Choose life in the broadest, most liberating sense.
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: (Deuteronomy 30:19: KJV)
This verse is often being used to forbid women their right to personal decision-making under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in consultation with family, friends, spiritual counselors, and medical specialists regarding the narrow issue of abortion.
The invitation to choose life actually pertains to the command in verse two “to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways…”
Manuscript of the sermon preached on February 12, 2023, at Briensburg UMC [Audio Podcast]
6th Sunday after the Epiphany Bible Readings:
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-26
[Video of readings by Briensburg UMC lectors]
Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered this same choice with the metaphor of a gate and pathway:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 KJV).
Interpret the Bible from the perspective of Jesus.
But I say unto you… (Matthew 5:22a, )
This whole next section of the Sermon on the Mount, starting with today’s reading and going through the end of Matthew chapter 5, is a series of counterpoints to the traditional way of approaching the concept of the Law. Any religious or secular law establishes boundaries. Traditionally, people then press the envelope on those boundaries, testing them to see how much they can get away with, how far they can go without actually crossing the line between keeping or breaking the law – or at least without getting caught. So then the law is redefined to allow some transgressions and prohibit others.
Jesus addressed these gray areas with several examples of how more powerful people create exceptions that favor themselves yet punish more vulnerable people for what Jesus points out are essentially the same transgressions. This came up again in Matthew 15, where Jesus was challenged by some scribes and Pharisees because some of his disciples had apparently neglected to wash their hands before eating. Jesus’ scathing reply about how they had redefined the fifth commandment to “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12 KJV) included the observation, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:6 KJV).
This pattern starting in verse 22 of quoting a familiar Bible verse that some religious people like to use against other people, followed by “But I say unto you…” is repeated in verses 28, 34, 39, and 44.
In all these examples, Jesus challenges us to apply the “2nd Mile Rule” of going farther than is required instead of seeing what we can get by with.
The chapter ends with the invitation to work toward perfection, as elusive and distant as that is.
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 KJV).
Paul explains the concept in his letter to the Philippians:
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:1 KJV).
Jesus invites us to always be improving in our relationship with God and each other. We are invited to always be finding new ways live into his teachings. We are invited to constantly be making adjustments where we can to be more loving, more happy, more spiritual, and more trusting that God’s grace will gradually enable us to more perfectly reflect the aspect of the divine nature of our Creator that we were each created to reflect – to live into our own facet of the image of God.
Jesus’ perspective on the Bible invites all people to share true happiness.
Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. (Psalm 119:4 KJV)
We are not expected to know everything and never make any mistakes, but we are expected to do our due diligence as we implement the teachings of Jesus in our lives and world.
We acknowledge with the Psalmist that the more we are able to understand and follow God’s precepts, the happier we will be.
An important part of following God’s precepts is to re-evaluate what God is actually communicating and then to change our understanding accordingly. This is no easy task, and as we see in the example of Jesus, some people don’t like it when we question their authority or their traditions or their orthodoxy.
Everyone has a place in the vision of Christ.
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. . (1 Corinthians 3:9 KJV)
For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building. (1 Corinthians 3:9 RSV)
With the mixed metaphors of our relationship with all humanity, Paul described us as “God’s field, God’s building.” Paul used these metaphors often in his writings. In some senses, we are like plants growing in a great spiritual garden, each growing at our own pace and bearing our unique kinds of fruits. In other ways, we are like stones in a great spiritual building, each one shaped and placed by the Master Builder, and all connected and held together by the mortar of love.
In verse 7, Paul wrote that we tend the crops, but it is God who gives the growth. This principle can be applied not only to the work we do together, but even to our own personal lives as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Our part is to nurture our minds and hearts, but our growth can only come from God. What we accomplish together then is an expansion of this nurturing of each other’s minds and hearts, trusting God to give the growth. This is reflected in the earliest days of the New Testament church in the book of Acts after the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, where the Bible says that all the believers were “praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Act 2:47 KJV).
We are God’s laborers, God’s servants, cooperating together to cultivate peace and harmony among all people. We are called to find consensus together in love, as tedious and time-consuming as that often may be. All people everywhere are invited to join in this work of love as they are able, even from within the context of their own life stories and cultures and religions and experiences. We offer ourselves as we are, and God uses us in love to accomplish God’s overarching wonderful vision for humanity and purpose for Creation.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [person], unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13 KJV).
The Bible presents us with two directions and invites us to choose the direction that leads to life. This choice of life is a principle for our daily decision-making. It isn’t a narrow invitation to a broad path for political expediency. It is a broad invitation to a narrow path for spiritual edification. Therefore as Moses would say, let us choose life.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.