The Moment of Decision: A Reflection on Deuteronomy 30.15-20

For the past couple of weeks, our Sunday readings have focused on the essentials of our faith. This hasn’t been in terms of doctrine — no creeds or catechism — but in terms of our posture before God and the world. Two weeks ago, we looked at the common assessment in the Law, Prophets, and Writings of the Old Testament, and in the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels that it all boils down to love for God expressed tangibly in our love for others, and especially those the ways of this world exclude, marginalize, cast out, or neglect. And last week, we looked at how Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount applies this ethic to our spiritual lives — how it’s less about what we do than the orientation of our hearts.

All of this comes to a head for us in today’s first reading, Deuteronomy 30.15-20. Moses has just reminded the people of the Law which God had given to him and encouraged them to take up its challenge. Then he says this:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 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. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 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, 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.

The choice is put before them. They can follow the ways of life and prosperity, or they can follow the ways of death and struggle. The first brings blessings, the latter brings adversity. The choice is theirs.

Now, as Christians, we are in a different position with respect to the particulars. We are not under the Law that God gave to Moses, nor is the covenant God has made with us a land-based covenant, like the one Moses is talking about here. But again, the same principle applies throughout the Scriptures: There is a consistent call to love God and neighbour, a consistent exhortation to take up its challenge, and then a consistent moment of decision: Which path are we going to choose? Are we going to live into the ‘new creation’ or continue in the old? Are we going to live according to the ways of God’s kingdom, or are we going to go continue down the ways of this world? Are we going to love our neighbour as ourself, or are we going to retreat into comfort and look out for number one? Are we going to be as Christ to the world, or are we going to reject the vocation inherent in the name ‘Christian’?

And this is not a one-time decision. It’s one that must be made every day and in every interaction we have.

The Epistle reading today demonstrates this by way of a negative example. There, Paul is prevented from having a needful conversation with the Christians in Corinth because they’re behaving too immaturely to have it.

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3.1-9)

Here Paul wants to talk to them about important matters of the faith, and they’re too busy playing an apostolic version of ‘my dad can beat up your dad,’ dividing themselves on their preferred teachers. These are people who had made the decision to follow Jesus, who had been baptized and committed themselves to one another, and yet here they are lost in the weeds, acting like children, and missing the point entirely.

And so today, I’m going to keep this short. We’re just ten days now before the start of Lent, that time of year we set aside for intentional reflection on the state of our heart. It’s a perfect time to hear — to really pay attention — to these familiar words of our faith and make the decision once again to live them out.

He has shown you, o mortal, what is good and what the LORD requires of you: To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbour as yourself.

Blessed are the poor in spirit .. those who mourn … the meek … those who hunger and thirst for justice .. the merciful … the pure in heart … the peacemakers…

God has set before us the ways of life and the ways of death. Which do we choose?

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