Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Turn, Turn, Turn February 16, 2014
The scripture we’re looking at this morning partly concerns Moses, and it partly concerns us.
A few weeks ago, I preached on the story of the burning bush. It’s a story found towards the beginning of Exodus.
When I preached that sermon, I talked a little bit about the background of Moses’ life. So, if you were here, (and even if you weren’t), then you might remember that Moses was born in tumultuous times. His people were slaves in the land of Egypt, and at the time of his birth, they had grown so numerous that Pharaoh had begun to fear an uprising.
So he issued a command that all of the Hebrew boys should be thrown into the Nile.
Moses had a mother who cared about him deeply, so she did what was best for him given the situation she found herself in, and gently placed him in the Nile, staying nearby to make sure he would be found and taken care of.
So it was that Moses was adopted into the Pharaoh’s own family, at a pretty tense time in his people’s history.
He grows up, and he’s conflicted because he has a love for two nations within him, and I can imagine that he didn’t feel completely at home in either one.
So the years go by, until one particular day he flies off the handle and kills an especially brutal Egyptian slavemaster in a fit of rage.
He runs away to Midian, and if I was to read between the lines of Moses’ story, I’d say his fear defined him for a good portion of his life.
His fear of being found out drove him to a country that was not his own, and he made his life there.
He was living in reaction to the fear that he carried of being ‘found out’.
That’s where he encounters the bush that burned but was not consumed.
God speaks to him there, but not before he removed his sandals for where he stood was holy ground.
He paid attention to the voice of God; and from that point on his story begins to change.
He goes back to Egypt, but he’s a different man.
He no longer feared being found out; instead he had begun to fear only God.
He returns to Egypt, but this time he’s a leader, not a lone ranger.
He goes back to his people, and you know that saying that you can’t take anyone anywhere you haven’t gone yourself?
Moses leads them there, into the place where it becomes clear; you either choose to trust in God and his people, or you die.
The people he leads experience the hand of God in the desert in ways that most of us can’t imagine. The book of Exodus is filled with time after time when the people experience the hand of God moving in a powerful way that they couldn’t have imagined in Egypt.
-* All of that is important stuff. *
But all of that is another sermon! I just wanted to make sure we had the background fresh in our ears to hear today’s passage.
*Lives, like stories, can be thought of in three parts.
The beginning, the middle, and the end.
The beginning sets the stage, the middle is where the plot thickens and conflict happens, and by the end, the best any of us can hope for is that the end involves at least some type of resolution, or a summary of the lessons learned.
Now and then the unthinkable happens, lives are cut short, stories aren’t finished.
That’s something none of us have much control over.
But no matter what stage of life we’re in…we can always pay attention to those who have gone before us. We can listen to the wisdom gleaned by characters we respect, and look up to.
We can look to the people whose stories have ended well for advice and examples as we live out our own.
Moses, for me, is one such character.
The passage we’re looking at this morning comes more towards the end of Moses’ life than at the beginning or the middle.
We’re looking at Deuteronomy chapter 30.
By this point in the story, Moses is growing old, and his time to die is drawing near.
I can imagine as he reflected upon his life;
the instability of his childhood,
his conflicting loyalties (Hebrew people and his Egyptian heritage),
the trauma of killing a man,
the fear that drove him to Midian…and then
the turn his life took at the burning bush,
All the stuff that happened from that point on;
the plagues, the red sea,
the meetings with God,
receiving the ten commandments
…I think it’s safe to say, by this point…by Deuteronomy chapter 30, let’s just say Moses had gained some wisdom and some life experience.
He was a different person than he was at the burning bush.
-He had learned to hear the voice of God.
And I’d like to just say this…if you can think of someone in your life who knows how to listen to the voice of God; I mean, really listen and not just try to baptize their own opinions and agenda with holy language…they’re worth listening to and being with.
They’re even worth trying to imitate.
Because dare I suggest, those people are rare. They’re few and far between.
But they’re also the ones who have some true wisdom to offer!
There’s some truth to the Proverb “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”.
Moses had lived a long, productive, transformed life.
The Moses who speaks these words in Deuteronomy 30 is not the same brash young man who killed an Egyptian, hid the body, and ran away from his troubles. These are rather the words of someone who had not only met God; but met WITH God, regularly, throughout the wilderness experience of his life.
These are the words of a guy who spent the first part of his life running away,
away from his problems
away from God
away from himself
And then, after what can only be called a conversion experience, he spends the latter part of his life running towards.
Towards conflicts when they arise
Towards responsibility for and owning his actions and his identity before God
Towards God Himself.
His story speaks to me;
And it says something, that the main gist of what he says here has to do with choice.
Now, I’m only 35 (right Christine?).
I’m only 35 years old, so I hopefully have a lot of learning left to do…but I’m tempted, based on this passage, and the example that Moses sets, I’m tempted to proclaim that one of the most difficult-yet one of the most life-changing lessons we can possibly learn in all the years between birth and even an old man’s death…is to take responsibility for our choices.
I don’t say that lightly.
What I mean is, at least in my own life, taking responsibility doesn’t come easily.
What does come easily is making poor decisions in the heat of a moment, and then trying to muddle along as if they were good decisions, or pinning the blame elsewhere when the consequences come back to haunt me later.
What does come easily is putting off doing the dishes because I hate doing the dishes, and then blaming my busy schedule when I have to spend an hour or more cleaning up the kitchen on a day off.
What comes easily is letting my time slip away here and there all day, and then going to bed frustrated and blaming the people or the events who took my time.
What comes easily is letting myself off the hook for the poor choices I make, and then blaming other people for the consequences of those decisions.
Yes, I’d like to suggest that Moses gets it right by this point in his story.
We have before us life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and adversity on the other.
These are the choices Moses lays out, they are the choices given to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.
And they are the same choices that lie before us in 21st century North America here today.
Turn towards God.
Run towards His people, not from them.
I know it can be a difficult choice, when one starts to own up to their choices, when we start to admit to ourselves and then confess to others, where we’ve chosen death, and how we might wish our lives could change for the better.
Moses’ story is compelling because he met God, and his life changed.
I don’t care how long you’ve been Christian: your story is the same. If you’re not being transformed by God; if you’re not learning how to choose life in new ways almost every day; then you’re choosing death.
OR maybe death is choosing you.
We had an elders retreat yesterday, and one of the exercises that we did as part of the day was, Christine had us go individually, and sit with the story of Bartimaeus. It’s the story of the guy who was sitting by the road, and heard Jesus coming with a throng of people around him, and when he gets close, he stands up and yells, at the top of his lungs, yells so loudly, creates such a scene, that Jesus is compelled to stop and confront him, asking him “what is it that you want?” “What is it that you want me to do for you?”
Of course, he wants healed. It’s pretty easy to guess, but Jesus makes him name it.
I don’t think we can choose life until we know how to name Life.
I sat with this exercise, and I didn’t have enough time to really find out what I wanted, down, underneath all the layers of stuff I have going on.
Moses names a reality that’s all too true. We have before us, every day, sometimes more often, the choice between Life and Death.
The story of Bartimaeus is the story of Life meeting us on the road, in the moment of our deepest need…and yet we find that even there, Jesus requires us to choose; to name the Life that we’re looking for.
You have this day before you a choice. Turn towards God. Turn towards each other. Turn towards Life, not death.