Choose Life: Deuteronomy 30:15-31:6
A sermon preached to staff and children at Feed the Children Kenya, May 6, 2015
When we wake up in the morning, no matter who we are or where we come from, we all have choices. For example: we can choose to eat the breakfast put before us or not eat anything at all.
Or, we can choose to put on long trousers if it is cold or a jacket if it is raining.
Or, we can choose say, “Thank you God for this day” with a smile on our face or we can say with a growl, “I want to go back to bed!”
Though every day life gives us a different set of experiences to deal with (that often times we can’t control)—we always have a choice in HOW we deal with them.
In our reading from the book of Deuteronomy, we hear this word about choices. Moses, the great leader of the children of Israel as they are making their great journey out of Egypt into freedom in the Promise Land, says to them this:
See, I have put in front of you today life and what is good, and death and what is bad.
Which is another way of saying, listen up everyone—in this life God has given you, you have choices.
You can choose what is good and enjoy all that life has to give you.
Or you can choose what is bad and not enjoy all life has to give you.
But the interesting part of this story is the context. There was a reason that Moses was giving this speech. And the reason was that Moses knows that his time as leader of the nation of Israel is coming to a close.
The problem was Moses didn’t want to leave! He did not intend to step aside as their leader at this point. He believed he would make the entire journey with them into the new land. For many years, this was the goal that Moses and the people were working toward together. Moses had invested so much of his life and his family’s life in the work of helping the people follow after God’s best plans for them.
BUT then a day came when God told Moses that he wouldn’t be the leader who saw the journey through. There would be another leader and his name would be Joshua.
If you could put yourself in Moses’ shoes for a moment, think about how you might feel if you got this news. What would you say to God in response?
If I were Moses, I think I might be angry. I might even say to God, “This is so unfair! After all that I have done for this group of people and ALL the dreams we dreamed up together, how come I have to step aside now?”
And all of these thoughts would be valid feelings.
Very few of us set out to commit our whole heart to a task and stop in the middle of it.
But Moses had to learn another way.
He had to be reminded who was in charge most of all.
It was not him. It was God.
And God asked Moses to lay aside his own desires, his own wishes and to choose the plans the he wanted to offer to the nation of Israel.
And in his parting words to them before Joshua takes over, he says just this.
Choose life! Choose God! Know that God is never going to leave you, though my time, as your leader will soon come to a close.
I want to tell you a story to maybe help you understand a bit more what I mean here. It’s a story that comes from one of the other countries where Feed the Children has programs and serves children every day, El Salvador.
Many years ago, in the 1970s a revolution began in this country. An oppressive group of military leaders took over the government, turning this once peaceful land into a state of confusion.
The poor people of El Salvador were afraid the little that they had would be taken away. Church leaders feared the government. And they did nothing to help those in need.
Yet there were some pastors and priests who stuck close to the message God’s love for all people and refused to stop speaking. They chose kindness. They chose compassion. They chose one another. The priest Oscar Romero was one of them.
All his life he had been just a normal priest—going about the daily work of caring for his church. Though he was later being promoted to the position of Archbishop, Oscar continued to preach the gospel each week and serve people communion.
Yet, there came a day when he could be silent. He knew that God had called him to speak out and protect the rights of the needy. He stood up for the poor in his community, even when he was advised not to!
And, Oscar Romero would eventually die for the choices he made. But, even in his death, pointed people to God.
Because Oscar learned, like Moses that the choosing God’s way means that ultimately our lives are not about us.
For no matter what we do and the positions we hold, even the certificates we might receive for the good we do, our lives ARE ALL about GOD.
Hear the words of this prayer inspired by Oscar’s life. I think it sums up well what Moses and Oscar’s life can teach us all:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts;
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. . . .
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.. . .
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future that is not our own.
I have to tell you that this is one of my favorite prayers. And it’s one that Kevin and I have thought a lot about over the past several months as we knew our official time at Feed the Children was coming to an end.
For like Moses at first, we were unhappy, maybe even a little angry, that our time as your leaders would end. For as much as we loved you and felt a part of your family and were so thankful for our shared work—we wanted it to go on and on for several more years.
It’s like that with the good things in life, isn’t it? We want them to go on and on forever!
But last February the pathways of God became very clear to Kevin and me—that the choice God was asking us to make was to step aside. Feed the Children needed a new leader.
And we only had one choice—even as much as we complained and bargained with God and cried a little too— and that choice was to say yes to God’s wishes, not our own.
And like the prayer I just shared with you, this is what Kevin and I most know.
Feed the Children never belonged to us.
It always belonged to God.
For, Kevin and I were just co-workers with you, not your messiahs.
Jesus, my friends, has always been our leader!
And though the work of ensuring that no child goes to bed hungry is incomplete, the mission lives on.
And it lives on in you, until it lives on in somebody else.
For all of us accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the glory that is God’s work.
All our efforts in this life simply are foretelling a future that is not our own—but God’s!
So, when I think of all that is to come in the days for Feed the Children as you continue to do God’s work in this place, I only have two words for you.
Choose the work that God has entrusted you to do in this place.
Choose to listen to promptings of the Holy Spirit. Do not get beaten down into pettiness or selfishness in this place.
Choose to put the children first in all you do—isn’t that what this beautiful new brand has taught us all?
And choose God, knowing that as you do our Lord will be faithful to lead you all the way.
Know that this is exactly what Kevin and I want most for our lives as we plant them back in our home in Washington DC. We want to choose life too! And like Moses once proclaimed, we declare it to you today as well:
Be strong and bold; have no fear because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.
So, this is not a goodbye, but until we see you again. May God continue to bless us all.