Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Luke 14:25-33
13th Sunday after Pentecost
We are faced with choices every day. Some choices, such as which cereal to buy, are relatively inconsequential. The college we attend, and what major we choose have more impact on our lives. Choosing to have a life-partner will change our life in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. We are faced with literal choices when filling out an Advance Directive for our medical care. Even in our dying, we have choices.
In his book Being Mortal, Atul Gawande explores what it means to live a good life when our bodies are failing. It is helpful, he suggests, to know what makes your life worth living. What brings life to you? What brings life to others? How would God answer that question for us? These are questions for you to ponder this week. Make three lists. Where do they overlap?
In our reading from Deuteronomy this morning, we hear Moses tell the Israelites to choose life. Though that sounds simple and obvious, what does it mean to you to choose life? Is it only your life as an individual, or the life of others, the life of the world, to which Moses speaks?
The Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and Moses had been talking the entire time. Thirty chapters! By the time the Israelites get to the Promised Land, most of the first generation had died. The only life these people knew was to keep going through strange territory. Now the Israelites were on the edge of the Promised Land where there would be milk and honey instead of manna. Their future is full of possibilities, full of choices, and all come at a cost.
If the Israelites do not keep steadfast in their identity as God’s people, they will be seduced by Canaanite practices. Moses spoke the word of God to them. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity…. I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you…. Enabled by God’s grace, the Israelites need to choose to receive what God has already promised.
This is the same for us. We decide if we will receive what God has already promised. We are called to choose life in response to our God who asks us to be God’s hands and feet in this world. We are called to choose life so that the people God created in God’s image, whether white or black, short or tall, male or female, are seen as equal without prejudice. We are called to choose life in order that God’s peace prevails instead of our violence and war. We are called to choose life so that God’s light can be seen through the darkness in our world. We are called to choose life so that people can hear God whisper, “I love you.”
Sometimes choosing life is not a popular thing to do. Being Jesus’ disciple won’t always make you popular. Even Jesus tells us that! Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. As disciples, our relationships will be reordered. Our family will include the poor and the lame, the person with no permanent home, and the one who cannot advance our future. There is a cost to following Jesus! Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines cheap grace as grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
That is what Jesus does when he himself is sacrificed on the cross. Jesus chooses to give his very life for us to know God’s love and God’s forgiveness. Because Jesus gave his life for us, because of God’s unconditional love for us, we are free to choose life. That’s God’s promise to us. That’s what the cross is about, not just sacrifice, but about abundant life found in radical inclusion and in giving ourselves to others.
One of my favorite writers recounts an interview with a New York City rabbi from the podcast “On Being.” Rabbi Lau-Lavie shared this Talmudic parable:
A large, multi-cabined ship sets sail across the ocean. A passenger whose cabin is on the lowest level of the ship decides to dig a hole in the floor of his cabin. Sure enough, the ship begins to sink. When the other passengers realize what’s happening, they rush to the man’s cabin. “What are you doing?!” they yell. The man looks up from the hole and says, “It’s my cabin. I paid for it.” And down goes the ship.
God offers blessings and curses, exile and restoration, life and death. Sometimes our choices bring pain, and death,–not just for us, but for others, too. But there is life on the other side when we give up our claim that a good life is one in which we are the center. God continues to offer us life. Trusting in the God who redeems us costs us our belief in our own power and importance, and our right to live for ourselves alone.
Through the Word, and the waters of baptism, we are joined to all of God’s creation, and to the life and suffering and death of Christ. We die to our sinfulness and rise to new life. It is a daily struggle for us to choose to receive blessings instead of curses. Thanks be to God for another chance to choose life.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
Debie Thomas. https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay