When I was a freshman at St. Olaf College a group of us went to dinner at the Ground Round. This hamburger place had sawdust on the floor and free peanuts.. For college students it was a little upscale- they had more than burgers on the menu there were choices. One of my dorm mates from a very small town in Wisconsin got very flustered when it came time to order. There were too many questions and too many choices. She ordered a hamburger - the waiter asked how did she want it cooked? Did she want cheese? What type? Fries or baked potato? And then the question that seemed to confuse her and tip her patience and discomfort over the edge…soup or salad?
"Soup or salad? What are you asking me? I ordered the cheeseburger” she said with a tone of great frustration. We all looked at mild mannered Cathy as she seemed to have come undone. We then realized she didn’t understand her choices at this place- that the soup or salad was included with her hamburger. Later we came to learn Cathy had only ever eaten out at the little local diner in her small town and fast food places. Her previous life experience hadn’t included these types of choices. She did’t understand the choices. Choosing in this manner was new for her and overwhelming.
Choices. Everyday we make 100’s and probably even 1000’s of choices. Some are automatic. Some we are familiar making. Choosing to get out of bed at a certain time, brush our teeth, drink water. There are also the choices of the thoughts that we entertain when our eyes open. Choosing if we listen to those thoughts or try to think different thoughts. Do I respond to the barking dog or pretend to be asleep to see if my husband will wake up and call the dog? Choices. A choice in each moment-some conscious, some unconscious, many semi-conscious. Choices are being made all day long. Some choices are unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
Choose life. It seems straight forward, simple, clear. Yet these two words from Deuteronomy 30:19 have a context. They are not just
a bumper sticker. These two words are connected to the context of the sentence that proceeds it and the context of people who are being prepared to enter the Promised Land. These two words begin a long sentence that continues through verse 20.
“19 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, 20 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.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20
Reflecting on choosing life “so that you and your descendants may live”; I put verse 20 into a list, Choosing life looks like this:
Loving the Lord your God.
Holding fast to God.
Then the semicolon. A semicolon signifies a more pronounced pause than a comma. Verse twenty is the middle of a sentence that continues with this after the semicolon, “this 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.”
Loving the Lord your God, obeying God and holding fast to God means choosing life? These are intended to mean life to us and length of days? These are the choices of life and blessings, instead of death and curses? Yes.
Today we are each making a lot of choices. There are choices of all sized and impacts. Reflecting on Deuteronomy 30:15-20 this question comes to mind, what are my choices revealing about me? Am I choosing life? What at first glance seems so simple unpacks many layers. Priorities, particularities, nuances, subtleties…layered below my choices. These words spoken by Moses to the people prior to them entering the promised land were spoken to them as a community.
Together they had escaped Egypt walking across the Red Sea as dry land. Together they were provided manna and quail in the wilderness. Together they witnessed Moses come down from the mountain with the gift of the Law. Together they built a golden calf for safety, security and to have something to worship. Together they worshipped other gods and were unfaithful to the One who brought them out of slavery. Now on the brink of the end of their wilderness time of wandering they are given these instructions: love the Lord your God, obey God, and hold fast to God. Choose life.
That which they did not do before when the were too busy trying to be like their neighbors worshiping a golden calf, complaining about the monotony of the manna and walking around in circles they are called to choose this time. Choose that which means life and length of days. Choose life and blessings.
How about we choose this also? How about together we love the Lord our God, obey God and hold fast to God? To make these choices we will need to make room for them and give up on some other choices.
Letting go of disregard for God and trying to be the ones “large and in charge” we will choose instead to follow directions and listen for instructions. Instead of holding on to our possessions and those things that can possess us, we will hold fast to God. We will allow ourselves to be freed from the bondage of sin of which we cannot free ourselves and we will bind ourselves to God, holding fast-cleaving to this love that never lets us go even as we waver and wander and are wishy-washy.
Today let us commit together to be awake, aware and alive in choosing. Choosing life. Choosing blessing. Choosing love. Choosing obedience. Choosing to hold fast. Together this day we choose that which means life and length of days that we may live in the land the Lord swore to our ancestors.