6th Sunday after Ephiphany
Deuteronomy 30:15 – 20 and Matthew 5:21 – 37
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.
Matthew 5:21 – 37
Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Moses was at a cross-road. He and the people he’s been leading are standing at the Jordan River and the people are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses knows he won’t be joining them. He knows he’s about to die. Moses begins reminiscing. He reminds the people of all the good times and all the bad times they’ve been through together.
They’ve been slaves in Egypt.
Fleeing from their captors they’d run as fast as their legs could carry them, right up until they encountered the barrier of the Red Sea. They were at a cross-road.
Miraculously, God had parted the waters of the Sea and the people had crossed through on dry land.
Led by a pillar of cloud by day and a tower of fire by night, the people had been wandering for years. Every day they faced cross-roads. Would they continue to follow? Would they push back, argue, complain?
They’d received the stone tablets upon which was transcribed the ten best ways to live – the Ten Commandments. Rules that helped them to live into a new way to make decisions whenever they faced a cross-road.
Every single day God was right there with them. Feeding them with manna that rained down from the skies. Quenching their thirst from streams of water that burst through broken-open rocks.
That journey was about to come to an end and another was about to begin. They were at another cross-road. And Moses, Moses has spent the last 26 chapters in the book of Deuteronomy reminding them of everything that they’d experienced together.
Here they were, standing at the Jordan River. Their journey to arrive at this place was behind them and the Promised Land was right there in front of them. It’s here that Moses sets before them the choice that they were facing. Not just today, but every day for the rest of their lives.
“Do you want to choose life and prosperity – a life which is founded on obedience to God – or do you want to choose death and adversity – a life devoid of God’s presence?” For Moses and his people that’s what death was. A life of human activity that’s devoid of God’s presence.
Here at this cross-road, facing a brand-new life and land, Moses is asking the people, how are you going to live your commitment to God as you step into this new land, and this new life.
Cross-roads are a part of everyday life today, just as much as they were a part of the lives of Moses and the people of God. Sometimes the decisions we will be facing will look a lot like the choices that Moses knew his people were going to have to make. Big life decisions that can leave us feeling like God is present right there with us. Or decisions that leave us feeling completely alienated from God.
When I was in high school we were filling out all kinds of different career questionnaires. Now, when I was in high school, all I wanted to be was a geophysicist. Specifically, I wanted to play with volcanoes. I just thought that would be the coolest job ever.
So, when I sat down to fill out those questionnaires, I had my end game already in mind. I figured out pretty quickly that I could manipulate my answers so I would definitely get MY right answer.
Even though we’d been told to, I didn’t go in to that whole process with an open mind. Truthfully, I wasn’t interested in knowing what an honest approach to the questionnaires might offer. I knew what I wanted to do and I was going to do whatever it took to get that questionnaire to come up with my answer – she should be a geophysicist. Oh, and if you need to specialize within that category, being a volcanologist is really what she should aim for.
That was a big life decision that was going to affect me for the rest of my life. Although I was attending a Roman Catholic High School, and although lots of religious work was required in our curriculum, actually consulting God about what to do at this cross-road didn’t even enter into my thought process.
Moses’s challenge to his people as they faced a new life in the Promised Land to make decisions from the place of obedience to God, somehow didn’t connect with me. My plan was obviously what was right for me. And I didn’t need some silly survey to tell me any different.
If nothing else, I was really good at manipulating career questionnaires in high school, and the questionnaire I completed did indeed point me towards a degree in geophysics. So that’s what I applied to do in University. It lasted one year. I discovered I don’t really have the gift of understanding much of physics and that’s kind of required and expected in the field of geophysics. In my second year I decided that I could simply pursue geology. That lasted one year, too, when my stubbornness and inability to memorize bumped up against the reality of University education and I received a failing grade in paleontology.
Everything I did those first two years of University was shrouded with frustration. Even the fun bits. I love to colour. In geology you do a lot of colouring. Looking at thin sections of rock under a microscope, you transfer the beautiful patterns flowing with all the beauty of creation onto paper as you colour their images. Nothing about what I was doing seemed to bring any sort of joy to my life. It was all tedious and nothing connected with me.
