February 12, 2017 – Sixth after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Preacher: The Rev’d Patrick McManus

Israel, as we meet them in the book of Deuteronomy this morning, was a people on the brink of freedom from their bondage in Egypt.  Moses has led them through the wilderness, toward the land promised to them, where they would once again become a people, where they would prosper, with adversity long behind them.  They are a liminal people standing on two sides of this threshold at once.  They are a people suspended between life and death.  Egypt lays behind, the Promised Land ahead.  Death behind, life ahead…suspended on this liminal boundary.

But for some of them, who were old enough to remember before wandering in the wilderness for four decades, Egypt is all they knew.  They knew nothing of what it meant to be a people, God’s people; God’s free people.  Others were born in the wilderness wanderings, knowing nothing but movement, adversity, and anticipation, a yearning for freedom, for rest.  But none of them knew the abundance of life; none of them knew what deep joy for life was possible.  They had all but forgotten the shalom of God, that great peace of God, the rest in God for which they were made.  They had heard stories told, rumours of ancient abundance that propelled dreams and hopes that such abundance might come alive once more for them.

“I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly”, echo the words of our Lord, sounding, resounding throughout the Scriptures, back to front, front to back…whispered perhaps, foreshadowed surely in these words of our ancient Moses on the brink between life and death…choose life.

And so here they are, on the banks of the river Jordan, on the precipice of a new land.  It’s an ominous moment because Moses knows that entering this new land means new possibilities; and that new possibilities means that there is a very real possibility that this people will choose to fall into old and familiar ways of captivity to sin and death.  So Moses makes it clear to them: there is death and there is life.  Choose life.

This isn’t a choice between living and dying. This is a choice between the life of shalom, the life of relationship with God, living into the peace and love and mercy that is God and finding our rest there.  Death is life that lacks such joy, it is anything that opposes or destroys the love and mercy and peace of God.   Death is captivity to whatever binds up our hearts and lives so that we are turned inward and focused on our own self-sufficiency, restlessly mustering up enough to try to face down our fears, assuage our guilt, fix our own brokenness.

“I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly” echo the words of Jesus as they sound and resound off the walls of the scriptures.

Like an addict, Moses knows that Israel will quickly choose those familiar and well-worn ways of death.  Choose life.

We are not so different.  We are people addicted to death, to death and all of his friends.  Death in our collective propensity to violence in our land and in foreign lands, our rapacious economics, the wasteland that is our entertainment culture, the squalor of God’s creation, our punitive penal system, our dysfunctional politics, our drug epidemic, our cooperative and continued subjection of our First Nations brothers and sisters, and the list goes on and on…we are addicted to these familiar and well-worn ways of death.

Death is present to us every day, threatening our well-being.  Death in words said or left unsaid, death that threatens to swallow relationships, destroy love, hack away at our dignity and the dignity of those we love.  Death in a simple choice between helping and walking away, death in choosing not to pick up the phone, death in festering and old wounds left unattended. Death by a thousand paper cuts, as it was put to me by a friend recently.  Death in big ways and death in small ways.

Every day we are suspended between life and death.  Every time we wake up we are on the precipice of a new land, of new possibilities for life or for death.  Our faith, what we have to offer the world is life in the midst of death.  What God offers the world is life in its fullest.

“I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly” the words of Jesus echo in our ears, resounding off the walls of our souls.

It is Jesus Christ who is life, it is he who is the promised land, it is he who is the kingdom of God, it is he who is the very life and shalom of God; Jesus Christ is the abundance of God that is on offer.  Choose life.

What we do as disciples of Jesus is a matter of life and death; it is not play acting at religion.  God forbid it!  Our witness in this community is a struggle between life and death.  Our discipleship is about choosing life over death in big ways and in small ways.  Discipleship is not about making good moral people, it is about making a people who know life, who know the joy that is possible, who know the shalom of God and put it on display for the world so that the world knows that the way of death and all of his friends is not the only way, that there is something more, something good, true and beautiful.

The decisions we make as church, the decisions we make as a diocese should never be about self-preservation or self-perpetuation into the future.  Our life together, how we live into the land to which God has called us is about life and death.  We know the old well-worn ways and they are easy to fall into; but there is a land of promise, a place of life, a place where people can experience the abundance of life that God offers us in Jesus.  May we continue to set out on that way together for the sake of life.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.