Monday, February 17, 2014

Epiphany 6 of Series A (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

“I 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.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our 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, I have a problem with pro-life license plates. You know what they look like, you’ve been stuck behind people who have them: two smiling faces and the phrase ‘Choose life!’ The teaching is simple: when you are pregnant, choose life, not abortion! The trouble is, this language of choice plays right into the abortion movement’s hands. We are playing their game when we use their language, and it’s a game we won’t win with those rules. Enough focus has been placed upon a woman’s choice; the focus needs to be on the unborn. What is the unborn? The unborn is a human being, and every human being, regardless of size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependence deserves protection. When we assert the humanity of the unborn, then there really is no choice, there is a baby, and the question of how we can help and support the mother. If it’s only about a woman’s choice, then abortion will always be legal: we Americans love our freedom. But if we can convince our fellow citizens that the unborn are human beings deserving of protection, that there is only one choice, then we’ve finally won this long battle on behalf of life.

You see, when the choice between life and death is placed before sinful humans, we always choose death. When God used the language of ‘choice’ through Moses in our text today, He didn’t have much success either. “See, I have set before you 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 in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” How did that work out? The rest of the Old Testament is the story of Israel choosing death, rebelling again and again, refusing to keep His commandments and His statutes and His rules. His commandments promised life, but they instead chose death. Things have hardly changed; we are little different than our Israelite forefathers. Our world has allied itself with death, it has tried to make a covenant with our enemy, to wield death as a tool. Death is the solution to an unwanted child, to elderly people taking up resources, to pain and suffering. Death is chosen for those who earnestly desire it, and it is chosen for those who have no voice. Those who dwell in the womb and those who lay on hospital beds are both told that death has been chosen for them. “Choose life!” God says to us, but it is clear that our choice has been made, and the choice is death.

We chose death by walking in the paths of sin. “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.” Our choice is sin, our choice is idolatry, our choice is death. “Choose life!” God commands in His holy Law. But our choice is death. Our choice is anger, our choice is hatred of our neighbor, holding a grudge and refusing to be reconciled. “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.” Our choice is lust, to exploit with our eyes, with our mind, and with our actions those who are not our spouses. “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Our choice is to seek our own way, often leading to conflict in marriage, which can even cause the dissolution of what God has brought together. “I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” And those are only three sins! “Choose life!” God says, but all we have chosen is death.

For God Himself tells us the penalty: “I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” Those who walk in the paths of death will only have death to greet them, yes, even eternal death. But even in this life, the created order calls us to account, for they are God’s witnesses against us: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.” The creation itself witnesses against us when we walk in the paths of death. There are consequences to our actions. The woman who has an abortion lives with guilt. Both children and adults suffer when divorce or adultery enters into a family. Anger and hatred poison our minds and consume us, eventually destroying us. Heaven and earth testify against us; when we violate God’s Law, the creation gives out punishment, eventually the punishment of death.

God’s Law, on the other hand, holds out the promise of life. If we obey, if we listen to His commands, we will live, we will prosper. “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.” We know this instinctively, we know that our lives would be better if we didn’t violate God’s Law. Life is there for the taking, but we never get our hands on it. We always choose death. The Law promises life, but it has never delivered. Every human on this planet has been given the opportunity to achieve life and escape death through obedience to the Law, but no one has ever done it, and no one ever will. The Law cannot give us the ability to do what it commands. The Law can tell us what is right and good all that it wants, but we still choose what is wrong and evil, because we are sinful to our core. And because we cannot keep the Law, we are given up to death. As Saint Paul says, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.”

We could not choose life, and so we were doomed to death. But our God is a God of life, and the word of the Law is not His final Word. He sends His Word into the flesh to do for you and me what we couldn’t do for ourselves. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, as the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ, lived a life in obedience with God’s Law. The Law promised life to the one who perfectly obeyed, and Jesus did, He obeyed to the letter every command that we violate. He was offered life, but He chose death. He chose death to bring you life. His choice was to endure your death so that you would have His life. His perfect obedience to the Law is given to you, as if you had never sinned. His death upon the cross under the penalty that the Law demands is given to you, as if you had paid it yourself. His obedience is yours, His death is yours, and so His life is yours. When He rises from the grave on Easter morning, you are given life, you are released from the shackles of death; the demands of the Law have been satisfied. God’s choice is life: for you, for me, for a humanity unable to achieve it on our own. We chose death, but God chose life, and it is His choice that makes all the difference.

He chooses you for life because Christ chose death for you. He chooses you for life by baptizing you into Christ, making you His own dear child. What He once offered through obedience to the Law He now gives freely through the Gospel. “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.” He gives to you all those things because He kept His promise to the people of Israel, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. He swore to Abraham, “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The promise was given for us, for that promise is the promise of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, to make God our life and length of days, to lengthen our days into eternity, to make us to dwell in the Promised Land of the new heavens and the new earth. God has fulfilled His promises; the Law offered life, but couldn’t deliver—not because the Law was deficient, but because we are deficient. But what the Law couldn’t give, the Gospel does. Life is found in God’s choice. Life is found in Jesus.

“Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” To choose life is to believe in Jesus, to cleave to Him in faith. And this not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, that no man may boast. Cling to Jesus, not on your own power, but through the working of the Holy Spirit, who has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the one true faith. In Jesus you are given life, eternal life. In Jesus you are given forgiveness, founded on His shed blood. Jesus chose death in order to give you life; Jesus chose death in order to wipe your sins away. You have chosen to walk in the ways of death? You are forgiven. God has sworn to wipe out your sins; His promise to Abraham is your promise, and because He kept that promise, He keeps this one too: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” To the one who has participated in divorce, to the one who has lusted or committed indecent acts, to the one who has harbored hatred in their heart, to the one who has committed an abortion or helped someone have an abortion, to those who have chosen the paths of death in any way, hear this: I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ chose death so that you will have life. His perfect obedience is set in place of your sins. What the Law promised and couldn’t deliver the Gospel brings to you. Christ is your life, today, tomorrow, forever. “Choose life”? God did; He chose life for you in Christ. In the Name of Jesus, our life and length of days, who chose death for us, Amen.

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