as well. Hit me or be unfaithful to me and I’ll leave. Be nice and considerate and I’ll be nice and considerate too. Your choice.
And then there’s religion, faith, spirituality, that part of life that is beyond the senses, beyond science but can have big impacts in personal living and societal behaviour and even almost in the shaping of civilisations. What is ancient Greece and Rome if you remove their gods and what would the so called ‘western civilisation’ be like if there was not Christianity? And these religions, faiths, and spiritualities can be characterised almost as aisles in a supermarket and the inference is simple – you choose – and take the consequences. And choosing not to follow a religion is also a choice and since atheism is also unprovable and is thus another religion – we all will make choices about spiritual matters one way or another – and of course face the consequences.
Our first reading fits this pattern very well. Moses throughout Deuteronomy is giving a series of addresses to the people of Israel as they are about to enter the Promised Land after their wanderings in the wilderness. The generation that rebelled against God when he rescued them from Egypt has died in the wilderness and their children have had an apprenticeship in the wilderness learning that God could be trusted – with food, with water, with health, with family, with protection. Now they were about to enter the land God had promised to give from Abraham onwards and Moses in our reading points out what that involves – choices and consequences, obedience or disobedience, life and good or death and evil.
[Moses to the people of Israel just before they enter the Promised Land] “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over 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, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20 ESV)
What is there not to understand about this message?
It seems pretty straight forward. If God is telling the truth then we know where we stand. Or rather we know where the people of Israel stand.
And where are the people of Israel standing?
On the other side of the Jordan River about to go into the Promised Land. My question to you is – how did they get there?
Did they wake up that morning and get offered this choice? No. They have come through the wilderness because God had made a promise to Abraham and he was fulfilling that promise at the time of Moses and it
was these generations of people who were the recipients of that promise – that grace – that rescue. They weren’t choosing to be God’s people. They already were God’s people because God had made them so at Mount Sinai. What they were deciding was what sort of God’s people today would they be? Would being God’s people affect their day to day behaviour? Would the relationship God had made with them govern or shape or guide their behaviour? (Remember, relationships govern behaviour.)
Theologically what we have here is an example of sanctification – how do we live in our relationship with God?
However what segments of the Church have done and what the world definitely does when it hears such messages is make them about choosing God himself. That implies that we have autonomy or the ability to choose our gods. That’s our experience of life – we choose and we take the consequence. But that is not the teaching of Christianity!
We didn’t choose God. We didn’t choose Jesus. We didn’t choose the Holy Spirit! God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit chose us to be with him! No matter our experiences, the reality of Christian faith and life is that it is a gift from God through Jesus who makes us alive in him. The Bible is clear that we are dead in our sins – non Christians are the walking dead – and need to be made alive in Christ. The dead can’t make themselves alive. The dead can’t choose. The dead are dead. But the Word of God is the World of life – and that’s Jesus – and joined to him by the gospel and through Baptism – people become new creations in Christ. And now we get to live – and yes, make choices about our behaviour – because we are alive in Christ. We live in Christ – never perfectly – always still in our sinful selves – daily needing forgiveness – and we have choices about how we live – daily repenting – daily encountering God’s Word – daily choosing how to follow Jesus as I live with the people around me. We have freedom in these choices to do what we think is best following Jesus – but we haven’t chosen to be alive in Christ.
Today’s reading from Moses is not for the world – decide to follow Jesus! No! Today’s reading is for the Church – for the people of God – to get them to look at their own behaviour and see whether they choose good or evil, obedience or disobedience – not to get to heaven!!! – they are already going there! – but to grow closer to Jesus, to have peace and joy even in the worst circumstances, and to serve those around them.
The world – the unbelievers – need the Gospel – the good news of Jesus and come to the realisation that God has already saved them in Jesus’ cross – and what good news it really is! Baptism is good news because it is God’s gift. God’s grace is good news when wrapped in words, water, bread and wine – and secure in Christ – loved by God – because God chooses to love us – we then go out and live.
What choices we have! So many ways to serve!
- Deuteronomy 30:15 - 20