Sunday, February 6, 2011

“The Choice Between Life and Death” Deuteronomy 30:11-20 NIV Tom Ogburn

[Do this as the entry to Scripture Reading] This week’s message is the second in the five part series entitled, “Beyond Belief: Becoming the People of God.” This series is looking at five powerful passages where we hear clearly from Scripture what it means to move beyond our belief in God to becoming the living people of God. Last week we heard the prophet Micah echo God’s call to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. This morning’s passage comes from the fifth of the five books of Moses. In it we hear Moses trying to prepare the people to move from their 40 years of wandering in the dessert to cross the river and take possession of the land that God had promised them. This was more than a thundering speech from an impassioned leader. Moses has heard his call from God in the midst of a burning bush. He had stood before Pharaoh on the people’s behalf and brought the plagues of God down on the people of Egypt as a part of the quest for freedom. Then in the midst of death and pain, Moses had led the people out of slavery in Egypt. This same Moses had stood in heart of Mt. Sinai and received the Commandments from God for God’s chosen people. He had wept when he saw the people had built a golden calf, choosing to worship an idol rather than God. Moses had chastised the people; argued with them; worried over them; and wandered in the dessert with them. Now he speaks to them full in the knowledge that he would not cross the river with them. They would go into the Holy Land without him. This is Moses’ last challenge to the people. This is his last chance to help them understand what it meant to be a people of God. His words for them still speak with power for us today.

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

[Begin message section here.] In late summer I read a book by Randy Pausch entitled, “The Last Lecture.” I had heard about the book for several months and it had been named a New York Times Best Seller. On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of a (capacity) audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” With slides of his CT scans beaming out to the audience, Randy told his audience about the cancer that is devouring his pancreas and that will claim his life in a matter of months. (from the lastlecture.com) The book tells the story of the Pausch’s journey toward his final lecture. In it he is eager to share what he has discovered and is discovering along the way. It would have been easy for the book to claim the heavy weight of death as the writer comes to terms with his own mortality. But, Pausch carries the reader a very different direction. Instead of claiming a morbid tone he offers a hopeful spirit and a deep appreciation for the people and experiences that had defined his life story. You can palpably feel the love he has for his family and the pure joy he has found in teaching and leading others in a process of creative discovery. This small book serves as a testimony of life in the shadows of death. It also provides a glimpse into the author's faith that sustains him in his journey. The cancer that claims his life does not define him; the true living of his life and his invitation walk at his side does. In this last lecture, instead of angst and grief he brings words of encouragement and hope, calling people to live out their dreams with passion.
Few get the chance to deliver a last lecture or sermon to the people they love and lead. But, if you were given that opportunity, what words would you choose? What would you want to make sure those closest to you heard from you? What would you want to make sure your children, your grandchildren, and your best friends heard? Our passage invites us into Moses’ last message to God’s chosen people. After all the words he has spoken to them over their more than 40 year journey together, he offers this last call that he prays will carry them into the Promised Land and define their relationship with God. God had chosen them, but Moses wanted them to understand that they needed to make choices that would define them as the people of God.

◊ He begins by assuring them that what he, what God, asks of them is not impossible; it is within their reach. He tells them that what he is commanding them to do does not require them to send someone to heaven to get what they need to be successful, nor do they need to commission sailors to cross the seas to discover the resources they might require. No, Moses tells them, all that they need is close at hand. This is a good word to hear. It seems that too often we hear voices that fill our faith with so many rules and regulations, traditions and expectations that it seems impossible to ever truly live as the people of God. Moses tells us that not only is it possible, all that we need to live as the people of God is close at hand. No, Moses tells us, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

◊ Next he lays an incredible choice in front on them. On one side there is life, prosperity, and a future with God. On the other side is the promise of death and destruction. On the surface the choice looks utterly ridiculous. Of course we would want life over death….prosperity over destruction. But Moses wanted them to understand the scale of the decision that lay in front of them. Ultimately they were choosing live as the people of God and all that it means – our choosing to live a life apart from God. With an intentional intimate relationship God there was life – not existence – not just getting by – but lives with purpose and meaning. For Moses – and for me – any choice that would call people to worship objects, idols, or nothing at all is a choice for destruction. Apart from a relationship with God we cannot live the lives we were created to live. Without a relationship with God we cannot be the people we were shaped to be. Apart from a relationship with God we cannot find redemption. Apart from a relationship with God we cannot find life. Choosing a relationship with God born in obedience to God's commandments is the single most important choice they will ever make.

◊ Early in the passage we hear Moses try to help the people understand this call to be the people of God in the more formal “For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.” Now, as time slips away, he claims different, more personal, more impassioned words. He calls to them; “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life.” I can almost hear the strain in his voice, if you have not listened to anything else I have said to you over our four decades together, then hear this – do this. Make a choice for life like it is supposed to be. Love God. Really, love God.. Block out all the distractions – clear the calendar – make time to be still and listen to God’s voice. Hold on tight to God. Get close and stay there.

◊ Moses wanted them to understand that the choice was not a one and done kind of decision. It is a decision to keep on choosing. Our belief carries us to the cross of Christ and the empty tomb that becomes the emblem of God’s saving grace for us, the call to call to love God, to listen to God’s voice, and to hold fast to God are acts that carry us to God’s feet over and over and over again. We do not love God for a fleeting moment and move on. The love of God in this passage is used as a verb not a noun, not a description of an emotion, but an action word that defines a nature of a relationship with God. The call to listen to God is not describing a moment when God speaks and we hear, but a lifetime of moments when we listen for and hear God’s voice for our lives. The invitation to hold fast to God – to cling to God - is not an embrace in times of crisis, but a choice to hold on with everything you have - all the time – never letting go, never wanting to be separated from the presence of God. Moses wanted them to understand that the choice for life was a choice that they would have to make every moment of their lives.


Moses words for them are equally applicable in our lives. If we seek to be the people of God then the core of our faith expression is not found in these walls, but in our everyday choices to draw close to God. It is about loving, listening, and holding on tight so that the only kind of life we can imagine is life with God. Doing whatever is needed to be in God’s presence. Taking the time – and making the commitment – to be with God. Knowing that any other kind of life would lead us to the wrong way. The Promised Land stood before Moses’ first audience – and the kind of life God created us to have stands before us. We have a choice to make – a choice for life or death – a choice for a life with God or apart from God. Choose well…

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