Sunday, February 9, 2014

Choosing Life

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

I approach this piece of Moses's sermon today with joy and with trepidation, with deep certainty and with profound questions all at the same time.

For on the one hand, we know that it is so. Our choices do matter. They shape our every day. On the other hand?  Well, I know that so very much has already been chosen for me. For by virtue of my place of birth and opportunity, some choices were never really mine to make in the first place. Even more than that? I am of the particular theological persuasion that when it comes to the largest questions of my existence, in this life and in the next, God made the choice for me in baptism.  I belong to God. Nothing I choose or do not choose will ever change that. 

And yet I also know that every moment of every day I have choices to make.Will I heed my alarm clock at 4:45 am and go to my early morning workout or will I snuggle down under the blankets and enjoy just a little more sleep? Will I continue to mindlessly eat the box of chocolate covered peanuts and almonds that some very kind friends gave me last week, or will I set it aside for another day --- or better yet share it with others? Will I spend an extra ten minutes hearing the story of the man who is sitting in my office needing a place to finish out his court ordered community service or will I send him on his way? Will I pause to pray before I jump headlong into my day or will I move ahead as though it all rests on me? Will I put away my smart phone long enough to see the person standing in front of me --- or behind me in line at the grocery store --- or serving me at the cash register? And these are the easy choices. 

No, indeed, most of the choices I am called upon to make in the day-to-day really do not seem like they are so much about 'choosing life,' do they? Or do they?  For no, they may not be 'life and death' choices', but they are choices which lean towards life or death.  If you think about it, every one of them is.  And perhaps they prepare us for the day when the choice we are offered will be monumental and life-altering:

  • That day, for instance, when it will be yours to choose between staying in a marriage or a job that is not about life, but about death. When you venture out not knowing what this new life will hold but knowing that the old one was surely not right.
  • That day when you will need to dig deep to find the courage to speak the truth, even knowing the consequences for you may be less than desirable. 
  • That day when you will sit at the bedside of a dear one and know that it rests with you to decide what life will look like for him and for you both --- and whether or not you trust the promised life yet to come.
  • That day when we are called to choose between the comfort of what we now know and the terror of what is yet unknowable. 

They are all hard choices then.  And so it is helpful that Moses's sermon in Deuteronomy frames it in such away that he reminds us that all of our choices really do come down to one choice. Will I love God or won't I? Will my choices in how I live reflect that love or won't it?

We are told the stakes are high. We also know that Moses's listeners so long ago did not heed his urging. In fact, we understand that the form we hear his sermon in now was first heard by a people in exile who understood themselves as being punished for having failed to listen to these very words.  We also know that, in spite of themselves, later God made a way for them to come home.

We do hear today, however, that our choices matter:  at least they do in this time now, today.  We know that as people who follow the Living God, who believe in the Resurrected Christ, that we are those who are called to choose life.  Sometimes I'll get it right.  Often I won't. Either way, every day the gift and the privilege and the yes, the challenge, is to sort out what life looks like and to try to choose it. And then to entrust it all back to God whom we love and who chose to love us first. 

  • When you hear the words 'choose life,' what comes to mind for you?  What does it mean to choose life?
  • Do these words from Deuteronomy fill you with certainty or with questions or with both?
  • How do our smaller day-to-day choices reflect or impact the larger choices we make?
  • What difference does it make if we believe God chose us first?


  1. Thanks Janet for sharing your thoughts about this passage. It was clarifying and enlightening. At the same time, it raised a lots of questions inside me, which is always an exciting part in the process of preparing a sermon. Thanks.

    1. You're welcome, Ileana. Blessings to you in your proclamation this week!

  2. Dear Janet, I'd like to take you for your words and reflections. When preparing for my weekly sermon, I always look for your reflection on the text. Your words often move the spirit in side me and helps me throughout the entire preparation process. Thank you

    1. Thanks for letting me know you're reading. I'm glad you find my words to be helpful. It's a blessing to me to know that we are sharing the journey!

  3. Thank you for your thoughts. But I am left with a question. How do we stop the incriminating voices when we keep eating the chocolate or remain stuck when we believe God is calling us elsewhere? And how do we go to God when we believe we have chosen wrongly and, even worse, will likely continue to choose wrongly?

  4. Apologies. The above comment (2:38 PM) was more about the struggle I'm having interacting with these texts on a personal level than about your thoughts, Janet. I appreciate what you wrote. But would love to find help processing the condemning thoughts and feelings I'm having while interacting with these texts. I do not want to push what I am feeling onto the congregation.

    1. No need to apologize. It seems to me that if we are to take the words of Jesus seriously, we are likely to find ourselves exactly where you are. Only remember this. It is for this and for you and for me that Jesus came and lived and healed and suffered and died and rose again. We will never likely choose correctly all of the time or perhaps, even much of the time. And yet we are still called to do so. When we don't we begin again tomorrow or in the next moment remembering that we have been promised both power and forgiveness. It is paradoxical, I know. At any rate, I would say to be honest with your people. Share your struggle. Let them see how seriously you take Jesus' words and perhaps, if you are able, how much you, like they need forgiveness and second and third and fourth chances. Let me know how you sort it out. Blessings to you and much peace...