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It’s Time to Choose

Epiphany +6 Common Lectionary Year A

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Introduction to scripture
Sermon audio

When we open the book of the Bible to “Deuteronomy”
we seem to be stepping back in time a loooooooong way.
Back two thousand years to the time of Christ,
a thousand more to the time of David,
and maybe 500 more years to this time when the enslaved descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob followed Moses through the night, through the sea, through the desert,
through the birth and death of an entire generation,
up through the plains of Moab, to this spot, Mount Nebo.

We’ve only come into the scene at the end;
You just heard an expansive paraphrase
of the last 5 verses of what is a 30 chapter-long sermon!! [1]
It’s the climactic summary of Moses’
re-telling the Law, the Torah, the Way, the Dream of God for God’s People. It’s climactic in that it presents a starkly straightforward choice,life or death, good or evil.

It’s a great, iconic powerful story,
it’s pivotal to the self-understanding
and the children of the Exodus.
But, as it comes to us in this book,
it was actually written several centuries later
than the event it describes.
And what’s important is the context for this later writing of the tale.
David is long dead, and his kingdom has shrunk
through successive generations, and is now gone,
and the people are exiled to the rivers of Babylon.
All they have is a memory,
of having once been
God’s people, God’s chosen,
called to be a blessing for the world,
and a question;
“How, come?”

“How come, if we are God’s people,
are we on the brink of annihilation, or irrelevance,
about to be subsumed into a vast empire of other choices, other values?
Did our ancestors get it wrong?
Did they choose death and evil
so that we now suffer the consequence?
This writer certainly tries hard to make the case for this,
but the evidence all points to the contrary.
The good don’t always win,
and the evil don’t always get punished,
so the dilemma is real….
Does “choosing life”
actually make any difference?

The prophets would say yes it does.
Choosing to live life as God intends for us to live it,
looking out for the poor, the widow, orphan, alien,
caring for creation, to forgive one another,
to foster abundant generous community,
no matter how badly this upsets those who choose
to live just for themselves.

And in Jesus’ hands and witness, even more so.
Choosing “life and what is good”
loving God and neighbour above all else,
cost him everything, including life itself.
This sets before us the starkness of the choice
in ways that should, and does make us
uncomfortable, to say the least.

Step forward to our own era, and the question of choosing life and good over death and evil seems if anything more complicated still.
After all, didn’t we as an industrial society
“choose life” when we invented spray pesticides
to help us produce bumper crops sufficient
to feed the planet? But instead, we’ve killed off the bees,
poisoned the rivers, rendered the soil sterile.

Didn’t we choose life’s apparent blessings of a connected world such that it is now too hot to handle, now polluted by oil spills, with mountains and lives crushed to dust in mineral mines to fuel our cellphones?

And what about our political, societal,
and even spiritual choices?
It seems that stark polarities are the new order,
“Choose life” is being shouted, hurled like
arrows at those who believe and act differently,
we are incapable of finding common ground,
or even respectful dialogue,
and the consequences are disastrous and destructive.

At this point, my first draft of the sermon went off the rails.
I avoided the point of Moses on the Mountain, pretended I’d never seen Jesus on the cross, and got lost in a mess of harsh nouns and slippery vowels, rather than confronting for myself or for you the tough truth of this pivotal moment of decision for a people about to enter into a new land.
It’s not about sorting out the details of a vaguely ethical life.
It’s more basic and more fundamental.
It’s about our ultimate loyalties.
Do we live God’s Dream, or don’t we?
Do we align our lives, all our choices every day,
to the Dream of God, or not?
Are we going to live as God’s people, or not?
No matter what it costs us?

I’m going to step aside and let a far more courageous preacher take it from here.
It is Germany in 1938.
And this time the preacher is not Moses, or Jesus,
but Dietrich Bonhoeffer, preaching a sermon addressed to young Christians about to be confirmed; young adults coming of age in what we now know to have been one of the most brutal and merciless regimes ever witnessed.
Bonhoeffer saw right to the heart of this choice;
Choosing life, is saying Yes to God,no matter what.

He wrote
“Your Yes to God requires your “no” too,
to all injustice, to all evil, to all lies, to all oppression and violation of the weak and poor, to all ungodliness,
and to all mockery of what is holy.” [2]

Germany, 1938.
Bonhoeffer was stunningly prescient;
spelling out the cost, and paying the ultimate price
of saying “yes” to the Life of God.
This is no invitation to convenient respectability,
but to a life oriented to a Dream of God of loving justice,
that often runs counter to any society founded on success, growth, wealth and power.

To quote one recent commentator, Bonhoeffer’s words sound “uncomfortably apt to our time and place.”
In a world where refugees, children, women, widows, orphans, indigenous populations, gender minorities, non-human creatures and even the planet itself are treated as expendable commodities,the choice to live God’s Dream
is one that has, and will lead us into danger,
into times of trial, temptation,
into places where courage
and sacrifice will be necessary,
and into moments when our
“yes” to God, our choosing life,
will cause us to say “no”
to whatever stands in the way
of God’s Life, God’s Dream
of justice, love, and mercy for all,
no matter what it may cost us.

And today, it is our time to choose.


[1] Actually a series of three sermons, but indeed spanning the entire book.[2]“The Gift of Faith”, April 9, 1938. in Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (ed) Isabel Best, (Fortress, 2012). Cited by Jim Gordon in his blog Feb 10,2020, Living Wittily

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