Pastor Walther / February 12, 2017 / Deuteronomy 30:15-20 / The Lord is your life / Epiphany 6
“First, you get thirsty. You wake up thinking about water. You go to bed thinking about water. You dream of water. You wonder, “Am I drinking enough water?” Two liters a day. Or is that three? Just drink. Because “if you’re thirsty, it’s too late.” Next, you get hungry. And you stay hungry. Your first few days in the desert, you have remnants of the city, a bit of cookie, an apple. You've outwitted the desert. But then the desert wins. You’re left to the ground, which is a cruel resort. Food, like water, becomes a symbol of salvation. Finally you get tired. You get tired of the heat, of the cold. But mostly you get tired of the sand. Sand is relentless. It goes through your shoes, through your socks, and lodges in between your toes. It infiltrates your food, sticks onto your teeth, and passes into your stomach. Spend enough time in the desert, and you begin to see that nothing is quite what it seems to be.”
Those words came from Bruce Feiler, a photo-journalist who decided to take pictures of Biblical areas that the Israelites would have traveled through in their trek from Egypt to the promised land. Everything around the photographer seemed like death, a barren wasteland. Imagine living in conditions like that for forty years, like Moses and the Israelites did. Moses reviews the history of that kind of living in this book that has a hard to say name, Deuteronomy. It was purely out of grace that God made Israel his people. But, he now was speaking to a different generation of Israelites than those that had come out of Egypt and had received the wonderful promises and commandments on Mount Sinai. It was time for this new generation to renew their commitments to God. And so, Moses repeats the conditions of their covenant with God, hence the name Deuteronomy, which means “repetition of the law.”
These words that we hear from Moses come at the end of those forty years wandering in the desert and having sand in their food. They would soon enter the promised land. Moses, however, was unable to enter the promised land because he had not listened to God at the incident when the water came from the rock in a miraculous fashion. Up until this point, the Israelites hadn’t really done much without Moses. He was always there instructed by God and leading them, whether they liked it or not. So here, before the nation goes on without him, Moses gives his final sermon and final encouragement. Moses informs them that they were coming up to a fork in the road, that there were only two possible options from here, life or death. In other words, life with God, or death with the barrenness of the world and it’s temptations, like the death they experienced in the desert. It seems so simple for life to be boiled down to an either-or situation, but obviously Moses pleads with his people, choose life! It’s important to remember that Moses wasn’t speaking to unbelievers to choose God, because we can’t just up and decide to become Christian. Faith comes before the choice. Moses was speaking to believers who know God and his commandments.
We might hear these words from Moses and question if he is sort of overstating his case. I mean is it really a life and death matter? Is it really a life and death matter if we skip church to watch some sporting events or even play in them? Is it really a life and death matter if we don’t read our bibles? Is it really a life and death matter if we look at pornography once in a while? Is it really a life and death matter if I hold a grudge against my family member that ruined my life that one time? Is it really a life and death matter if I want things done my way instead of always having to listen to other people?
Interestingly, if I hadn’t listened to one young man, once, I probably would have died. Blue mountain was my favorite recreation area in Missoula, Montana. I used to mountain bike and hike around there all the time. One time, I decided in the early spring to drive up the dirt road to go hike around. Unfortunately, the higher I got the worse the road got, the icier the conditions got, and the deeper the ruts. My car started slowing down, and the tires started to spin. I knew if I could only make it up another 30 yards there was a turn-around area. Unfortunately I didn’t make it any farther.
Can’t you just imagine Moses spinning his tires trying to get his people to the promised land, so close and yet so far away? All the problems along the way. All the hunger, all the thirst, all the complaining. People would love God, then they’d hate him. Even Moses himself wouldn’t be able to step into that promised land, because of his actions. But was it really life or death?
I started going backwards on this mountain road with nothing but the mountain on one side of me and a drop off on the other. By this point, all I could do was try to slow my speed down going backwards as I was aiming for the turn around area behind me another 50 yards. Unfortunately I didn’t make that either as my car spun side ways with my front up against the mountain and the tail of my car only a few feet from the cliff, only a few feet from certain death. I was teetering on the point of either life or death. Was it really a life and death matter when I thought I could make it up to that turnaround point on the mountain as my tires kept spinning on the ice, and then as I’m going backwards? Yes, yes it was!
Moses reminds us of the two options. God sets before us life and anything else is certain death. Moses says that if our hearts turn away from God, we will certainly die. Moses isn’t just saying physical death, but even worse, spiritual death. When we continue to put our priorities before God, when we fail to hear what God’s Word has to say, the life of our faith is on the line and it can die. If our lives should end in 50 years or 50 minutes and our faith is dead, eternal death and not heaven is sitting there waiting with open arms. That isn’t the life that God had intended for us. He didn't want us to live our lives looking like death and choosing a life of sin that leads to death. We are confronted with decisions each and every day that can have life and death consequences to our spiritual lives.
If I would have tried to get myself un-wedged from that spot on the mountain, I probably wouldn’t be here today. My back end of the car probably would have gone straight down the mountain. But of all the people to be out and about from the city, also enjoying nature, was one of the college kids who was a member at my church. He was down at that turn around 50 yards away. He was able to get his car up close enough to mine with straps to attach to the car. I had to listen exactly to the commands he was giving so that we both didn’t go down the mountain. I held on to every word of his because I would have died if I didn’t.
We make so many poor spiritual decisions in this life that could lead us down to a nasty grave, even when we want to do better. But, Moses gives us directions to life. The word for “life” that Moses speaks of isn’t the idea of “life” like your heart beating and your breathing and your brain waves, even though God does give that to us. But, the idea of “life” that Moses is describing is something we are always searching for as a human race: earthly happiness and contentment, but most importantly knowing God and having spiritual peace and happiness.
The directions of Moses are a simple one: the Lord is your life. Jesus himself said, “I have come that they might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).” In Jesus, we have the fullness of life with God. Isn’t it amazing to know that we don’t have to strive for those ideas of happiness in this world and knowing God because Jesus won those through the perfect decisions that he made while he lived on this earth and he simply gives them to us. How awesome to know he always made the right choice that would serve his Father in heaven and was for the good of his people. Even more interesting is that that Jesus chose the road of death and destruction to bring us life. That’s what we have in Jesus: forgiveness for our sins and forgiveness for our poor decision making. Jesus gives to us life with God and the certainty of eternal life in heaven. There our physical lives and our spiritual lives will come together without battling against each other. What a difference that’s makes for us as our questions about our soul, the universe, and death itself are answered!
Moses encourages us to cling and hold fast to the only one who gives life, to Jesus. This idea of clinging sometimes uses the idea of physical proximity. In fact, this is the same word that is used in Genesis 2:24 when it says that a man is united with his wife. We want to be united with God so close and we want to have God’s word always physically close to us, be it a bible or a bible app on your phone, or the time of grace devotional videos, that we might be able to be strengthened in our faith and strengthened to make those better decisions that reflect that God is our life. We want to be so close to God to listen to God’s voice and to hear his word, for it is through the gospel that the Holy Spirit works saving faith in the heart that then is so happy to follow Jesus and live for him.
That member of mine in Montana brought me to life as we slid our cars down to the turn around. He gave me some good sermon material that Sunday and I guess it keeps giving. Christ is the one who gives to us life. We aren’t missing out on the fun of this world because we delight in the Lord. We don’t have to feel labored in having to go to church, because we get to go to church! God reminds us that we have it so much better off than the wilderness of sin and death around us, where we get the sand of sin stuck in our teeth. This really is a life and death matter! But we have the Lord! Cling to him and his word as close as you can because the Lord is our life. Amen.