Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him: See, I
have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity…today I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life…
Choose Life. A wise person has said that it is these two words that
sum up all the law and the prophets and in fact all of scripture. God is not
commanding all Israel to choose life the way one might choose a paint color
or an outfit or even a presidential candidate. To choose life is to choose God.
To choose life is not merely to choose God but to choose to live entirely in
covenant with God. To make God one’s primary relationship, to make our
primary task each day the task of orienting and re-orienting ourselves
The Hebrew “choosing” language in this passage might also make us
think about the choosing language in the book of Joshua: Choose this day who
you will serve. As Moses makes clear, and Joshua after him, this choosing is a
matter of life and death. The choice is to covenant with God, by worshipping
only God and loving God and neighbor, or to covenant with death through
idolatry and isolation. We choose this covenanted life when we choose
baptism, or when baptism is chosen for us.
When I started looking at this wonderful passage from Deuteronomy I
kept thinking it be so cool if this passage were paired in the lectionary with
Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, I came that you might have life, and have it
abundantly. Abundant life is, in fact, what is at stake here, and so this
reading is paired with a gospel about the ultimate choosing: to pick up one’s
cross and follow. 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. (“Hate” here does not mean what it might mean today. It means
indifference, detachment.) Jesus says: unless you do not hold lightly, with
indifference all that we may hold dear—father and mother, spouse and
children—you cannot be my disciple. Unless you are unattached even to your
own mortal life, your daily comings and goings, you cannot be my disciple.
Unless you give up all that possesses you—your stuff, your opinions, your
earthly needs—you cannot be my disciple.
Choosing life means holding on to God and letting go of all else. To
pick up one’s cross is to empty oneself of one’s own ego needs, even one’s
own self-understanding. To pick up one’s cross is to be entirely at the will of
the Spirit. To choose life.
Today’s gospel is about choosing because we do this kind of choosing
all the time. My son, who just graduated from college, is looking for work. He
is discovering that for him, the job search process is not just a choice
between companies, or even a choice to be able to pay his rent or not pay his
rent. It’s about how he wants to live his life, about being connected to other
humans in a way that allows him to be creative, useful, and a force for good in
the world. There’s a whole lot of choosing life and hating the rest going on
Choosing life is not just about choosing to live well and fully, although
it can be that. It is about entwining our life in God’s life, measuring all our
choices against our love of God, neighbor, strangers, and enemies. It is about
measuring our choices against our promises to pray, to resist evil, repent of
sin, proclaim Good News, serve Christ, and strive for justice, with God’s help.
I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Moses speaks
“to all Israel.” God’s invitation on that day and to us, today, is to choose as a
whole community to live that covenanted life with God, to engage as
individuals and as a whole community in practices that keep us listening for
God’s voice and attentive to God’s call.
When we choose life, we also choose how we engage with others. The
temptation in the wider culture to death and adversity is strong, and I think
it’s easy for it to seep into our own Christian counter-culture. Choosing life
means choosing a life of faith and practice that calls us toward light and
toward joy, toward patient service and toward revolution, and by revolution
I mean rebellion against death and adversity, as a community.
* * *
The Episcopal Church recently released its annual report of church
statistics. Those of us who are church nerds can get caught up in things like
statistical measurement of church growth, secular models of success and
consumer engagement, dire predictions, and all the things we’re doing wrong
and should do differently. But attachment to such concerns is what is killing
the Church-with-a-capital-C and could kill our own parish if we let it. I know
you are all here because there is love and vitality in this place that cannot be
measured, because you want to be attentive to God’s call and to the work of
the Spirit. Choose life.
I often end my sermons with something about the Eucharist. It’s a
habit I learned from one of my first mentors, Bishop Mark MacDonald. He
also taught me that it is in our brokenness, our imperfectness, that we are
most Christ-like. And you all know how very flawed I am—maybe even more
than you would like to know. But this being Christ-like in our brokenness is
true of communities as well as individuals. There’s a lovely song from the
Church of the Beloved that goes
I am broken
you are broken
everyone is broken.
You are broken
I am broken
Stay: there is peace beyond anguish,
life beyond death,
love beyond fear…
* * *
As we come to this table to eat bread that is broken in the name of the
one who picks up his cross, let’s follow him with ours. As we drink this wine
poured out by the one who makes us one, let us—with all Israel—choose life.