Lent Wednesday 5, March 16th, 2016
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 16, Galatians 2:15-21
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our readings tonight have two common threads: they talk about God’s commandments, and about life. Now, whenever we talk about the law, we can focus on two aspects: the legalistic aspects of it—what’s the minimum I need to do to skate by—and the spirit of it. When Jesus was asked about God’s commandments, he summed up the whole law this way: love God with all your strength and heart and mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. The law, the commandments, the prophets, the Gospels and letters, everything in Scripture, Jesus said, can be summed up by those two statements. Love God, and love your neighbor. If you love God and your neighbor, and you put that love into action, it doesn’t matter whether or not you fulfill the legalistic parts of the law, because Christ lives in you. And if you follow all the law’s demands, but don’t love God and your neighbor, you actually haven’t gained anything.
At a very fundamental level, it’s about what kind of life are you going to live. Are you going to live in Christ, a life that leads to more love in this world and blessings in the next? Or are you going to live a life that leads to more pain and fear and death in this world, and draws you away from God? To quote Moses from our first reading, the scriptures put before us life and death, blessings and curses, and asks us to choose life, so that we and our descendants may live.
Moses is not being poetic, and it’s not just about getting into heaven, either. It’s about life. Are we going to lead the kind of lives that inspire and bring about more life and love and faithfulness, or are we going to lead the kind of lives that lead to pain and fear and more death in the world? Think about it this way: when we’re afraid, or angry, or jealous, we tend to strike out against the people we fear or dislike, sometimes with words and sometimes with physical attack and sometimes with lawsuits or rumors or other means of attack. And then they fear us, and respond in kind. And so it escalates. You expect them to treat you badly, so you protect yourself—and hurt them in the process, so they hurt you back. And maybe you don’t want to talk about how afraid you are, or how jealous you are, so you turn it into anger and lash out, or you bury it down deep where it eats away at you.
And all of that leads to death. On an individual level, it can lead to the kind of escalating behavior that leads to fights and a cold war of resentment. We curse others, and they curse us, and sometimes it’s just words and sometimes that curse bites deeper. The kind of life where that’s your reality may be living, but it’s not a good life. Sometimes all those negative emotions boil over into physical violence—sometime even into killing. Most cases of physical violence and killing are between people who know one another—family, neighbors, coworkers. Fear and anger and resentment and jealousy, they lead to broken lives and to death. You can be following the letter of the law, and still be hurting yourself and other people.
But the way of death isn’t the only way. We can open our lives to Christ, to let Christ live in us, to follow God’s command to love God and our neighbor. And we may not be able to fix every problem—we may not be able to change other people who are acting out of fear and anger—but at least we won’t be making things worse. And we won’t be trapping ourselves in all that pain. Opening yourself and choosing love doesn’t mean that you pretend everything is fine when it isn’t, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you forget what you’ve been through. It just means that you let go the bad things so you’re not dragging them around with you anymore. It means that you focus on the good, instead of the bad. When you are open to Christ, when love of God and others is the guiding force in your life, amazing things are possible. So chose life. Choose to bless the world around you, rather than curse it. Chose the love that can lead to healing and growth and freedom in Christ. Chose the love that will leave the world better than it was.
We choose between death and life on a community and country-wide level, too. And again, it comes back to love versus fear and hate. When we act out of love for our neighbors—not just the neighbors who live next door, but all people throughout our nation and our world—we help those in need and treat one another fairly. We create the conditions that allow life to flourish. We create a society that is a blessing for all people, not just us and our friends. We do this in the things we do face-to-face, through how we spend our money, through how we vote, and in many other ways. And when we act out of less noble motives—fear and greed and resentment and jealousy and prejudice—we act selfishly. We look for ways to protect ourselves and hurt anyone who isn’t on our side. We lash out verbally against anyone who disagrees with us. We look out for number one, even if it means hurting others. We follow politicians who say they can protect us from what we’re afraid of, and they enact policies that benefit us at the expense of those we don’t like. We create a society that is a curse for some people.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in the light of the one who died and gave himself for us. We live because God loves us more than we can imagine. We live because God’s generosity is greater than anything else in the universe. And we have a choice. We can respond to that love, that generosity, and live in the light of it, opening our lives to Christ and blessing the whole world with the love of God. Or we can turn away. We can say “yes, but real life isn’t like that” and ignore the love, returning pain for pain and lashing out so that we deepen the curse of sin that lays on the world.
I have set before you live 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.