Rev. Paul J Cain
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 08 September 2013, Proper 18C
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
About the Cover: God’s will for His baptized people remains the same always: “I have set before you today life. . . . Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19). Just as a mother welcomes and rejoices in her baby, so the Lord urges us to welcome and rejoice in the life of faith in Christ that the Holy Spirit has caused to be born in us through the hearing of the Word and the waters of Holy Baptism, that we might grow up in Him, loving Him above all earthly ties.
God’s will for His people in Deuteronomy is His will for us, His baptized people here and now. Our land has been given to us as a great blessing of abundance, protection, and freedom to worship Him according to Holy Scripture and not merely human conscience. In hearing the Word of the Lord again from Deuteronomy 30, do not confuse the Promised Land of God’s ancient people with our nation. Yet, the warning of the law against turning away and the consequence of perishing remains the same.
15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 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. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
Our temptation as American Christians and as Lutheran Christians is to put our focus on the word “choose.” Theologically, the term “choose” is used here in a sanctification sense rather than a justification sense. In other words, the choosing intended here would be part of living the Christian life rather than conversion or becoming a Christian.
The truly most important word in the text is the word “life.” The most important action done in the text isn’t by the people, nor would it be by us. The Lord Himself is the one who loves us, He who gives us His Word for our correction, comfort, and redirection, the only true God, the only being worthy of worship, the Savior and giver of life and all that we need to support this body and life.
Life is what the Lord gave in creation. Life is the gift He gave to Adam and then to Eve. Even her name, “Eve,” means “life giver” and mother of all living. Every human on this planet is descended from Eve and Adam. Life was the Lord’s gift to them. Death is their gift to us because of their sin.
Life is the gift God gave to all people, yet they rejected His intention and His gifts and ate, drank, and made merry. Life was God’s gift to Noah and his family, only eight souls in all saved from the Flood in God’s holy ark. Life was the Lord’s gift to Noah’s descendants. Even many of them fell away, rejecting life in the Lord, choosing a false life of worship of false gods they themselves invented, many so-called “ways” that are but a a single way that leads to death.
The Lord chose Abram and Sarai, renaming them Abraham and Sarah and promising them life in Himself. Isaac was promised and delivered, new life from two as good as dead, Scripture says. Isaac was the father of Jacob, also known as Israel. The Lord blessed the nation of Israel, the twelve tribes descended from Jacob so that they would be a blessing to the nations around them. The Lord always preserved a faithful remnant in Israel, but the majority seemed to fall away again and again, choosing death in the ways of sin, self, and society rather than life in the Lord and the promised Son of Man, Son of God, and Lord of Life, Christ.
We have much to learn from the counter-example of God’s ancient people, the sinner-saints of every time and place, and from one another today. We could learn from the mistakes of others. Instead, we, too often choose death in the ways of sin, self, and society rather than the path of life that is Jesus Christ our Lord.
Idols remain today. It could be the false god of Islam, a golden Buddha, eastern mysticism, modern secular humanism, agnosticism or mere apathy. All exalt someone or something in the rightful place of the Lord your God.
Our Lord Jesus even warns us against idolizing other human beings. Athletes, actors, and pop stars and their devotees are easy to identify, criticize, rebuke, and call back home to worship of the one true God. It is definitely more dangerous for a modern preacher or even our Lord to criticize worship of a more seemingly innocuous and acceptable kind, at least in our society as well as the ancient world: worship of family. Some worship ancestors. Others worship the living.
I remember a conference in this very district of the LCMS where a guest speaker and preacher supposedly went too far. His “sin” in the eyes of some? He called parents to repentance for idolizing their own children! He called upon parents to bring up their own children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord as St. Paul urges us yet today in Ephesians 6.
And this preacher had the unmitigated gall (please take note of the sarcasm) to call out parents who allowed their children to run the household by determining acceptable meal options, nearly all choices of entertainment, his or her own bedtimes, and saddest of all, whether the family went to Bible Class, Church, and Sunday School based on whether the child felt like it or not!
Children in every time and place have plenty of people available to be their friend or “buddy.” Parents are given to be parents, especially when it is not popular with the child. You shall have no other gods—not even your own family! This is the meaning of Jesus’ words in Luke 14: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…” You shall have no other gods—not even your own family!
Deuteronomy 30 has the same warning as the First Commandment: 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish… Yes. That is the Word of the Lord. And it is heavy Law. And Law is not the final Word for the baptized people of God.
19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days… God is your life and length of days. Christ is your life and your length of days. Yes! This is the Word of the Lord! And it is Gospel. It is possible only because of the fulfilled promise of a Savior and Lord of Life, Jesus, the crucified and Resurrected One!
We are not promised a mere patch of dirt on this third rock from the sun, nor are we promised collective or political salvation as the American people, but something far more important, comforting, and enduring. Our Promised Land in Jesus Christ is Eternal Life—Heaven with Him! You are given daily bread, all you need to support this body and life. You are given Life in Jesus in reconciliation with God and one another in the forgiveness of your sins. And you have life eternal as a gift in Jesus where and when you will dwell with Christ and also Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the heavenly host of saints.
TLSB: The Lord’s declaration to His people to choose life is inseparable from His covenant of grace that He established with them. Israel’s history clearly demonstrates that they spurned the life God had reserved for them through His grace, pursuing death instead. Consequently, by rejecting God’s grace, they rejected the length of days God promised to those who love the Lord, walk in His ways, and keep His commands. 
Life is yours only in Christ. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.