“Choose This Day”

Deut. 30:15-20 (NIV)
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – February 19, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

 Deuteronomy 30:15-20  New International Version (NIV)

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I want to start today with a basic premise: Most of the time, most people do the best they can at any given time.

In my life, I have really come to believe that.

I tend to get into trouble and flirt with being judgmental when I try and superimpose MY feelings of what the “best thing” is in any given situation. And when I think someone’s actions are not living up to MY definition of the “best things,” I have to remember that how we define what’s best is going to depend on our life experiences, our health, our income … all kinds of variables. And I can’t decide what’s best for anyone else any more than they can decide that for me.

REALLY, though, I think that most people try to do the BEST they can at any given time. We ALL do.

We try to be the best parent or child that we can be.

We try to be the best employee that we can be.

We try to be the best friend, or partner, or spouse that we can be.

And some days my best is better than other days. Some days my best is pretty darn good … some days its lacking, even by my OWN standards … but it’s all I have to offer on that day.

So when I carry that philosophy into today’s Scripture, it changes how I read it a little bit.

This day I have set before you life and death. Choose life.

 

First off … what does that MEAN?  Second: How do I DO that?

Things are not cut and dry in our world today.  As if they ever were …

I want to share with you an old story that I heard was shared by mystic, wisdom teachers and there have been variations found in different cultures. But here’s the gist:[i]

There was an old man and his son who were farmers and they lived alone outside their village.  One day the old man took all of the money he had saved and bought a very fine horse to help with the plowing.

That’s a good thing. Right?

Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?

The same day they got the horse home, it ran away.

Bad thing. Right?

Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?

The very next day, though, the horse returned and brought with it five wild horses who could all be put to work around the farm. The father and his son didn’t have to work as hard anymore.

Good thing. Right?

Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?

A week later, the farmer’s son fell off one of the new horses and broke his leg.

Oooo. Bad thing. Right?

Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?

But the next day, a war broke out and the army came looking for soldiers to fight. The father was too old, and with the son’s broken leg, he couldn’t go either.

So it was a good thing.

Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?

 

And the narrative goes on.

See … the thing is that we don’t always KNOW the good thing or the bad thing when it’s happening.

We lose a job, only to find out later that by losing that one we were open to the better one we ended up with.

We miss the bus to go home, only to find out later that the bus we would have been on was in an accident and everyone was hospitalized.

In a song called “Angels,” Christian singer-songwriter Amy Grant, sings:

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.

A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way.

Near misses all around me, accidents unknown.

Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.

 

So how can we be SURE that what we’re choosing is life … not death?

How can we be sure we’re making the right choice?

 

It’s hard isn’t it?

I think the answer lies – as it does with so many things – in our INTENT. Are we INTENDING to choose life … to choose that which is life-sustaining?

That sounds like it’s an easy choice, doesn’t it? But it gets very hard and complicated as we live out our everyday choices.

We have surgery. The doctor gives us a medication for pain. Do we take it? Of course … because if we are in great pain we can’t do the physical therapy we have to do to heal.

So we take the pills … and then we LIKE the way they make us feel and before you know it, we’re addicted to the pain medication.

At FIRST … the pills were part of choosing LIFE.

Later ON … the pills were a way that we chose DEATH.

 

Or think of relationships.

We’re in a bad situation and someone comes along who offers us a way out. Good choice – choosing life.

But then we find that we are totally dependent upon them because THEY were the ones who rescued us. Bad choice – choosing death.

 

We have to look at our definitions of life and death.

Is life made up only of the things that are easy and cheery and positive? Is that what it is to choose life?

Well, I can think of some wonderfully profound and emotionally difficult times that have been EXQUISITE and which I would never have wanted to give up even though they were some of the HARDEST things I’ve ever done. They made my life RICHER. Sitting with someone as they’re dying. Loving my black lab enough to put her to sleep. Holding my child as she’s crying with a broken heart.

