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The Rev. Susan Sparks The Rev. Susan Sparks
The Rev. Susan Sparks is a former trial lawyer who now serves as senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York, NY.

Member of:

American Baptist Churches USA

Representative of:

Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York, NY


L'Chaim, and Don't Mess It Up!

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

6th Sunday after Epiphany - Year A

February 16, 2014

Our sermon today studies life through the eyes of Moses, Thomas Edison, and the great Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.  But, first, we must start with a toast, because that is exactly what Moses offered the children of Israel in today's scripture from Deuteronomy. 

Standing on the far side of the Jordan waiting to cross over, Moses prepares to give his last sermon to his people.  Think about the import of that moment. The Israelites had just emerged from the rule of a brutal dictator, wandered in the desert for forty days and nights, and were now standing on the shores of the Promised Land.  It was a second chance, a new day for their people.

On this momentous occasion, Moses preaches a fiery message to his people, ending with one of the best big bring-it-home sermon lines of all time:  "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live."  Actually, I think it was less of a sermon line than a toast.  I envision Moses raising his glass and giving the great Jewish toast "l'chaim," which means "to life!"  Given what was at stake, I also can imagine Moses mumbling an aside, "And don't mess it up!"

Let's look at the scripture a little closer because I believe that it contains deeper lessons for each of us.  First let's consider the words choose life.  What does that mean?  Or easier yet, what does it not mean?  For Moses, choose life did not mean worshipping the crazy idols of the Canaanites, the people who occupied the land where the children of Israel were headed.  As Moses warned earlier in Deuteronomy 29:17, "You have seen their detestable things, their filthy idols of wood and stone, of silver and of gold.  And it may be that there is among you...someone whose heart is already turning away."  In short, Moses was saying stay away from the idols and no one gets hurt!

This is good advice for us too.  We may not have a giant golden cow in our house--or maybe you do--but we all have things that we idolize or covet or prioritize over God's teachings, things such as money, youth, big houses, flat screen TVs,  iPads, or Spanx.  Hey, you never know where folks put their priorities.  I'm just saying...we all have our golden calf--things we think give us life and joy and sustenance.  But Moses tells us that these things do not lead to life.  In fact they can lead to destruction.

Idols can be powerful things.  If we worship money, for example, we become greedy.  If we worship power, we can become corrupt.  If we worship another person, we can become co-dependent.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson explained, "That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our life and our character.  Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming."  Beware of the idols, for they do not lead to life.

So what is life?  Moses answers in verse 20: "Loving the Lord your God, obeying him and holding fast to him; for that means life to you." 

It makes sense, as God is the life force for all of us.  This became a personal example for me recently when a fuse blew in my office at the church on a cold, bleak New York City day.  The lights went off, my computer went off, my space heater went off; and all of a sudden, there I was, by myself, in a cold, dark, lonely space.  It took a few minutes, but finally the power came back on and warmth, and light and connection flowed in.  I realized in that moment that God is like that electrical connection--available to us anytime--but if the connection gets broken, things quickly become dark and cold.             

Many of us have found ourselves in those dark places, blaming God for abandoning us; but, in fact, we are the ones who disconnected.  It's like the old saying:  If God feels far away, who moved?

We just need a little faith--like Thomas Edison whose birthday was last week.  After failing over and over, Edison never questioned the existence of electricity.  He always believed that if the experiment didn't work, it was a problem with the connection, not the source.

Faith is like that too.  God is the power source and we are the cord, the connection.  We can choose to have faith and plug into this ultimate life force, or we can choose to plug into things of the world, which have no power--things that will leave us in a dark, cold space. 

So l'chaim--choose life!  And don't mess it up.  Hey, it's not as hard as you may think.  Earlier in Deuteronomy 30:11, Moses said to his people, "Surely, what I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away." 

Let me give you an example of a simple three-step prayer that might help.  First, give God thanks for life; second, name the things that block you from God's life-giving power; and third, ask for help in giving those things up.  

Granted, we may not be able to give them up right away.  We may make mistakes, poor choices, continue to fall from God.  But as the great Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi once said: "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get back up." 

Moses is saying pick yourself up, turn your faith toward your ultimate power source, your God.

Today, what things are blocking you from God's powerful life force?  More importantly, are you willing to let those things go?

At the end of his sermon, Moses summoned Joshua and spoke the following words, words which not only empowered his people, but reach through the ages to inspire us today: "Be strong and bold...for you will go with the people into their land; it is the Lord who goes before you.  He will be with you; He will not fail you or forsake you.

The promise land is waiting, so "l'chaim!"  And don't mess it up! 

 

Let us pray.  Gracious and loving God, thank you for the gift of life.  Give us the wisdom and strength to choose life--to choose you over the things of the world--and may we use that life force to fulfill your will from this day and forevermore.  Amen.

 


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