These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
Our text today comes from a book that had been a long lost book for Israel. It has an interesting history.
A LOST BOOK: For many years, people had forgotten this book. It was lost somewhere in the temple. I don’t know if was put away on a back shelf, packed away in a box… or lost in a library of books that no one read. I don’t know how it was lost.
A FOUND BOOK: But one day, a priest was cleaning up the temple and discovered this book and its message. The priest took it to King Josiah who read it and was transformed by its message.
THE MESSAGE: It opened his eyes to what had been happening to his people. It explained why some things had gone so wrong for them over the years. It offered him wisdom about how to guide his nation and how to live. It reminded him of who they were, of their special relationship and covenant with God… and how they might find life.
On December 28, 1979 – I made one of the most important decisions of my life… next to my decision to profess faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. No decision has affected me for my entire life more than this decision. Before God and a congregation of family and friends this is what I said:
“I, Jody, take you, Sharon, to be my wedded wife; And I do promise and covenant; Before God and these witnesses; To be your loving and faithful husband; In plenty and in want; In joy and in sorrow; in sickness and in health; As long as we both shall live.”
And I am so glad Sharon said the same. We didn’t say, “and forsaking all others, to be faithful only to him/her as long as we both shall live.” I don’t think we needed to say it: it was implied.
For on that day of the best decision I ever made, we formed a covenant: That we would be bound to each other… and we agreed that we would not do other things: we would not date other people… we would not have affairs… we would not care only for ourselves… but we would care for the other person… and for the marriage. We would stick together when temptations came… the covenant would keep us faithful. When every moment was not a honeymoon, we would still stick together… knowing that marriage includes feelings, but it is more than feelings.
And the promise was that if we could stick together and be faithful through thick and thin… then we would look back at the end of our lives and we would say, “we were blessed.”
It was a choice we made. And it is a choice that has been life to me, and I am hoping life to Sharon.
Long ago, Israel had made a similar covenant with God. Truth is, you made the same covenant with God as well. Do you remember it? It was the day you professed your faith. You answered questions like this that involve choices:
“Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Do you turn to (choose) Jesus Christ, accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?
Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill your calling as a disciple of Jesus Christ?”
You know what that is, don’t you? It is a covenant. A promise. Not unlike a marriage promise, the promise Israel made to be in relationship with God, to turn from idols and sin, and to follow the sways of God.
In return, God promised them that if they would be his loving and faithful people through thick and thin… God would bless them… God said, if you make the choice that you will love me and love me alone – forsaking all others—the idols, the seductive fertility god called Baal… If you would choose me and follow in my ways, you will find your life is blessed.
But you know what happened, don’t you? Israel had an affair. Actually, they had a series of affairs. Israel forgot their promises, their covenant with God. The ink was not dry, so to speak on the 10 commandments … the wedding was not even over… before we find them dancing with a golden calf. Over time, they gave God their lip service… they went to the temple, they offered sacrifices… but on the side, they dated the other gods of the culture. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too!They slept with the temple prostitutes. They made a lot of bad choices.
And as we know, they would pay the price. They would live in exile… they would weep for their sins… They would look back and regret the bad choices they had made.
Which is no surprise. It is my experience, and maybe it is yours, that sin and bad choices lead to death and despair and regret.They usually look good at the moment… they are tempting… which is why we call them temptations… but in the end they lead to despair and destruction.
If you don’t believe me, ask the person or the couple where there has been an affair. How it started out feeling good. That’s why they call it seduction. But in the end, it led to its own hell. Or ask the alcoholic or substance abuser. In the beginning, the choice felt so good… who would it hurt?
But as time goes on, they will tell you that it was a choice that led to despair and death… not only for them, but for the people they love. They can tell you who it hurts.
Choices have consequences. That wisdom is as old as our text today. Hear about that wisdom again from the CEV version as Moses speaks:
15Today I am giving you a choice. You can choose life and success or death and disaster. 16-18I am commanding you to be loyal to the LORD, to live the way he has told you, and to obey his laws and teachings. You are about to cross the Jordan River and take the land that he is giving you. If you obey him, you will live and become successful and powerful.
On the other hand, you might choose to disobey the LORD and reject him. So I’m warning you that if you bow down and worship other gods, you won’t have long to live.
19Right now I call the sky and the earth to be witnesses that I am offering you this choice. Will you choose for the LORD to make you prosperous and give you a long life? Or will he put you under a curse and kill you? Choose life!
20Be completely faithful to the LORD your God, love him, and do whatever he tells you. The LORD is the only one who can give life, and he will let you live a long time in the land that he promised to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Moses is urging his people to make the choice for life. He knows that many of the choices we make will be life changing ones. Some lead to death and demise.
And what he so longs for his people… what God so longs for us… is that we make the choices that will lead us to life…. And to help us avoid the choices that lead to our demise.
Of course, the Lord knows this is hard for us. I think the Lord really knows. Jesus faced the temptations we face: power, prestige, food, security… We have temptations to put about everything else in our lives before God. Lord knows the choices we make between God and everything else in our culture are hard choices.
God has watched his very own, beloved children make bad choice, after bad choice, after bad choice. God has seen us suffer the consequences. And it seems that God does not always save us from the consequences of our choices… But that does not mean God has forgotten us or has given up on us. Or fails to love us.
I think of the story of the prodigal son who made the choice to take his inheritance and run for the bright lights and fast living of the city. Only to end up homeless and unemployed on the streets. The father let him go. But the father was also waiting with love when the son made another choice… to come home… to be with his father.
Some think the book of Deuteronomy was finalized while Israel was living in exile… suffering from their bad choices. And in that context, the message of the book was a word of grace to people may have wondered if God had given up on them. Left them to suffer forever the consquences of their actions. But God offers a second chance. God is a God of second chances, it seems.
The message God is sending sounds like this to me:
“I know you have made bad choices… and you are paying the price… I know you have broken your vows… and you have suffered… But you still have a choice… you can still choose life… I have never stopped loving you.”
God, it seems will stick with us better than we stick with God. When we are ready to make better choices, God is more than ready to forgive… to redeem… to do what God always does—to take chaos and create something beautiful… to take brokenness and make us whole… to take death I see this happen in marriages from time to time. Marriage is hard work. Relationships are hard work. The hardest work is the work of redemption and forgiveness.
I think of a couple I know whose marriage was strained by substance abuse. But in this case, the wife stuck with the husband through the worst of it. When I asked her why, she said, “because I knew him before he was an alcoholic… and I knew who he really was.” And through that crisis, I observe a marriage that is healthier and stronger than most I know.
Sometimes, not very often, but sometimes I am asked to renew marriage vows. Often it is for a 25thor 50thanniversary. But there is another time when a minister is often asked. After a couple has gone through a difficult period that has put a strain on their relationship, they want to renew their covenant… as a way to strengthen their resolve and commitment to one another. The vow often sounds something like this:
“Jane/John in the past I have taken you for granted. I have put others before you. I have done things I am not proud of. And I have often been wrong.
On the other hand, somewhere within me, I have always loved you though I did not act like it. I am here today to move forward with a renewed commitment to you, our love, and our lives together. I pledge that from this day forward you will be my number one priority…It is because of you that I am here today and I vow to give you all that I am…”
No matter where we are today in our relationship with God… no matter how we have failed to live up to our promises… know this: God has not given up on us. God still offers us a choice. Remember your covenant with God. And choose life. Choose life. Amen.