Choosing Life Over Death

Deuteronomy 30:  15-20

February 13, 2011

Choosing Life Over Death

 We don’t spend a  lot of time with Deuteronomy.   Perhaps that’s because we think of it as being very legalistic and it’s hard to think that we need any more laws in life.  It is a re-telling of the law God gave Moses on Mt Sinai.  And the rest of the book interprets that law for the Hebrew people.  One thing about Deuteronomy, it doesn’t pull any punches.   A clear path is laid out and that path leads to life with God.  It makes it clear that we are free to choose another path and with that path comes the consequences of that choice.   We are always free to choose.

 Last week we had the pleasure in worship of recognizing two of our young people, Curt and Dylan, with the God and Family scouting award.  The boys and their families had made the choice to tackle this program, which involved 6 sessions and some home work.   We delved into scripture and related those stories to the relationships that make up our everyday lives.  One of the sessions talked about the rules that are the glue that hold our lives together.

The boys learned the Ten Commandments.  We talked about family rules, school rules, community rules, common sense rules, church rules.    However, we acknowledged that no matter whether we obey the rules or not, we’re still loved.   We don’t follow the rules so that God and others will love us.  Because we’re loved, we follow the rules. 

One of the stories we read was of the Prodigal Son. We looked at all the turning points in that young life, the choices he was offered and the decisions made.   The prodigal thought he was choosing prosperity and life when he left his Father’s House and made his own way in the world.  But he came to realize that life apart from the Father was, in fact,  a kind of death.  He had free will to leave and then he chose to return, and received a gracious reception.

When scripture talks about the ways of life and death, the reference is not to a physical death.  Death is defined as living outside the divine presence.  Jesus told the story about the prodigal son to illustrate the choice we all have to live within God’s realm, or outside of God’s realm.    This passage from Deuteronomy in some ways foreshadows that parable.  In his last words to the generation of Israelites who are about to enter the Promised Land, Moses reminds his people that God Has chosen Israel out of love, so Israel should respond to that  love by loving God in return and being faithful to the terms of God’s agreement with Israel.

Scott Hoezee gives an excellent analysis of this passage. [1] He sees Moses as basically saying to his people, “Hey folks, this isn’t rocket science.  Here’s what the path to life with God looks like.  First of all, worship God and God alone.  Don’t run after a lot of little gods.  Then when you get that right, get the rest of your relationships in order.   Be faithful in your marriage.    Treat your neighbors right.  Find worthwhile things to do that benefit the community.  Don’t be a dead beat.  Don’t be a cheat.  Do the things that build up life.  Don’t do the things that rob you of life.  God has shown you what to do, now just go and do it!”  Yes, it is as though God has put up big, flashing  signs with arrows pointing the way to life and away from death. 

And yet, leading a horse to water is not the same as getting him to drink the water.  People still make spectacularly bad decisions.  For instance, teens all see the same video at prom time warning about drinking and driving and tragedies still occur. 

Scott Hoezee goes on to say that “bad choices ricochet down the corridors of time and no amount of sound advice or warnings will wave us off from spectacularly bad choices.    Nearly all the time it isn’t rocket science to know which choice of action will be prudent and which one will prove disastrous…but just knowing that is not sufficient.  People choose death over life all the time.”

In the case of Deut 30, God is warning not only against the natural consequences of bad decisions (such as jail, public disgrace, injuries) but also of the consequences for our relationship with God.  What beautiful words were spoken by Moses:  “If you walk in God’s ways then you shall live and become numerous and the Lord God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, if you bow down  to other Gods…then you will not live long in that land.    I have set before you the ways of life and death. Choose life so that you and your descendents may live.”   God loves us so dearly and has set forth the ways of life so clearly.

What does it really mean to choose life and prosperity?  According to Moses it means to love God with one’s heart and soul.  But that choice is not made in one big decision, once and for all.  It gets made in lots of little choices that don’t seem that important at the time.[2] Moses in his farewell speech said that we choose life in an amazing number of ways.  Here might be some examples he would share for us if he were talking to us today.

Turn off the TV and take a walk.  Stop texting and start talking.   Find someone whose political views are entirely opposite of yours and spend time trying to understand their point of view.   Forgive somebody who doesn’t deserve it.  Apologize to somebody even though it was mostly his fault.   Plant a tree.   Cook a wonderful meal  to share with someone who would otherwise eat alone.  Help a helpless animal.  Tell the truth when it would be easier to lie.  Stop resenting your neighbor for what they have and start sharing more of what you have.   Instead of needing to have the last word, offer a healing word.  Finally, Live this day like it’s your last day.

The choice offered in Deuteronomy is not like a choice we make at the super market.  I can buy this brand of coffee or that brand of coffee.  This is a choice we are required to make if we want to live within the Divine Presence.    God chose us at our baptism, and has never wavered or re-thought that decision.   May we stand as fast in our choice.  And may we live that choice every day of our lives.

[1] Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2/13/2011, on the Text This Week website

[2] Brett Younger, Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol 1, pp 341- 343.  He offers a great discussion and examples of ways that we choose life over death.