Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
Life is full of choices. Do you want fries with that? Paper or plastic? Burger King used to have a slogan: “Have it your way” – you could have your whopper any way you wanted, but you had to make a choice. If you walk into a coffee shop (as I like to do) you will have to choose what drink you want; then small, medium, or large?
When I was a kid, I remember reading these books where you could choose your own path. I think they call them: choose your own adventure books. You start reading then right before something happens you are directed to make a choice: turn to page 23 if John ignores the phone call, turn to page 46 if he runs outside. Then the novel progresses in manner in which the reader ultimately chooses.
Some choices are much more significant than this. How much should I put in savings for retirement? Which health insurance plan should I choose? Can we afford this house or this apartment? What college should I attend? Should I look the other way when I notice that my company is fudging a little bit on their books? With tax season well underway, we have choices to make as to is this or that tax deductible?
In our scripture reading, today, we will read about a choice that the people of Israel faced found in the book of Deuteronomy. What we are going to read is an address that Moses gives to the Israelites. The Israelites had been held in slavery in Egypt, then God used Moses to free them. At this point, the descendants to these people are preparing to enter the land that God has promised them. This is Moses’s final address; his final speech to them.
Here’s what he has to say: (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)
15 Look here! Today I’ve set before you life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong. 16 If you obey the Lord your God’s commandments that[a] I’m commanding you right now by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, his regulations, and his case laws, then you will live and thrive, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
Moses tells his people that that they have a choice between life and death—between what is good and what is wrong. That if they obey what God has given them that they will live and thrive and that the Lord will bless their time in the land they are moving to. Then he continues:
17 But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and so are misled, worshipping other gods and serving them, 18 I’m telling you right now that you will definitely die. You will not prolong your life on the fertile land that you are crossing the Jordan River to enter and possess.
But, Moses tells then, there is another choice. They don’t have to choose to follow God, but if they make this decision, if they turn their heart away from God then they will not be blessed in the land. In fact, Moses tells them, they will die—they won’t live a long life in this beautiful land that they are entering. This is a very important point that shows that God does not give the Holy Land to the Jews without qualifications. Instead, Moses tells them that if they are not faithful that God will remove them from the land and they will die. If you know much about the Old Testament, you will know that this happens—that they are forced out of this Holy Land when they stop obeying God, when they take advantage of the poor, when they forget the immigrants. Moses is warning them now, that making a choice to abandon God will have disastrous consequences.
Then Moses continues:
19 I call heaven and earth as my witnesses against you right now: I have set life and death, blessing and curse before you. Now choose life—so that you and your descendants will live— 20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by clinging to him. That’s how you will survive and live long on the fertile land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors: to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In this final address, Moses tells the Israelites that they have a choice. They can choose to follow God; they can choose life or they can choose death.
Now most choices that we have don’t usually involve life or death decision. Most choices that you will make in your daily life will not be these life or death choices or are they? Usually we think of life or death decisions are these big decisions that people might make in the movies. The bad guy is chasing you and you have to decide whether to try to jump to the next building or fight. Or maybe we think that a life or death decision is something made by a surgeon in the operating room.
Those are life or death decisions, but if we look at the examples that we find in these words from Moses, we find that the Israelites were faced with these types of decisions on a daily basis. Prior to leaving them with these final words, Moses recounted all the of these choices that the people could make that would lead to life or lead to death. These choices are really found throughout the whole book of Deuteronomy.
Some of them are:
They could choose to love God with heart, mind, and soul (6:4-9) or not (a choice between life or death).
They could choose to cancel the debts of the poor (15:1-11) or not (a choice between life or death)
They could pay their employees fairly (24:14-15) or not (a choice between life or death).
There are many more choices that Moses put before them. But the point of this is that these choices clearly deal with ordinary, mundane life. Am I going to treat this person fairly, or is my main goal to gain as much profit from her as possible? For the Israelites, ordinary life was full of choices that led to life or led to death.
As another said, “ 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.”
What leads to death in the choices we are faced with daily?
