“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
We are surrounded by choices. Every day is filled with them. Some are more important than others. This past Tuesday voters agonized over who to vote for in the New Hampshire primary. It was reported that they were so conflicted that many couldn’t make up their minds until they finally walked into the voting booth.
Other choices are not as consequential. One would be where we do our grocery shopping. Last Sunday after church, Sharon and I went into Northampton to return a few unused items that had been purchased for the Youth Group Spaghetti Supper. I go up to the Courtesy Counter at Big Y to return a couple of jars of Parmesan Cheese.
This is when the lady behind the Courtesy Counter was very courteous to me. She had a bit of a smirk on her face, but other than the quite understandable smirk, she was very understanding when she informed me that the Parmesan Cheese that I was trying to return to Big Y, was actually the generic Stop and Shop brand that I had purchased at, logically, Stop and Shop.
I was embarrassed and apologized, but she took it in stride. I don’t think the choice of grocery stores was a life-defining choice even for the Big Y employee.
Another choice that lies in-between the level of importance of these two examples is the choice to save … that is to save your work on the computer. I’m home typing today’s sermon. Not very far along. My needy dog gets off the couch and comes over for some attention. I pet him for a bit and then I turn back to the computer.
Mason, my dog, was not satisfied. He tried to stand-up and lean on my lap, but my lap was covered by the computer’s keyboard. I don’t know what the beast hit on the keyboard, but he hit something that closed down Microsoft Word. When I brought it back up again, maybe the last two or three sentences I had typed were gone.
So, talking about the choice to save, let’s move on to this morning’s readings, which are about a more significant kind of saving. The selection that Wunderly read for us from the Book of Deuteronomy is a closing statement at the end of the books of Law.
There are five books of Torah, Jewish Law, that stand at the beginning of the Bible. There are the first four, and then the fifth is a retelling of the Law. That’s where the word Deuteronomy comes from. It’s the second telling of Torah. And today’s selection is at the end of the Law and the re-telling of the Law.
This is the context for Moses’ statement when he testifies to the whole people of God: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life …”
This is a stark declaration. God has endowed us with the ability to think for ourselves and to choose for ourselves. We have the capability to over-ride our instincts and to choose how we will live.
I accept the science of evolution. I accept survival of the fittest as the best explanation for the diversity of creation that we witness. I believe this process continues even today.
But I also believe that we have the God-given blessing of choice, that we can think beyond our survival instinct and that we can imagine a better alternative, that we can choose morality, that, in Moses’ words, we can “choose life.”
Morality is the counter-intuitive notion that we should act for the good and benefit of the many, possibly even the all, rather than just for myself. To choose morality over instinct raises us up and helps us walk that path that leads to higher truths, but it also leads to blessings here and now. Morality lets us choose life.
When I first moved back to Western Massachusetts in 1988, I left the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. I remember talking to a woman from Montague at the time. I don’t remember the context of our conversation, but she told me that she never locked her house. The door was always left unlocked. If she went out, when she went to bed for the night, the door was never locked.
You wouldn’t do this in Scranton, and I remember being surprised by her never locking the house. But in Montague, she felt safe enough to not have to worry about someone entering her home to do anything bad.
When enough people in society choose morality, it changes life. When enough people would never dare imagine walking into someone else’s home without permission, our lifestyle is so much healthier than when we must enforce morality with more police or more guns or whatever.
When we choose morality, we choose life – not only eternal life, but the life we lead right now. Morality is a blessing. It transforms life. It repairs our broken world. It makes us kinder.
Morality can’t be enforced anywhere near as well as it can be embraced. This is part of what Jesus is getting at in this morning’s passage from the Gospel as we continue to read the Sermon on the Mount. The Torah, the Law, is explicit in its treatment of acts of violence such as murder or rape. And I use the word rape intentionally because often times in the ancient world, and sadly too often today, adultery was often just rape with the blame thrown on the woman as well.
But Jesus pushes morality beyond just what we do. He digs deeper. Jesus goes to the root of what may eventually lead to violent actions.
This is why Jesus talks about the sin of anger and the sin of lust, even when they only lurk in our thoughts and have not yet broken out as actions.
Jesus is trying to convert us from the inside out. He’s trying to help us choose morality, to choose life, not as something imposed, but as a choice embraced.
We have choices to make every day. Some important. Others not so much. But church is a choice that helps us choose life. Church can help save us from ourselves. Church preaches morality, and morality moves us beyond instinct, and morality lets us work for a greater and shared good.
It is such a blessing to choose life. It frees us from the meanness and selfishness of the world. It gives us hope that we can repair the world and make it kinder.
So like Moses said thousands of years ago, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life …”
May we seek more than survival. May we choose life. And may our shared faith as this church community help us nurture the awesome privilege of our freedom to choose, and our freedom to choose kindness. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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