Choices, Choices ...
Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Epiphany 6, A
Choices, choices ... the world is full of choices. Every day is packed with choices. Some will affect your life for days and months and years ahead (“Should I go back to school? Should I change my job? Do I need new friends? Should I finally get that help?”), others will be forgotten ten minutes after they are made (“Should I have that second cup of coffee? Which shirt would look better? What shall we watch on TV tonight?”). Some choices are big and some are inconsequential, but then there are fundamental choices. The kind of choice that everything else hangs upon. It is precisely the choice God lays out before His people in our Old Testament reading for today.
15“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. And there you go. One choice upon which every other choice hinges. God sets before the Israelites in Moses’ day … and us here THIS day ...a straightforward choice between clear alternatives: life or death; good or evil; blessing or curse. The very fact that He offers us choices implies that we are not stone or wood but creatures of will and emotion and decision. You CAN choose. You MUST choose. And the choice you make will affect everything else that follows; will shape every single part of your life for every single day to come. Itis no choice to be made lightly.
So what will you choose? On one hand you have the Good. And that Good is nothing less than a satisfying earthly life under God’s daily providence. A rich spiritual life in daily communion with God, to receive His grace and favour as a forgiven sinner. That Good is the promised eternal life through the merits of the Messiah, and an endless joy in the heavenly presence of God. But that choice means giving up all entitlement and every pretense of control. It means placing your life in the hands of God. Are you ready for such a choice?
There is a different choice of course. The choice of Evil. This evil is everything that disrupts and destroys a life with God. It is an inevitable spiritual death and being separated from God’s hand of blessing and grace while living under wrath and punishment for sin. But it also comes with an earthly death and the loss of whatever good God might give in this life, long before you suffer that eternal death in hell. Not much of a choice you say? Hold on. This path is easy and wide and full of everything you want, just ripe for the taking. You will be praised and idolized by everyone around you for taking this path and for being so strong and brave. If you make this choice you get to be the boss of your own life and celebrated author of your destiny … at least until the end comes crashing down. This is also the path you know the best. It is the choice you default to.
This much is clear enough in even a cursory glance at either the Holy Scriptures or your own life story. Both Israelite history and biblical theology consistently demonstrate that our will is free only to choose the bad alternatives. We are so broken and damaged by sin that every choice we make is just a broken, bent and twisted to the evil. To choose the good, god-pleasing alternatives we need His help.
Consider Paul’s clear words that we are not nearly as mature in our Christian faith as any of us should be. We are far too human and selfish and much too little godly and self-sacrificing. Or Jesus’ damning words of the Law which shows no matter how good you think you are you have never once – even for a moment – come close to actually understanding the full weight of God’s Holy Will, much less ever once having been able to keep it. Such choices are simply beyond our ability to make.
And if the choice is beyond us to make then the promise is beyond us to claim. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his just decrees, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. That is an “IF” we have never met, nor never could, so the “THEN” can never be ours.
What is left to us instead? 17But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. The sinful Israelites discovered this soon enough. They failed miserably. They failed over and over again. They made the wrong choice, and then went back and chose it all over again. And we do the same. We just can’t help it.
So is there simply no choice but to fail? Over and over again? IS there no Good News in all this? Yes of course there is. But it is not found in your or me. It is in God alone. And in His Son Jesus Christ. For, as Moses says, 20...he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
So God not only holds before us good choices (that we don’t deserve and can’t earn) but He also empowers us to make those good choices. He does it through His Son Jesus, who made those Good choices on our behalf. Who suffered for all our bad choices of His own free will. Who comes to us with forgiveness, peace and new life in His Means of Grace. And in that way, Life – real life, begins with the Lord; it is created by Him in the Waters of Holy Baptism; it centers around Him and His Words of Life in the Holy Gospel; it is fed by Him in His body and blood of the Holy Supper. And that Christian life cannot but choose wisely serving Him; being guided by Him and blessed by Him. Without the lord in the heart there is no life, only death.
God gives us His life in Jesus so that we might choose His life! And the result is that where once in sin we had no choice, now in Him we do. So what will you choose today? 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him,”