Choose Life

By Bill Lang

Companies use taglines to express the importance or the core idea of their products or services. It is a mini statement about business.  

Choose Life – what an amazing and compelling tagline. You can see the marketers at work; They could apply this catchy phrase to just about anything. 
Choose Life – your new home in Googong awaits you. Or  
Choose Life – with a holiday in Hawaii.  
Choose Life – with the SunnyDale Retirement Village. 

The options are pretty easy if is just a binary choice – being alive or – the other one. 

But the people who heard these words would have known that they meant choose life with God at its heart…

If there was any doubt about this, Moses spells it out with a very neat summary:

First the promise Choose life so that your descendants may live,
and then the how – loving God, obeying him and clinging to Him.

The life envisaged here with God at its centre, seems to be starkly different to the world that is part of our lived reality -or at least that world we often see depicted in our newspapers and on television news. Bad news dominates; bad people dominate; bad choices dominate. It is almost to the point that I am not greatly encouraged to watch the news or grab a paper to read.

What is in a person’s motivations when they take up an automatic weapon to kill innocent worshippers in churches and mosques, or folks in shopping malls.

We see people killed in war zones;
We see the cost of rebuilding homes and whole communities after the summer fires, and then floods,
we have a world where it is up to children marching in the streets to highlight inaction on climate change.
we see an economy that does quite well for people who already have a lot, and not so well for people on the margins…
… and I can’t help thinking – what are the drivers – the motivators, that creates this world of contention, of polarisation anger, poor decisions, inequality and poverty.

A possible answer is power – power over one’s own or other people’s lives.
Or greed – the compulsion to accumulate way beyond any possible perceived need.

Or selfishness – the compulsion to relegate the needs of others – family, neighbours, colleagues – last.

Maybe this is the course for people who choose – not life, but the other one.
Our imperative then, is to Choose Life – an obvious choice perhaps?
If given the option of life and blessings or death and curses, we would naturally and enthusiastically choose life!

But the command: “Choose life” is more than a decision to keep on breathing.
Moses in asking people to choose life, goes on to suggest how you might choose: “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by
loving the Lord your God,
walking in his ways, and
observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances,
then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.

First, choosing life involves loving God. Deuteronomy presents this love as much more than an emotion. The ancient reader would certainly know the earlier statement from this book: “You shall love The Living God with all your heart, and with all your self, and with all your might.”
Love is depicted as a whole person experience involving heart, the seat of intelligence and conscience as well as body. To love God is not to have a purely intellectual or emotional experience. Likewise, choosing life involves more. It involves a wholehearted commitment to be and to do.

Second, choosing life involves walking in the ways of God and listening to the voice of God – often stated as being obedient. Here we have the general, biblical images of discipleship. The psalmist uses this same image of walking to conjure up notions of following and listening: “Happy are those who do not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the path of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers, but delight in the Law of God.” (Psalm 1)
We often view obedience as submissive or uncritical in nature. Yet, here we see obedience as a response to God’s covenant. It is active — walking and listening and doing.

Third, choosing life involves keeping God’s commands and holding fast to God.
What can we mean by clinging to or holding fast to God?
I think of clinging as holding on to something secure, for example a mast in a storm, or a child clinging to a parent when afraid or uncertain. To me, it is about relationship – the sure knowledge of security and trust and faithfulness.

It reminds us that the Israelites were also expected to act in appropriate ways in relationship toward each other and God. The commands were not burdensome or impossible, as they are often viewed in Christianity, but a way to remain faithful, and to respond to God’s initiative in our lives.

In the Gospel reading, Matthew has Jesus engaging the Ten Commandments and we can see that Jesus’ interpretation of these commandments stands on the side of life.

Jesus’ listeners would hardly have needed reminding of the great commandments – the Ten Commandments; he calls them to obey as a way to choose life.
Jesus is not just reminding is followers of the law. Rather he is re-emphasising (or a word I read this week on the text says “intensifying”) – you have heard it said, he says, but I say to you. He emphasises that what is in our minds and hearts, is just as important as the words on our lips and the deeds of our hands.
And so, Jesus condemns:
those who nurse anger;
those who despise people with arrogance and contempt,
those who destroy another’s good name –
as murderers at heart.
He declares that the lustful look is already adultery in the sight of God.
He focuses on the inner attitude of the heart which is what really shapes our outward actions.
He tells us that true worship is not just a matter of what we do,
but of what and who we are.

There has to be a Godly orientation of our lives. He repeats the warning of the great Hebrew prophets that we cannot come into a right relationship with God if we are in a wrong relationship with one another.

The late Henri Nouwen, had a serious accident a number of years ago and he wrote some reflections on the experience. At that time, he fully expected to die and was genuinely surprised to wake up in hospital. He wrote:
I had an immediate sense of being sent – sent to make the all-embracing love of God known to people who hunger and thirst for love but who often look for it in a world where it cannot be found. I realise that making God’s love known is not primarily a question of words, arguments, language or methods. What is at stake here is a way of being in the truth that no longer persuades but witnesses. (Henri Nouwen, Beyond the Mirror)

If we truly want to be vital, life-giving witnesses of Jesus Christ, then our lives, like Henri Nouwen’s, have to be grounded in that heart-love of Jesus. A love that not only enhances the lives of others, but indeed, wonderfully – our own.

So, we don’t really have any choice – do we – about how we live as Christians.

Jesus was concerned with reversing situations in which people were being manipulated or where they were enduring relationships that created a lessening of self-worth.

Above all Jesus emphasised the justice which allows people to live in relationships which enhance their self-esteem, not diminish it
That’s what we take from these readings from the Sciptures – that we are created to know the fullness of life that Moses offered the people of Israel, and that Jesus promised

…a fullness we can achieve as we intentionally try to love one another as he loves us, and to see Jesus in the faces and lives of those around us…
So let’s sing about these things… 681 – Lord let me see

Photo of Bill Lang

Written by Bill Lang

Bill Lang is secretary of the church council and convenor of the communications group. He has been a regular preacher at TUC since he and Jenny joined the congregation in 1975. He is a presbytery representative, and a member of the Karralika outreach team and the Child Care Advisory Group.

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