2022-09-04 Pentecost 13
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I met my wife’s family back in the day, I learned they loved to go camping. We would all go out into the bug infested woods by a lake somewhere and enjoy the wilderness, the fresh air and being a living bonanza for the mosquitoes and black flies! But one of their most peculiar family traditions was … the line in the sand. If it was hot and time for a swim, down to the beach everyone would go. And, someone would literally draw a line in the sand. Everyone would gather behind the line and on the count of three, everyone had to race into the lake! 1, 2, 3! They all took off like a rocket into the freezing cold lake water. I know this because I watched from the warm, dry safety of the other side of the line! No way I’m plunging in there, no Sir! I’m going ease my way in, inch by frigid inch! The line in the sand! Division at it’s finest. It’s one way or the other and you have to make a choice.
There was another story of a big tent revival back in the day. A temperance preacher came to town and was preachin’ up a storm about evils of alcohol. “Who has the money to spend?!” he shouted. “The saloon keeper!” “Who has the biggest house?! The saloon keeper!” “Who has the finest furs and the most jewelry? The saloon keeper’s wife!” “And who pays for all this?! You do my friends, you do! The evils of alcohol are a never ending scourge on society!” A few days later a couple who had been in the audience for his sermon at the big tent met the preacher on the street. They doted on him and congratulated him on his enlightening sermon. “Well, I’m tickled plum to death that you’ve chosen to give up drinkin’!” said the preacher. “Um, not exactly” said the man. “We just chose to buy the saloon!”
Choices, choices, choices! Life truly is chock full of them. As you grow, it’s exciting when you get old enough to make them yourself. Your parents tell you what to do when you are little, you get married and then your wife tells you what to do, then you get old and everybody else makes your decisions for you. There’s only a very narrow window where we get to make up our own minds. And then, we can’t help but get ourselves into trouble with our choices. Adam and Eve. Samson and Delilah. David and Bathsheba. Sonny and Cher. You get the idea. Human history is plagued by people making the wrong decisions and the outcomes aren’t pretty as we know first hand: Sin. Brokenness. Pain. Suffering. Death.
Moses, like somewhat of a temperance preacher, gets up in front of the whole assembly of Israel and draws the line deeply in the sand. He said “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If 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 rules, 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” (Deut 30:15-16). There is a choice here for us, just as there was for Israel thousands of years ago. On the one hand life and good, and the other death and evil. What’s it gonna be?
It’s important to note the context though of Moses’ words. A lot of people believe that Moses is here referring to salvation. You have to “make a choice” and “choose life.” Choose to accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Saviour, just like Billy Graham’s “hour of decision” kind of stuff. They think that this is how people become Christians, by making a choice or a decision. But context is important. Moses isn’t talking to a bunch of people who don’t already know the Lord. He is speaking to Israel - the chosen people - people who are already called to faith by the Holy Spirit. It’s important to note that it is God Who chooses us not the other way around. Jesus makes this clear to His disciples when He says “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (JN 15:16). And also Paul says “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor 2:14).
The bottom line point here is that when it comes to our eternal salvation – our justification, God makes all the decisions. He chooses us, all of us, in His great love and mercy poured out on the cross of Christ our Lord. He makes the first move and calls all people to Himself, wishing that all will receive salvation. But sadly, many people won’t respond to the Gospel. They are bamboozled by the devil, the world and or their own sinful flesh. They choose death and evil rather than receive God’s forgiveness, life and salvation by faith and baptism.
But there is also the other side of the coin and that is called Sanctification – God’s process of spiritually forming and changing us from the inside out. This is the point that Moses was speaking to the Israelites. He had already spoken about God’s Word being close to the people when he said “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deut 30:14). He was talking about all that God had done to seek and save His chosen people. The Exodus where God’s mighty arm smashed Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea. The Covenant of the Promised Land which God was about to fulfill. Look at all that God has done for you! “Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for 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.” (Deut. 30:19-20).
Choose life. Obey God’s voice. Love Him. Hold fast! Why? Because God attaches a promise to His word. His promise to us is eternal life. Sins forgiven. Healing. Restoration. And, Divine strength to rely on when life throws us curve ball after curve ball. This is what happens when we follow our Lord’s commandments. Jesus followed them perfectly and now the world is full of salvation because of it. God encourages us all to dig into the scriptures and know the Word by heart. Because the temptation and the tempter is always there, encouraging us to choose the wrongway that ends in evil and death.
And so, each of us becomes a battlefield. A civil war wages within us. With every baptism, a spiritual war is waged. On the one hand, the Kingdom of God is present with us by grace, helping us, loving us, healing us, forgiving us, pulling us down the right path by the Holy Spirit. And on the other, the “old Adam” or “old Eve” within us wants to go with Satan’s temptations, walking that terrible road of iniquity, sin and death. When we push the Word of God far from us, the battle gets easier and easier, because we don’t know the right way any more so we don’t care that our lives are full of iniquity. Many people do just this. They don’t like God’s Word and teachings so they ditch it, but it is to their peril, as Moses warns us today. “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish”(Deut 30:17-18).
Our culture is readily doing this more and more every day. It’s like I tell my kids, “I remember when we stopped saying the Lord’s Prayer in school.” I was in grade 7 at William Grayson. God was pushed out and now look at all manor of problems and nonsense that has been brought in. From anti-Christian, woke, societal mantras to mass shootings, it’s undeniable how terrible things are becoming and getting worse all the time. Corruption in government and all levels of authority. Dishonesty is rampant. The 10 commandments have been thrown out the window and iniquity and unbridled sin is on the rise as people push and push and push God out of every aspect of society! But thousands of years ago, Moses laid this all out for us. The line is in the sand. Life and death, blessing and curse they are ever before us. As God’s people, chosen by His grace in Baptism, I urge you to choose life! Choose the Lord and His Word of salvation. Pursue the Commandments. Pursue the virtues of God’s Kingdom. Pursue goodness, forgiveness and mercy. Don’t let the temptations of the evil one cause you to stumble. Turn to Christ to taste and see that the Lord is good. His love and compassion never fail us, even in the face of sin, evil and death. Choose life, that you may live, for Christ Jesus in His limitless grace has chosen you. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for 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” (Deut 30:19-20). Thanks be to God! Amen!