Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18
September 8, 2013, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Sermon Theme: “What Do You Choose?”
(Sources: Emphasis online Illustrations; Believer’s Commentary; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 23, Part 4, Series C; original ideas; Nelson’s Three-in-One Concordance notes)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
You did not choose to be born in Wallis. Or in East Bernard. Or in Dime Box. You did not choose to have Lutheran parents who made you memorize Luther’s Small Catechism, — parts of it, in German. You did not choose to have a father who could not read. You did not choose to have a mother who was like a marine sergeant. You did not choose many things in your life.
Some of us were able to choose the college we attended; some were not. Whether the young man, whose tragic story I’m about to tell, was able to choose the college he attended, or not, I don’t know.
His mother was very proud of him as he left home to attend Tuskegee Institute. She said tearfully to him, “Don’t forget who you are and whose you are. Study hard and do your best. Don’t settle for anything less.” She was a very devout Christian, and she warned him not to bow down to the false gods of the world.
Away from home for the first time, the young man had lots of choices. He began to party more than study. He soon lost all sense of responsibility and purpose; it no longer mattered to him why he was in college. He fell in with the wrong crowd, stayed out late and drank heavily.
Midway through the winter term, the mother received a telephone call. It was from school officials. The stilted voice of someone she did not know said to her, “Your son has been killed. Some students found him dead behind the student union. He was shot once in the throat and three ounces of cocaine were on his person. He had been suspended for drug and alcohol abuse and we are sorry this terrible tragedy has occurred. If there is anything we can do, please let us know. . “ Yeah, right. As if there were anything they could do. The young man had made his choices.
Our sermon text from Deuteronomy is about choices. God knew that the people of Israel would break His Covenant with Him and be carried away into exile. This is exactly what happened.
Our sermon text says that the people were called upon to choose between “life and good,” on the one hand, and “death and evil,” on the other – life for obedience, but death for disobedience.
Moses, the author of Deuteronomy, strongly pleads with the people to choose life and blessing over death and damnation.
Repentance and obedience would bring good results, including long life and an abundant spiritual life. The promise of “being able to live in the Land” does not necessarily imply abundant material life (as some erroneously think). It does mean the promise of reaching the Promised Land would be fulfilled.
As I said at the beginning, there were many things in your life you did not choose. You didn’t even choose God. He chose you! That’s why the mother in the story I told at the beginning said to her departing son, “Remember who you are and also whose you are.”
The Israelites were God’s chosen people; because they were chosen by God, they could make choices. And they chose to disobey and break the Covenant. Because we were chosen by God in Christ, we can make choices.
God did not choose Israel because they had always kept His Commandments or chosen wisely to follow Him. To be sure, they disobeyed Him constantly. Rather, by His grace He simply swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they and their descendants would be His people.
God did not choose us because we were anything special or because we were making good choices. Indeed, by our nature, we can make only bad choices that go against God. But in His mercy, God chose us in Christ. Because we are chosen and then called and cleansed in Baptism, we are declared special. We can trust in this God who chose us and therefore we can make good choices that please Him.
Thus God puts before us every day the choice between life and death, and He expects us to choose life. Unfortunately, the wrong choices, which should be very obvious to us, bring death. It should be obvious, even to an idiot, that binging on alcohol and cocaine offers death.
Of course it’s true that even in making choices that mean life, rather than death, there are still risks. We could choose to walk across the street and get run over by a truck. We could choose the out-of-doors and sunshine and risk skin cancer. We could choose to get married and risk divorce. We could choose to be parents and have difficult financial problems in raising our kids.
To be sure, we shouldn’t avoid learning how to swim for fear that we might drown. We shouldn’t avoid learning arithmetic for fear that we might be tempted to cheat on our income tax. Or building a bridge for fear it might collapse. Fortunately, the promise is that God goes with us into harm’s way when we choose life. That’s why we must not forget whose we are.
That’s the bottom line in our choices, — remembering WHOSE we are! Our text says, “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, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.”
The text goes on to say that if you turn your back on the Lord, close your heart to Him, and are drawn to worshipping other gods, you will perish. The other gods you could worship are money, material possessions, fame and glory, the high life of a high-roller, drugs, alcohol, porn, etc. The text reminds us that such gods can bring destruction.
What a danger this is in the modern world! The consequences of the motto of the Twentieth Century has proven to be most costly in the Twenty-first Century. It probably started when Frank Sinatra was crooning, “I’ll do it my way.” The 20th Century’s insistence upon personal rights without regard to ethical and moral considerations is proving to be lethal in the 21st Century.
You know, when I was in school, there was a “no PDA rule,” which we had to follow, — “No Public Display of Affection.” But nowadays our civilization has gone from No PDA to having sex around swimming pools at resort hotels, with human beings acting like animals during mating season. Personal rights without regard to ethical and moral considerations cannot be justified.
The Israelites had their golden calf which they tried to worship. We have our false gods, though not in the same form as theirs. Human nature has not changed that much since the time of Moses; the only thing is, as the years roll by, we keep lowering the bar of Christian ethics and morality and raising the levels of human depravity. At what point is God going to say, “Enough! Enough! I’ve had enough!” That’s what He said when He allowed the Israelites to be taken into captivity!
To be sure, from Genesis to the very end of the New Testament, the Bible is full of discussions about choices, such as: the choice between God and the Devil, between life and death, God and idols, obedience and disobedience, God and Baal, Wisdom and Folly, Obedience and sin, and Christ and the Antichrist, just to name a few.
Some of the bad choices are given as disobeying God, putting the flesh first, following a false prophet, letting the world overcome us, and rejecting God’s promises. The most important good choices are given in Psalms, Hebrews, Acts, and Ephesians; and they are: using God’s Word; believing what God says; obeying God; praying; and having faith. Today’s sermon text would agree, as it concludes: “Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord our God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.