February 12, 2023
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. ***
Our lives are comprised of many milestones. Baptism, confirmation, graduations, weddings, retirements and more. Often these milestones occur in community — with people present who have had a hand in bringing about the event. Some of these milestones include celebrations where the one being recognized hears carefully crafted words of congratulation and command.
*Congratulations Graduates. You have done well. Keep your chin up as you go into a cold, harsh world.
*Congratulations bride and groom. We love you. Be sure to never go to bed angry with each other.
*Congratulations retiree. Your contributions to the company will never be forgotten. Be sure to think of us poor folk still slaving away.
Congratulations and Command. They mark the milestones of life. Whether the recipient appreciates the words, the aim is sincere and the words of command are intended for good.
The reading from Deuteronomy comes at a milestone day in the lives of the people of Israel. Their leader, Moses is speaking. He is congratulating and commanding them as they stand looking at Promised Land ahead.
It’s been 40 years of traveling for the people and Moses to reach this milestone. To appreciate what Moses says to them in this farewell speech — we need to look back on the path that has led to this day.
It all started back in Egypt. That is where God’s chosen people were held as slaves — until God made a way for them to escape. It was Moses who led them through Red Sea, out of danger from Egyptian soldiers.
Wandering along the perimeter of the Sinai Peninsula, Moses hears frequent complaints from the people. They are hungry. They are cold. They are thirsty. They want to go back to Egypt. They had better lives as slaves.
Yet, Moses, with direction from God, perseveres. He relays messages from God to the people urging them to trust and rely on God. But it is not working. The people have become incorrigible.
By this time, Moses and the people are on the Sinai peninsula. God says, “Moses, climb up to the top of the mountain. I have something to give to you. It is for your people, in hopes that our relationship will work better.”
So, Moses hikes up Mt. Sinai and there, God gives him to the Ten Commandments.
Several years ago I was traveling between Israel and Egypt. While crossing the Sinai peninsula we stayed at St. Catherine’s monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai. It is a dry and desolate land. The reason tourists stop at the monastery is to make the trek up to the top of the mountain to get an idea of where Moses went to receive the Commandments.
At 3 am my friend and I arose to hike to the mountain top in time to see the sunrise. As we set out, the moon was full. The air was crisp and getting colder as we ascended. Light was slicing the darkness as we arrived at the top.
Soon the sun started to warm us. There was quite a crowd, so I moved to a quieter spot looking over jagged peaks and deep valleys. I thought of Moses. How did he make his way up this mountain alone? What did it feel like to be so alone and yet in the presence of the Divine?
Then I thought about God. Couldn’t God have made this easier for Moses? Why not a meeting in a valley or along the coastline? I did not come up with any good answers. But I did come down the mountain with a greater appreciation for Moses. Out of love for his people and in honor to God’s direction, Moses bore those commandments to the people. They were not intended to punish them. Rather, the commands were for their benefit — to order their lives with each other and God.
The same is true today. The Commandments aim to order and improve life together — with each other, the human family and God. And at the very start, before any command is uttered, God speaks a word of grace: “I am the Lord your God.” I claim you. You belong to me.
Now, go back to the Sinai and think about Moses and his people. Amidst all their fussing and bickering with each other, including doubting God, these commandments give direction. “You shall … have no other Gods. You shall remember the sabbath day. You shall honor your parents. You shall not hurt, lie or steal.” All of the commands comes after God reminds them of the relationship and claim upon them: “I am the Lord your God.”
So, they depart the Sinai and the people are still fussing and failing to honor the commandments. They continue to look for a different god who they hope will spare them further misery.
But then they reach a milestone day. Moses and his people are standing at the edge of the promised land. In what is today the country of Jordan, Moses points his people to the prize. It is Canaan, the land which God has told them about for 40 years. Life will now be better.
This is a tender moment for Moses. He himself will not enter that land with them. He knows he will die first. But Moses has loved his people. Time after time he has pointed them to God. Now, he says they have a choice. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.”
But first, Moses reminds them of God and the source of grace for their lives: “Love the Lord your God, obeying him and holding fast to him, for that means life to you.”
Then he says: “Choose life.” L’chaim! (ləḥayyīm) It is a Hebrew word meaning: “To life.” Choose to live in the boundaries of the goodness and order God provides. To do anything else is death. So choose life- L’chaim.
Think about that for a moment. For we confess belief in this God — and desire to live in the God-initiated relationship, the good word is: L’chaim. Choose life!
L’chaim — choose life in the daily grind of your days; in the ordinary times or when you seem to be going through the motions and faith in God does not seem to have much importance.
L’chaim — choose life in the challenges you face; in your grief and losses.
L’chaim — choose life amidst the estrangements in your family, the failures and disappointments you live with.
L’chaim -choose life, loving God with all your heart, loving your neighbors and even those who do you wrong.
L’chaim. Choose life.
Remember always, that God chooses you. God has always chosen people — blessing us through the commandments which provide order for life, today and forever, through Christ our Lord. L’chaim.