Buying that new TV on credit might make you happy in the short term, but if you are already overburdened with debt it is a choice that adds to a slow death.
You have surgery and the doctor prescribes you a bottle of pain pills. They help control your pain, but then you take just one that you don’t need, then you take just another you don’t need—pretty soon so many people find themselves in a slow process of being overwhelmed with the death of addiction.
You choose to sit and watch TV instead of talking with your spouse whose had such a hard day at work, just one decision, but is a choice that can begin a slow process of death of giving yourself to something that doesn’t matter.
Last week we talked about how new beginnings begin with something as simple as a knock one day at a time. Well, this choice of life or death is also something that happens one day at a time. Each day we make choices that lead ultimately to death (death of the body, death of the family, death of relationships, death of the soul).
The good news is that just as we can make decisions that lead to death, we can also make decisions that lead ultimately to life.
We can choose to put down our phones and read to our children or grandchildren at night.
We can reach out to care for those who are hurting, those going through cancer treatments, those going through divorce.
We can give to the poor—not only money, but a relationship, a friendship.
We can quit posting hateful things online (or quit posting things simply designed to make your point), and instead reach out to those that see things differently in friendship.
We can make healthy choices in our diets to promote health and life in our bodies.
We can make a decision to write down each day what we are thankful for.
We can choose to value people more than we value money or more than we value being right.
Each of these examples are small things. You may think one simple choice can’t lead to life. But you never know, if never start.
I think about last week, and how we talked about how the Recovery community uses the serenity prayer. There is nothing huge in this prayer that makes it any different from any other prayer. But it is a prayer that encourages us to choose life each new day. It leads us to start thinking that life is about all these little choices that lead to life – that lead to an abundant life. If you weren’t with us last week, let me just share a little piece of this serenity prayer with you:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time …
You see this prayer really shows us that life is made in the everydayness of life. That choices that lead to life are made “one day at a time … one moment at a time.”
Some decisions you make in your life might have immediate life or death consequence. Leaving the keys on the bar after a night of drinking or trying to drive home drunk. But most decisions won’t seem to stark. But it is in these seemingly insignificant choices where we lead ourselves to life or we can lead ourselves to death.
The neat thing about this is that God is on the side of life. God wants and is leading you to choose life. When we look back at this address that Moses gives the Israelites, we notice that they don’t respond. This is signal to us that this choice between life or death isn’t a one off deal. This choice isn’t a one and done thing. For those that might choose to walk the way of death, God doesn’t offer a mandatory prison sentence. In many ways, choosing this path will lead you into your own hell—but God never abandons you. The option to choose life always remains open.
In my opinion there is no better image of the fact that the choice of life always remains open than in the final witness that we have of God in the Bible—Revelation. The Book of Revelation is kind of an odd book for us. It language and images that mean very little to us—there is specific theological language that addresses this, but it is safe to say that much of this book is written in metaphors.
But anyways—Towards the end of Revelation we see an image of a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. In this place God will dwell with humanity. In this image we see what God’s final plan for all of creation is. Many see the book of Revelation as a scary prophesy; many try to interpret weird metaphors and guess when the world will come to an end (as a side note—everyone who has ever done this has been proved wrong, because the sun still rises and we are still here).
In my opinion, though, Revelation is primarily a message of hope where God communicates to us that the choice of life always stays open. It is here that see in Revelation 21 this image that even in the culmination of time this choice of life is open. Here we read:
22 I didn’t see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. 23 The city doesn’t need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day, and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.
What good are gates that never shut? Gates that are designed by God to show us that we can always choose life.
As you live, as you make daily choices, take a moment, pause, and ask yourself, does this choice lead me to life or does this choice lead me to death. If we are mindful about how we are living we can live God’s abundant life now.
So to encourage us to choose life one day at a time, I want to invite you to pray the serenity prayer with me. It’s printed in your bulletin, so you can take it with you and make it a part of your prayer life this week. As we pray it, my prayer for you is to know that God never shuts the gate on life and that you choose life daily,
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.