St. John's Episcopal Church

St. John's, Centreville
February 16, 2020
6 Epiphany A
Matt. 5:21-37, Deut. 30:15-20
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen  
     "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God....then you shall live. But if your heart turns will perish." So begins our Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy. This is part of Moses' farewell speech to his people as he leads them to the brink of the Promised Land. Moses reminds the Israelites what they have been through - slavery in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, receiving the 10 commandments, and wandering in the wilderness. They are now on the edge of the Jordan River and are ready to cross into the Promised Land.
     But Moses won't be going with them. He can see the Promised Land, but he won't be setting foot in it. God has told him, that at age 120, he is about to die. But he wants to tell the people one more time about how they should live, how they should follow God's commandments.
     Moses tells the Israelites that they have a choice - life and prosperity, or death and adversity. If they choose God, they will have an abundant life, not necessarily of material things, but of inner peace, God's presence, and love for one's neighbor. God never promises to the Israelites, or to us, that life will be easy. They have been wandering in the wilderness for a long time. They have complained about the lack of variety of the food that God gives them, a lack of water, a long, arduous trip, and the leadership of Moses himself. But God has been with them throughout all the trials and tribulations. God will continue to be with them, if the Israelites choose to remain with God. If they choose otherwise, there will be death and adversity - perhaps not physical death, but life without God would not be much of a life at all. We choose death when we ignore God and the way God wants us to live. It can be a slow process of turning away from God and toward things that are not good for us, not life-giving.
     Moses spells out what it means to choose life and prosperity. It means loving God with one's heart and soul and mind. In other parts of the 26 chapters of Moses' farewell speech, Moses tells them what it means to live this kind of God-centered life - by canceling the debts of the poor, offering hospitality to strangers, paying employees fairly, and leaving part of the harvest in the field for the poor who need food.
     When Moses reviewed their past, he saw that life was best for the Israelites when they were trying to please God. Moses points that out, but also tells them that they have a choice - life and death, prosperity or adversity, following God or following false gods, taking care of only oneself or taking care of others.
     When Moses went up on the mountain to talk to God and to receive the 10 commandments, the Israelites who are waiting at the bottom of the mountain for him to return, get impatient and restless. So they collected their jewelry, melted it, and made a golden calf out of it, a god in their own image that they can control. Even though God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea so they could escape from the Egyptians, led them through the wilderness to the promised land, still the Israelites did not want to serve God. It was too hard. God's expectations were too high. They wanted to be in control of their own lives. It would be so much easier and convenient to have a small god, a golden calf statue that they could carry with them in their pocket.
     When Moses returns from the mountaintop, he is not pleased, to say the least. He smashes the golden calf and grinds it into dust and makes the people drink it. He is so angry that he smashes the tablets containing the 10 commandments from God and then has to go back up the mountain to get another copy. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry once said, "God was furious as well because God saw them hurting themselves and others. God saw them as self-centered which can lead to the destruction of the community and of the world."
     The Israelites were not the only people to worship false gods. Many of us do it today. Author Barbara Brown Taylor says, "Look at our checkbooks (or credit card statements). What we spend the most money on could be an indication of what we worship. Look at our calendars. What gets the largest percentage of our time? Time is even more precious than money. When it comes time for rest or prayer time or worship, what gets in our way of doing that? What gets in the way of our putting God first? Whatever that is, that may be our golden calf."
     She continues, "A job provides security. A house provides comfort. A portfolio provides protection. A relationship provides safety. A position in the community provides power. A car promises prestige. These can be our golden calves." 1.
     None of them are bad things, in and of themselves. We need to have a job and a home and a car. But when we rely on them, and ourselves because we have these things, we don't rely on God. They cannot and will not be God. Golden calves, or things, do not stand with us when we have health problems, or have lost a job, or had a relationship that ended, when we are hurting and in need.
     But God is with us to help us and lift us up and give us strength. God wants us to have an abundant life, to live life to its fullest, which is not to say it is always easy. The life that God wants for us has little to do with power or comfort, or prestige or security. It has to with where our hearts are, where our love for one another is, how we treat ourselves and our neighbor, how we use the gifts that God has given us.
     Moses says to the Israelites that they must choose life or death, to follow God or to follow false idols. Moses is not going to be guiding them or making decisions for them any longer. It is up to them to make their own decision. They must choose.
     God wants the best for us, not necessarily the easiest or most comfortable or most secure. God wants us to live life to the fullest, to enjoy all that God has given us - our lives, the beauty that surrounds us, our relationships with those we love, the gifts each one of us has, the love that God has put in our hearts.
     God gives us freedom and allows us to choose to follow God and God's commandments, or not. God gave that choice to the Israelites and God gives that choice to each one of us.
     Choose this day whom you will serve. May we choose God each day, each hour, each minute; choosing an abundant, grace filled life. Amen.
  1. Gospel Medicine by Barbara Brown Taylor, pg 126
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