I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20 NRSV)
Today I finished teaching a six week course on Moses in our adult Sunday School Class at church. We used Adam Hamilton’s excellent book, “Moses, In The Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet” as a guide. Needless to say I’ve had my head buried in this man’s life for the last couple of months, but it was a very worthwhile experience.
This afternoon I stopped and thought about Moses quite a bit, and really pondered what God says to me, and possibly to us in this day and age through the life and the story of Moses. To be honest, I think there are several good lessons to be learned, but I kept coming back to these words I posted above, some of the last words he spoke to his people. Moses knew his death was at hand, and he knew this would be the final time he addressed Israel, so I’m pretty sure I’m on safe ground saying that these words were part of Moses’ big point.
In these verses Moses presents a stark choice to both the Israelites, and to us today. He admonishes us to choose life instead of death. He says that if we choose this, then things will go well for us and our descendants. Well that sounds easy enough, right? I mean wouldn’t most of us choose life anyway? Well, as it turns out, there’s more to it than that.
What Moses is asking the Israelites to do is much more than just making an intellectual nod to certain beliefs about God and the nature of all things. While that’s certainly part of it, it’s not the whole story. Earlier in Deuteronomy 30, Moses tells us to obey the commandments of the Lord, to walk in his ways, and observe his decrees and ordinances. That certainly sounds like an awful lot of actual “doing,” and not just believing. God wanted action. He wanted the people not to just believe that he was there, but to act like he was there, and to keep the laws he gave them.
Spoiler Alert, it didn’t turn out very well. The Old Testament is the story of Israel falling away from God, suffering the consequences, and finally turning back to him. It happens over and over. How well do we do in that regard, I wonder?
I don’t think we do too well at all, to be honest. In the United States we like to think that somehow God has appointed us as his “spokesman” or maybe “spokescountry.” Many of us like to see the Christian tenants and slogans coursing through our history. Some of us even speak of our country as a “Christian Nation.” Most of us won’t go far enough to say that we’ve supplanted the Jewish people as “God’s chosen,” but we like to think that maybe we’re like the “Vice-Chosen.” We even adopted, or maybe co-opted, the Moses story into our own history and used it as an excuse to advance westward into our own “promised land.” That vision turned out to be just as lethal to the First Nations people here in America as the Bible says it was to inhabitants of Canaan when the Israelites came through.
So look around, how are we doing? Yes, the vast majority of people in this country still say they give intellectual ascent to the Christian faith, but what are we DOING?
A couple of weeks ago one man shot 500+ people in a few minutes. The funerals are still going on. While many of us have expressed sincere condolences and prayed for these victims, we’ve done nothing to to even attempt to arrest our culture of violence.
Several natural disasters have befallen our country in recent months. While we’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of people within the bounds of our contiguous 48 states, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico are still struggling mightily. Meanwhile the President complains that Puerto Rico has blown his budget and insinuates that what forces we have sent there will be withdrawn.
Instead of seeking to be at peace and avoid war, violence, and death, we’ve taken up saber-rattling as a new hobby. We seem bound and determined to get into a war with someone, and it doesn’t seem to much matter what the cost is.
Our leaders care nothing about integrity. We are the ultimate “do as I say, not as I do” culture. A major democratic donor gets hit with unspeakable accusations of sexual harassment and violence, and many of the top people in the party who claim to be champions of women clam up. Meanwhile, the Republicans toss on an extra serving of hypocrisy by leveling the boom on the Democratic donor while absolutely ignoring the fact that the very same kind of allegations have been leveled against the President.
Racism is rampant, and the those who advocate these ideas have been let back into the mainstream of our national discourse where they can poison the minds of others.
Our economic and healthcare systems are increasingly abandoning the poor, while we push massive tax breaks and incentives for the richest among us.
Do we sound like a people who have chosen life? Do we sound like a people who have kept the Lord’s commandments and walked in his ways? Does it sound like we are worthy to step into the Promised Land?
On the night before he was assassinated, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr stood in a church in Memphis, Tennessee and echoed the final words of Moses. He claimed that even though he might not get there, he had been to the top of the mountain and that he had seen the Promised Land. He knew his people would get there. Then, much like the great Prophet Moses, this Modern Day prophet died a short time later have glimpsed the ideal.
It can seem that we are far away from that ideal. Sometimes I despair that we are as far away from the “Promised Land,” from the Kingdom of God, than we ever have been since the days of the Civil Rights movement. However, I believe that we can’t give up. The people of Israel didn’t give up in the desert, though they knew many of them would fall along the way. Many of them continued to choose life, to follow the Lord, and put one foot in front of the other everyday. They had a hope and a faithful promise of God’s deliverance.
We still have that hope. We still put faith in that promise through the power and grace of Jesus, the Christ. He never said that following him would be easy, and it’s not, but many still do. Many ordinary, everyday Christians go out into the world everyday and choose life. Many keep the decrees of The Lord (or at least do their best). Many Christians have fanned out across our nation’s disaster zones to bring aid and help rebuild. Many are giving of their time and resources to help the victims of violence. Many lobby our government on behalf of the poor, the orphan, the alien, and the widow. Many are committed to offering a safe place to victims of physical or emotional abuse.
The list goes on, but as someone in my Sunday School class said today, they don’t make it on the news. Christians helping people makes a good story until a sex scandal or a murder turns up, then the helping is quickly forgotten.
But there is hope. Everyday when we get out of bed we have the choice presented to us once again. Even though we’re far from perfect, when we consciously choose life and choose the Lord, then through his grace and power anything can happen.
An 80 year old stuttering sheep herder can win a face off with the most powerful monarch in the ancient world.
A shepherd boy can become a great king.
A simple fisherman can stand next to God himself and help bring truth and light into the world.
If you choose life, if you seek the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, what can God do through YOU?