Thirteenth Sunday in Pentecost – 9.8.19

We’ve all seen movies or TV shows where the family gathers in the lawyer’s office to find out what they will inherit. Sometimes the departed leaves money or property. Or NOT.  Sometimes the departed has some LAST WORDS, and speaks to the family through their lawyer and their last will and testament.

Today, in Deuteronomy, Moses is still alive, but he’s putting ALL his wisdom into this final speech. In this beautiful speech of 200 words he is putting in the most important things for the Israelites to know and do. He’s been shaping and forming them – including yelling at them, being enraged at them – all towards FORMING them into GOD’S CHILDREN.

 Moses has no money or an inheritance to leave the children of Israel, but his WORDS are PURE GOLD for their hearts. His words ARE their INHERITANCE. His words will keep them and their descendants ALIVE in the long run. He says: “CHOOSE LIFE, so that you and your children may LIVE.

Some of you may say – duh! Who wouldn’t CHOOSE life! Isn’t that a no-brainer? Remember Luther’s words that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. For example, remember when the internet first came, and we were all excited, that it would SPREAD democracy and all those good things!

Then to our horror, we realized some people would use it for sinister and twisted purposes. The DARK WEB! We all know people and we may include ourselves, who have NOT always chosen life. We’ve chosen things that can hurt us or others. We ALL have a contrary streak. We may call it human nature. Luther calls it being captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.

Moses is bidding the people of Israel farewell. He will not be going with them into the Promised Land. So, like a good parent, dropping off his son or daughter at college, Moses is trying to convey the urgency of EVERYTHING he had ever tried to accomplish with them in the desert and all the trials they had shared.

Forty years – wandering, one generation dying and another coming of age under his leadership. Learning TOGETHER through trials and tribulations: what is IMPORTANT.

The first day of school has come and gone. Did you prepare something to say when you said goodbye to your child? I’ll bet some of you did. What did you say when you dropped your child off for the first day of school? Some of you may remember. You wanted to IMPRESS upon them your LOVE and CARE.

Was it, be good and have fun? Was it, don’t be scared and eat all your lunch?

Was it make a new friend and I love you? I’m sure many of you thought about what you would say on that first day to help things get off on the right foot. That your son or your daughter would take those words with them into the new classroom, their new grade, the new experiences of the day.

One pastor said when he dropped off his daughter at college, he reminded her of where she came from. His, “Be good,” sounds simple, but it also means goodness is a family value. It means, remember the family you are still a part of when you are surrounded by the temptations of college life. Remember who you belong to.

At the end of Moses speech, he reminds the Israelites of who THEY belong to: their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are to remember their illustrious family members who LISTENED to God’s voice in their lives and how they were blessed.

Remember them as they face temptations. Moses tells the children of Israel are to do likewise. Remember the family they belong to. Moses wants them to know that the decisions they make are important and can lead to literal life or their decisions can kill them, whether in the short run or long run.

Stay away from the ancient equivalent of the DARK WEB.

Today, when Moses focuses on their ability to make good decisions; it’s an acknowledgment that they have grown. They have matured. The time they spent in the desert stretched them in ways they could never have imagined. Still, he emphasizes they will be surrounded by countries who have pagan gods and the consequences can be deadly.

He says, “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;”

            It’s going to be hard for the Israelites to move out of the desert where they were isolated from other nations, and live near and be surrounded by countries that make images of their gods. The Israelites were not allowed to make images – their God was invisible.

Very tough when everyone else gets to portray their god in wood or stone or marble.

Yahweh was as deep and high as the ocean; Yahweh was as immense as the sky. They would discover that God was in the silence of their hearts, too. How can you possibly convey that in stone or marble? They would have to use their imagination. Their mission was to be a light to the nations. That’s a very tough challenge when temptation is everywhere.

It’s not just a challenge for them – it continues to be a challenge for us as well! How do WE stay faithful to God when we are surrounded by materialism and consumerism at every turn?  How do we stay faithful when we are surrounded by people who see Sundays as just another day of the week? Some may be tempted by the dark web.

Moses THUNDERS these words: “CHOOSE LIFE so that you and your descendants may LIVE!”

There are three things the Israelites want: a long life, descendants, and LAND. For former slaves, that is a BIG wish list – BEYOND their capabilities. Slaves typically have a short life.

A short life gets you fewer descendants, and how are slaves or former slaves supposed to get hold of land? Having land means they have a way to feed themselves. Yahweh is PROMISING them they will get these three things they want the most if they follow God’s precepts. If they obey God, they will get their hearts’ desire. They are to remember WHERE they came from and how far they had come. They are to “hold fast to God.” And they will get EVERYTHING. This is a BIG promise.

What we all want is MORE. We go to malls and shop to get MORE, but what’s in the malls is a poor substitute for what we really want. What we REALLY want is more LIFE – More life means freedom from fear. We want freedom from anger. Freedom from anger gets us more inner freedom and life. We want freedom from guilt. Freedom from guilt, letting Christ take our guilt on to himself gives us MORE LIFE. Believe it or not, forgiveness and repentance gets us MORE LIFE. 

How about us? Where are we in this?

Today, we read and ponder Moses’ words of wisdom. What are OUR wisdom words?

I want you to take this question seriously. In two hundred words, what is YOUR wisdom?

What are the most important things you’ve learned that you want to pass on? What are your words that are PURE GOLD, like Moses?

What have you learned in life that your loved ones MUST know? More than gifts of money or an inheritance, our words of wisdom live beyond us. What would you say? Think about it. Today’s psalm says that if we plant ourselves in God’s living water, we too will prosper, that even when trouble comes, we will produce green leaves like a tree whose roots are sunk deep, deep into the groundwater. This is another of God’s promises to us.

THAT’S wisdom we can pass on! 

Moses says, “Hold FAST!”

These are good words for us, too. How do WE hold fast to God? What do we need to let go in order to grasp hold of God’s good gifts to US?  Carrying the cross means making a real sacrifice, yet it is ultimately creative and life-giving. When we carry the cross, we sacrifice something we truly cherish.

So think like Moses: what are your two hundred words that sum up what you have learned in life to pass on to your loved ones?

Today the children begin Sunday School, where they will be having fun, but at the same time, LEARNING wisdom and receiving the love of Christ. They will receive faith formation, looking at life how GOD sees US, God’s beloved people. They will not just learn about Jesus, but Jesus will come CLOSER to them. Such a great gift! Thank you, parents for bringing your children to Sunday School, making good on the baptismal promises that you made for them years ago.

What they learn in the Sunday School rooms will stay with them for LIFE. The Sunday School teachers will be officially blessed next Sunday, are doing the important job of faith formation. For this we THANK them!

I thank you, Lord for your great blessings to us. Form us more and more into your people. Show us what is important in life. Help us to CHOOSE life, choose the good things, your promises of ETERNAL LIFE NOW.