Friday, 10 February 2017

Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Moses stands as one of the greatest heroes of the Old Testament.  Hidden in the bull rushes as an infant he escapes the persecution of the male children by the Pharaoh.  He ends up being raised by Egyptian royalty.  And, he is favoured by Pharaoh until an incident defending another Israelite causes him to run away.

It is in his exile that Moses encounters God in the burning bush which sets in motion the story of the escape of the Israelites from their Egyptian task masters.  After 40 years in the wilderness he stands at the border of the Prom
ised Land and gives his final instructions.

It is part of these final reflections which we heard today from Deuteronomy. In these final words for the people who have followed him, Moses declares, "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live."

Choose life that you may live.  But what does it mean to choose life? What is the alternative? What is the life that they were meant to be choosing?  What is the life that we are choosing? What is the life that is chosen for us? Choose life? But what is life?

Choosing life then and now could sound very different.

At the beginning of the gritty 1996 movie Trainspotting the central character Renton reflects on the idea of choosing life in a voice over that sounds a little like this:

“Choose a life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a… big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers... Choose... wondering who… you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, sticking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away in the end of it all in a home… nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish… brats you spawned to replace yourself, choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life.  I chose something else.” (Renton)

There is a desperation in Renton’s words, a searching for meaning. In his description of what he thinks it means to choose life the character Renton summarises something of what modern people think life might be:  career, family, entertainment, status, possessions.  What he describes is life as we know it in these modern technological age.  These are the things that seem to have become central to our existence.  But there is a deeper question. Is it really life?  Is this what Moses meant when he said choose life?

What Renton describes may be consistent with our contemporary world and whilst Moses world and his words may feel out of place and out of time they still call us back to attention in what life is.  Choose life that you and your descendants might live?  What does it mean to choose life?  It means choosing God.

Moses says to the people, “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.”

Choosing life is living in the light of God’s love. 

But Moses also issues a warning, “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.” This is a big conundrum for us for we know the chequered history of Israel and we also the difficulties of finding the meaning and purpose of life in our time.

The desperation of the rant of Renton in Trainspotting reflects a judgement around the hollowness of so many things that we pursue as important in life.  And this is the conundrum.  When we do not hear God and when we are led astray by other gods this occurs without our understanding.

Being led astray implies a level of ignorance about is occurring, a naivety.  We do not know the wrong that we are doing.  No one would choose death over life deliberately.  No one would choose a life that is not life.

Now whilst in Moses time when he speaks about being led astray by other gods he is speaking of the ancient gods, of the statues and idols and temples of the ancient world.  Yet when we hear this challenge in the contemporary Australian context I would say that the other gods are more subtle and hidden.  The things that we bow down to may not be called gods but we imbue them with power and authority in our existence as we pursue them and make sacrifices to them or for them.

The things that lead us astray are the things that we honour by giving our time and our energy to.  We deify inanimate objects and owning things; we deify our children and our families; we deify our careers and our status; we deify celebrities – musicians, artists and actors.  Whatever or whoever we sacrifice our time for can unintentionally become that which we worship.  Many of these things we sacrifice our time for are not inherently bad but when they become all-consuming or get in the road of our relationship with God they become problematic. 

Just the other day I was chatting to some dance school mums waiting on the lawn at the side of the church for their daughters.  The amount of time these ladies spent taking their kids to dance and sport and other commitments was astounding.  When the idea of church and spirituality entered into the conversation though the response was about the busyness of life.  Their lives were so filled with all of the other running around that there was not time for church. 

I understand the busyness of our modern lives, especially with children, but I did say to them that what this indicated was not that there was not enough time for church but that God and spirituality was not a high priority in their life.  It was not that could not find the time it was that in the midst of what they were giving priority to faith was not high on their list.  It is difficult for any parent, for me too, to retain a balance, to not be led astray.  But it is that there is no time for church it is simply that when this becomes the case it indicates what we give the most important to.

Centuries after Moses when Paul wrote to the people in Rome explaining Jesus significance he indicated that all of us fall short of the glory of God, we are all lead astray, we are all perishing.  God’s response to our predicament and our predilection to be led astray is to send Jesus into the world to be both the light and life of the world for us. 

In the beginning of John’s gospel John says of Jesus, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  In Jesus God’s choice for us who are perishing is life.  This is the heart of the good news when we fail to choose life, when we are lead astray, God in Christ chooses life for us.  Yet, more than this when God chooses life for us in Christ God pours out the Holy Spirit to draw us into that life and open our hearts and minds to God’s presence.

Paul, in the part of his letter to the Corinthians that we read today, reminds the community there that knowledge and understanding of God and growth in faith lies beyond us and in God.  It is God who is the source of our understanding and our faith.  And thus it is to God our attention should be directed.

Many of you know that last year I attended a prayer retreat.   Within one of the prayer sessions the words that dropped into my mind were these ones from Psalm 121, “I look to the hills.  From where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

Now in ancient times what you found on the tops of hills were temples and shrines to the pantheon of gods of the other Middle Eastern religions and later also the Greco-Roman culture.  The Psalmist, however, did not want to be lead astray. His help was not going to come from any of these other gods, on the hills, and neither, dare I say, from all of the things that we might deify, but from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

In that moment of praying I felt I was being reminded that I too had to give time to pursuing the relationship God has gifted me more intentionally.  To choose life, to choose God.

As I was thinking about this, during the week, I recalled a great quote from Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden’

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...”

And not when I came to die to discover that I had not lived!  How do we put to rout all that is not life? 

God in Christ has chosen life for us.  God in the Spirit reveals this to us.  God in Christ and through the Spirit draws us in to living life in God and life in the world.

There is a validity to seeking time with God alone to centre yourself again on God.  To discover your life in Christ and as you do so to put to rout those things which stand in the road of that relationship with God. For me, this is very much what we are seeking to do in the Sunday night prayer group.  To learn to look to God more intentionally in our lives.  But lest we make our Christian mysticism an idol, some sort of pious prayer marathon, we are also reminded that Jesus’ life was lived for the sake of others.  The times of solitude in prayer and meditation as well as our times in gathered worship are to lead us into loving and serving others not isolating ourselves from others.

We are called to choose life 

As people for whom God has chosen life we have been set free from being those who are perishing to those who are living.  We live as we centre our life on the creator of heaven and earth.  We live as God pours the Spirit into our lives.  We live as we worship God.  We live as we love and serve others.

Moses words still ring true:

"Choose life so that you and your descendants may live."

So I too encourage you choose the life already chosen for you in Christ, choose life.

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