Monday, September 6, 2010

Proper 18 of Series C (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

“Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the thirtieth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. Dear friends in Christ: Deuteronomy is a very unique book. It is the capstone and culmination of the Torah, the five books of Moses, and in many ways it is Moses’ last will and testament, his final instructions to Israel before he dies and they enter the Promised Land. And the words we heard read this morning come from the end of that last will and testament, and are therefore vitally important. Listen again to what Moses says, to the people he led and then also to you and me: “Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” Just before our text, Moses had something to say about these final words. “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” Really, Moses? You are really telling us that this ‘choose life’ is an easy command? I think that you’ve been spending too much time with your head literally in the clouds.

Choosing life is not so simple of a thing when we live in the midst of a culture of death. Look around you in our world today, and you will see that human life has less and less value. And we see this from the very beginning of life: We live in a country that slaughters her children! Our culture has been killing the next generation for forty years, to the toll of over fifty million. Some of you, like me, are those who have grown up in the ‘abortion age,’ who are painfully aware that many of our peers are not here, but were snuffed out in the safest place for a human being to dwell. God created a mother’s womb to protect a young human life, to bring him or her forth into the world safely. But in the United States of America, a mother’s womb is a place of death, where thousands are killed each and every day. We live in a culture of death, we live in a country with blood on its hands, that has actually legalized the killing of the most vulnerable among us.

Not only do we kill our children, but we even use them in experiments, those not yet born sacrificed for those whose only advantage is that they are outside the womb. It is the tyranny of the born over against the unborn. And if our culture can kill its children, then those who are at the end of life are threatened as well. For if we cannot protect our children from death by abortion on demand, then there is little hope for anyone else that has seemingly little use. It makes sense, doesn’t it, to our culture of death. If children can be killed because they aren’t fully developed, then those who have lost some of their abilities toward the end of their lives are expendable as well. This is already happening in our world today, and it will continue to happen. Choose life, Moses? Really? We live in the midst of death, surrounded by it, we live in a culture obsessed with it.

Not only that, Moses, but our world itself is dying, and it has been dying since Adam and Eve plunged it into sin and corruption. Ever since they followed the temptation of Satan and disobeyed the command of God, this world has been dying, and we humans with it. Death reigns in our world, for the wages of sin is death, and we are all sinful. The teachers of evolution will try to tell us that death is natural, even necessary for natural selection, but deep down we know that this isn’t true. We know that death is an invasion, an unwanted visitor, but yet it is here, and it corrupts everything. In our text, Moses calls the natural, dying world to testify against us. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.” It is well that they should witness against us, for with our sin, we corrupted this world and condemned it to death.

We have all fallen away, we have all followed after false gods, the gods of money, of possessions, of reputation, of ourselves. God declares His judgment on such sin: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I 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.” Temptation draws us away, it tears us from the God who created us. As our text teaches, our sin has only one penalty- death. Choose, life, Moses? Really? We are sinful and corrupted, we are in open rebellion against God. You have said to us: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” We cannot choose life and good, all we can choose is death and evil, for we are not just dying people, we are dead people, dead in our trespasses and sins. Can a dead man choose life, Moses?

“No,” Moses says, “A dead man cannot choose life. But the culture of death is not the only power at work in our world.” Listen again to what Moses says in the final verse of our text: “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.” God counters the culture of death that surrounds us with His culture of life. He chose us from the foundation of the world, by His divine foreknowledge He knew that we would be surrounded by death, and so He determined to bring us life in the midst of death. Just as He swore to bring Israel into the Promised Land, so He swore to bring life to us. The prophet Micah testified to this promise: “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.” This is a divine oath, the promise of God that would not be broken because of His great love for you and me. God acts first. He chose us first, when we couldn’t choose Him, He loved us first when we couldn’t show any love to Him.

Jesus Christ came as the fulfillment of God’s great promise, the promise made on oath by the God of life to His dying world. Jesus came to have compassion on you and me, to show to us the great love that God had for those whom He created. Jesus came to tread our iniquities underfoot, indeed as the prophet says, He came to cast them into the depth of the sea. He came to pay for our sin by submitting to the culture of death on our behalf. He did not only dwell with us in the midst of death, but He took on death itself. He gave Himself up to death in order to conquer death, to make all things new, to reverse the corruption of this sinful and dying world. Death thought that it had won the ultimate victory, but on Easter Sunday the stone rolled away and Jesus walked out victorious over death. With the opening of the tomb, St. Paul can now cry out: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death has no victory, death has no sting, for death has been defeated by life. Life comes into the midst of death in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He brings life to you, to me, to all who were under the penalty of death for our sin. He even forgives any of us who have participated in the culture of death in any way. All from the most heinous abortionist to the woman hiding the pain of a past abortion find life and forgiveness in the resurrection victory of Jesus Christ.

God always acts first. He chose us, He loved us, He swore to bring us salvation. Through His Son Jesus Christ, He made good on those promises. And now He sends His promised Holy Spirit to us, who works faith in our hearts, faith which chooses life. Here we have the answer to the words of Moses. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we are made alive, that we are enabled to love God and follow in his way. Dead people cannot choose life, only those made alive by Christ’s life-giving Word. Moses said in our text, “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.” This is not a command but a statement of covenantal identity. As those who have been made alive through the waters of Holy Baptism, we will choose life by hearing the One who gives life and clinging to His promises. We hold fast to Him because He is our life, we listen to His Word because that Word gives us life. In verse sixteen of our text, Moses calls this “walking in His ways.”

But this way, the way of those made alive in Christ is not an easy path, for we still dwell in the midst of a culture of death. This is the way of the cross, the path that Jesus Himself trod, and in our Gospel lesson He tells us what to expect. He doesn’t want any believer to be naïve about the life of any who are joined with Him, made alive through the waters of Baptism. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” We will face opposition from the world because we oppose the culture of death, because we confess Jesus as the life of the world. The way of the cross is counter-cultural, it goes against what our own sinful minds want and what others tell us to do and be. The way of the cross can be a lonely road.

But Christ remains our life in the midst of death. He brings life to us, He breathes into our nostrils the very breath of life each and every time that we read or hear His life-giving Word or receive His holy and precious Body and Blood as we do again on this day. At the end of our text Moses speaks of “holding fast” to God. This word is the vocabulary of marriage, it describes the marriage relationship of Christ with His Church, you and me. We hold fast to Jesus because He had joined Himself with us. He has washed you clean, He has claimed you as His own, He has made you alive, and so death no longer has a hold on you. Death is our enemy, but it is a defeated enemy, and now can simply and only be the gateway to life eternal. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

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