One of the pleasant surprises you find on the Baylor University campus is the Armstrong Barrett Library. It is rather unassuming building, but when you walk in the door you are swept away by its beauty. It holds the world’s largest collection of writings by Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Their works have been celebrated and their romance has been portrayed as the Victorian ideal, but there is a difficult side to their story. A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she fell in love and married Robert Browning in 1846. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father. When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father’s disapproval. He did not want any of his children to marry and promised to disinherit any that chose to marry. After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply. After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Perhaps if her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored. [i]
There is a part of me that is ready to cheer for the love and devotion the Robert and Elizabeth shared. But there is also a part of me that wonders what kind of hole there must have been in her heart for the loss of a relationship that was so important to her. Her parents, who should have given her legacy of love and faith, instead gave her a legacy of pain.
In another one of the great passages that the staff shared with met this past summer we hear a very different picture. It is a picture of a legacy of life and faith; the picture of a spiritual legacy that can shape all of those we touch in our life walk. Listen to the words from Deuteronomy 30:19-20. It reads; 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.
This passage was used in two different settings. The first, is in its historical context, as the people prepared to enter the land that God had promised them. The second, is that what this passage had to say was so important to the people of God that it became a part of their worship long after they had settled in the land. It placed a life defining choice before them. Moses offers; 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. One is the choice to walk with God that will lead to life as it is meant to be for them and for those around them. The other church is a choice that leads away from God and promises destruction. Moses longed for the people to choose well – to choose life with God. It is the same choice we face at our moment of salvation. It is the same choice we make each day when we rise from our beds and begin our day. It is the choice we play out before our children, our grandchildren, our friends and colleagues.
So what does it look like to choose life – the kind of life that leaves a spiritual legacy? Moses proclaims; “Love the Lord your God.” This is a picture of a relationship with God radically different than the one based on shame and guilt, duty and obligation that many of us grew up with. It is a love relationship with God where our devotion flows from our love for God and God’s redeeming love for us. This describes a life in communion with God – in intimate conversation – in our walk with God is born in the deepest desire of our heart.
Moses continues; “listen to his voice.” We are in the midst of a twelve week study on Wednesday night and our Thursday SALT lunch gathering entitled, “Hearing the Voice of God.” It is a reflection of the priority of hearing God speak into our lives that I believe is at the very center of our walk with God. One of the books I read over the course of my sabbatical is Dallas Willard’s Hearing God. He opens the book with an incredible salvo. He states: “Hearing God? A daring idea, some would say – presumptuous and even dangerous. But what is we were made for it? What if the human system simply will not function properly without it....Is it not, in fact, more presumptuous and dangerous to undertake human existence without hearing God?” I believe that Willard is right. How can we love God and walk with God without engaging God from the depths of our heart and hearing God speak into our lives? Listening to God’s voice is not about getting a spiritual warm fuzzy every once and a while, or seeking a word from God by playing a round of Bible roulette. Moses is calling the people of God to make listening for the voice of God a normal and natural walk with God. God speaks, we listen, which leads us toward making choice that draw us toward the life with God we are meant for.
Moses continues his instruction with the call to hold fast to God - to wholeheartedly cling to God. I love this picture. It depicts us locked in on to God and God’s way with a big hug quality embrace so that nothing can get between us. A poetic imagine might be us involved in an dance with God where our embrace of God invites God to lead us to the places he calls us to God and to live the lives he intends for us to live. He is describing a the kind of life that is laser focused on God so that God and God’s way in our true north of our life compass, showing us the way. Hold fast to God and never let go.
Moses proclaims; For the Lord is your life. This is counter cultural in a society where people talk about their religious life and their work life or their family life. Moses wanted people to understand that there is only one kind of life that matters; it is life where our walk with God defines us. Our lives are not segmented into a series of cubby hole defined by where we are and with whom we are standing. Our walk with God defines what happens in this room. But, our walk with God should also define who we are and how we live out our lives in the midst of our homes, our work places, or school hallways – anywhere and everywhere and with everyone where we find ourselves. The Lord is not just the Lord of our lives – God is to be everything in our lives.
If we choose to live this way it will define the way we live life. This way of life can and will have a spiritual impact on those around and can create the spiritual legacy for those who will follow us. Our service began with the reading of Psalm 102:18-22. Let me share it with you one more time. It reads; 18 Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: 19 “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth,20 to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” 21 So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem 22 when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord. Several years ago this passage was the focal passage for our youths’ Fall Creek experience. The theme for the week was echo. The students heard that their lives of faith could and would echo for generations to come. This is call I offer you today.
This morning hear the call to choose between life and death, life with God and life without God. Hear that the choice you make is not just about a decision for salvation, it is about a decision for life with God that will define your way of life and create a spiritual legacy for all of those around you. Let future generations be able to look at your walk with God and your witness for the way of God and sing God’s praise.
Photo for blog attributed to http://familychurchdevotionals.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/leaving-a-legacy/