My experiences in my first two years of University were draped with frustration and struggle where nothing seemed right. Nothing fit. Not even colouring. Those were years that Moses might describe as years shrouded with death and adversity. Remember, for Moses death meant that all of human activity would be devoid of God’s presence. Not so much a literal death, but an absence of God. That was certainly true for me those two years.
In my third year, something changed. I’d been volunteering in a learning-disabled classroom. And I’d fallen in love with a career. There was something in that work that connected with me at a very deep level. Somehow, I knew. I knew this was what I was meant to do. I was meant to teach. This was who I was in the core of my being. But I didn’t want to teach in a regular way.
A life-time later and with a lot of life experience under my belt, I can tell you that the feeling that I had in my volunteer work, was the feeling of living into what Moses calls life and prosperity. Deep in my gut I knew, even on the days when volunteering didn’t go so well, even then I knew. I’d found vocation. I’d found the place where my gifts and the world’s deepest need met. I was able to find life and joy and purpose.
I think that’s what Moses was talking about when he highlighted the choices that his people were going to face as they walked from their old life into the Promised Land. When you find yourself at a cross-road, when you’re faced with a decision, what choice are you going to make. Are you going to choose to be aware of God’s presence in your life? Are your choices going to flow out of your relationship with God? Or are you going to make decisions totally unaware of God’s presence or God’s desires.
Moses knew that things were about to change for the people. Out in the wilderness, wandering around for 40 years, getting the left-overs from being slaves in Egypt out of their systems, learning to rely on God for, well, everything, was reality for the people. As soon as the people stepped into this new life in the Promised Land, as soon as they settled down and started putting down roots, as soon as their lives worked into a predictable routine, as soon as they didn’t need to rely on God for manna and water, as soon as the reality of living within a culture that didn’t share their values or their commitment to God, that’s when it would begin.
That’s when the people would begin to forget what living their commitment to God looked like. When we forget what it means to live our commitments to God, brokenness follows. Brokenness in the world. Brokenness in our lives. Some of the same kinds of brokenness that Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel.
Here’s what I know. We are, all of us, broken people. And we live in a broken world. Every single day we find ourselves at a variety of cross-roads. Sometimes those cross roads are big, huge, life-changing decisions. And sometimes they are just everyday, simple choices that demand our attention every single day.
Let’s be honest. It won’t always be easy to make decisions that flow out of our relationship with God. There will always be times when the brokenness of the world presses through our commitment to God and we weaken, making a choice that doesn’t honor that we are in relationship with all of creation. Sometimes we make our decisions simply thinking that it’s all about us. Sometimes we’re simply going to get it wrong. That’s the reality of being broken.
Here’s what else I know. The reality of God is that God’s love is bigger than any of our brokenness. It’s into our brokenness that Jesus was born. Jesus brought the reality of hope into our brokenness and into our broken world.
Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to experience a new way of living our commitment to God. One that focuses on supporting and loving one another the way that Jesus loved and supported people in his day.
You see, brokenness is NOT what God intends for us. God loves us way too much for God to want to see us broken and hurt. God created us for relationships that bring love and life and joy and mutuality and support. That’s really what God is all about. God is all about relationship.
Creator.Redeemer.Sanctifier. Father.Son.Holy Spirit. Community. Relationship. It’s within that relationship that God heals brokenness. It’s within that relationship that we find hope.
Cross-roads? They are a part of life. Can’t get around that. How we make choices in all of the cross-roads of our lives? That’s what makes the difference. You see, we can choose to make decisions that flow out of our relationship with God. Big decisions. Every day seemingly inconsequential decisions. We get to choose.
Today we stand with Moses gazing longingly at the Promised Land. Today and every day we get to choose. To live a life of obedience to God. To live a life where decisions flow out of our deepening relationship with God. Are you ready? Ready to choose life?