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Epiphany + 6        
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church          
Lakeland, FL      
February 12, 2023     

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 6:19-24

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Please pray with me – May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen

Do you remember the days when there were three flavors of ice cream? Strawberry, Vanilla and Chocolate. Then along came Baskin Robbins and there were 31 – in the store at one time – flavors that were rotated on a regular basis from the many many many to choose from..

Venti, Grande, Tall. 

Latte, cappuccino,  Espresso.

Cruise, fly, drive.

History Channel, ESPN, HGTV.

Pandora, Sirius, Spotify. 

18 screens at CMX Lakeside, 24 at AMC Grand in Dallas, and 30 at Ontario Mills in California.

Choices. We are a people who crave choices.

In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, the choices were much more basic – “I have set before y’all life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life.” 

The book of Deuteronomy is a series of three sermons that Moses gives to the people he was leading. We refer to this as a farewell discourse, last words. In these sermons, he exhorts the people to adhere to the law, that which binds them together as the people of God. He reminds them of the covenant that God made with them – first to their forebears Abraham and Sarah and then generation upon generation after them as well. “You will be my people and I will be your God.” He gives them warnings about faithlessness and urges them to be faithful.

The people of God were at a threshold -- on the east side of the Jordan River. Having been rescued from slavery in Egypt, escaping Pharaoh’s army through the Red Sea yet on dry land, traveling through the wilderness under the leadership of Moses and Aaron, being fed directly from God’s mighty hand. Having been changed from a disparate band of newly freed slaves into the people of God, they now were at the literal threshold of the land of promise. It was time for Moses to bid them farewell before Joshua would take the mantle of leadership. Let there be no doubt – last words have lasting impact. He says to the assembly – “look, before you is life and good on one hand and evil and death on the other. Choose life.”

Throughout this address, Moses is reminding them of all that God had done for them, the covenant relationship that God created with them and drew them into. Covenant. This sacred relationship created by God. A relationship that endures forever because of God’s abundant grace.

My friend told the story of her teenage son one Christmastime. He had wanted a white button down shirt made by some designer. It was a bit of a splurge but he was becoming a young man and so the shirt was opened on Christmas morning and was greeted with all the oohs and aahs and grateful thanks to his parents. He wore it right away and, of course, New Year’s Eve was coming and he wanted to wear it then. So, he set about to do the laundry. In it all went – including a red t-shirt from his school. And you know what happened. The new white shirt was now a light shade of pink.

Well, mom stepped in and tried every trick in the book to restore that shirt to its new white condition. But it was not to be. While some of the pink came out, it was still undeniably not white. The pink remained.

That’s how it is with the covenant God makes with God’s people. That’s how it is with God’s grace. This grace changes things. This grace and covenant into which we are drawn through the waters of our baptisms changes things forever. 

Now, we know that in the same way that Scripture is rightly used, it can also be misused. Moses said, “See I am putting before you today life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life.” What he is not saying is, “Choose life or else God won’t keep God’s covenant with you and you’ll be on your own.” No. God’s promises are everlasting. But we all know that there are choices that we make that have unfortunate consequences, some of them deadly. And that’s how it was for Israel.  They did not maintain faithfulness to the God who had redeemed them. They abandoned the ways taught to them in the Torah. They lost their sense of community and the common good – it was each one for themselves. They relied upon their own ideas and strength rather than that of God. And the result was the loss of the land as the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria and the tribes of Israel that lived there were scattered. And the Southern Kingdom some years later was conquered by Babylon and they were marched 600 miles into exile where they lived for 70 years. 

But hear this – despite their faithlessness, God was faithful and God remembered God’s promises to them and continued to be their God because they were his people.

In his last words, Moses exhorted them as might a parent encourage a child who is setting off on their own. Have you heard those words? Maybe you have spoken those words? Moses says, “Look, I won’t always be at your side. Remember this – before you is life and good or death and evil. Choose life! Remember the relationship that God has created. Live in that relationship with God and each other. In doing this you will love the Lord your God, walk in God’s ways and keep the commandments and teachings given us. This is life!”

What does it mean to us today to choose life? Choosing life means to invest oneself in that which deepens and strengthens relationships with God and one another. Choosing life means to seek and proclaim truth and to decry that which is untruthful. Choosing life means to see the best in another as long as that is truthful. Choosing life means storing up treasure in heaven. Choosing life means seeing that life in mindfulness of God’s good gift of creation – seeing nature and loveliness and beauty. Choosing life means looking for that which is lovely and life-giving. Choosing life may mean stepping away from the keyboard. Choosing life means not calling other people names, not denigrating people into groups of “them and those.” Choosing life means being awake to the needs and lives of others. Choosing life means receiving with grateful hands that tremendous gift poured into us – the grace of God, showered upon us moment by moment, day upon day. 

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is no meager and miserly feast to which we come. This is a life of abundance. Choose life!