I wouldn’t trade those hard, awful things for anything in the world. They made my life richer.

In those cases, they were examples of choosing life – just maybe not the way MOST of us think of life.

And maybe THAT’s the issue here.

Let’s go back to the first part of the reading:

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

That’s what it is to choose life:  to keep God’s commands and be obedient to them.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

Pretty clear … turning AWAY from God … NOT being obedient … bowing down to other gods and worshiping them – whether they be gods with names like Zeus or Baal … or gods with names like iPhones and Dollars – bending your knee to anything other than the God who created the Universe is choosing death.

Fortunately, for those of us who follow Jesus, we have a leg up … we have a teacher … a mentor … a GUIDE who shows us how to do all of this.

During his lifetime, Jesus chose LIFE – even unto his own DEATH. He brought RESURRECTION to the table so that even death can be turned INTO life.

WE may not always know what the answers are or which choice to make … but HE does.  And by and large, the life-giving choices are those that BUILD UP … that EXPAND … that are MORE INCLUSIVE.

That’s how he lived his life. His choices always ADDED people … they didn’t subtract or cut OUT people. He stopped and EXPLAINED. He answered QUESTIONS. He rarely, if ever, said, “This is right – This is wrong.” He put things in stories … in parables so that people could figure them out for themselves.

Things that build up and expand and include … those are LIFE-giving.

Things that tear down – whether we’re talking about tearing down ideas or programs or other people – THOSE are life-DENYING. When we choose THOSE ways, we’re choosing Death.

Most of the time, most people do the best they can at any given time. But sometimes other people come along and try to convince us that people are INTENTIONALLY trying to hurt us or deny us something in some way.

Don’t believe them.

Choose life.

Build up like Jesus did.

Leave them feeling better about themselves and about the world than they did when they first saw you.

We CAN’T control what people do to us or how they act in the world. But we CAN control how we react to them and the things they do.

They may be sending all kinds of life-denying energies and thoughts and actions our way, but we can CHOOSE to respond with life-GIVING energies and thoughts and actions.

This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible because it leaves the choice of our behaviors and our ATTITUDES completely up to US.

Nobody has the POWER to make me angry unless I give it to them.

Nobody has the power to make me think LESS of myself, unless I give it to them.

And nobody has the power to make me AFRAID unless I give it to them.

If I give that power away and become angry, think less of myself, or live in fear, then I am NOT choosing life … I’m choosing death because none of those things is of God.

God is about life and trust … God made each one of us and called it good … and God says every day, “Fear not … I’ve got this. I’ll take care of you.”

Every time I BELIEVE that … I’m choosing life.

 

Y’know, I really like the translation of this in the Message … it reads:

Deuteronomy 30:15-20The Message (MSG)

15 Look at what I’ve done for you today: I’ve placed in front of you
Life and Good
Death and Evil.

16 And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in [God’s] ways. Keep [GOD’s] commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really LIVE, live EXUBERANTLY, blessed by God, … in the land you are about to enter and possess. (Let me just insert here that I think that “land” that we are moving into is the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to teach us about.)

17-18 But I warn you: If you have a change of heart, [if you] refuse to listen obediently, [If you] willfully go off to serve and worship other gods, you will most certainly die. You won’t last long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Jesus teaches us that we won’t SEE this Kingdom of God if we’re not FOCUSED on God.)

19-20 I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life [Choose Blessings] so that you and your children will live. And love God, … listening obediently … firmly embracing [God] (and I would add … firmly embracing the teachings of Jesus). Oh yes, [God … Jesus … Spirit] is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, … promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and I would add Peter and Mary, Matthew and John, Mary Magdalene and Paul and all the other crowd of witnesses who have come before us).

Choose life.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] D.K. Matai. “Perfect Reason: Good Thing? Bad Thing? Who Knows?” in Business Insider. June 1, 2001 @ www.businessinsider.com

 

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