Pastor Wilbert Miller
“Precious Treasure of Final Words”
(Deuteronomy 30: 15-20)
February 12, 2017, Bach Vespers
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
The Israelites were almost to the Promised Land, almost, but they just as easily could have been a million miles away. It had been a long haul, forty grueling years to be precise. God’s chosen people wandered aimlessly through the wilderness; poisonous snakes attacked them; they argued bitterly; they even doubted whether God was all that their fathers and mothers had made God out to be. Sure, God freed them from Pharaoh’s brutal slave camps but that was forty years ago and that was long enough to lose every ounce of hope.
We just heard a few of Moses’ final words spoken to his friends and family with whom he had been through so much. Moses had spotted the Promised Land through his sunburnt, cataract eyes, but he had heard from God that he would never cross over the Jordan to the land of milk and honey.
These final speeches are created in love and uttered in tenderness. They recall heartbreaking squabbles and betrayals and do their best to make amends; they contemplate the what-ifs and understand that all things can never quite be as wished; they even invent future hopes and dreams right on the spot.
You know how this goes because you have been there with your beloved spouse, your mother, your father. Final words are precious treasures to be cherished forever. I remember the last ones I spoke with my father face-to-face. I hated to leave his bedside, sensing those were our final words. I listened carefully because I knew I was hearing what meant most to my father. He told me to take care of my mother. Then, he said things that would surprise you if you didn’t know him. He spoke of finances—my father, after all, was schooled in that discipline and it guided his plans and determined the personal sacrifices he made on behalf of those he loved. In those final moments, he wanted to do his best to make certain his loved ones were protected.
That’s how it was for Moses. You might as well have been there with him on the far side of the Jordan as he spoke his final words—he was, after all, speaking to you: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess…Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him.”
“Choose life” sounds so daunting. Experience tells us what it told the Israelites: life is messier and more difficult than that, especially when we try to be faithful to God. Experience also tells us that God is faithful to us, in every age, even if we turn our backs on God and the journey becomes unbearable. Over and over again, God coaxes us back home, talking lovey-dovey to us and doing everything possible to get us to choose life and not opt for death.
Moses’ final words were his way of telling every generation that God chooses us. These words must be on every good Jew’s lips and heart, when lying down and when rising, upon entering home and when leaving: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” These words are placed in the mezuzah at the doorway of every Jewish home as a reminder. We who are Christian inherit this stunning memory and lively exhortation to choose life, never forgetting that God has created us in God’s image.
It is so easy to forget who God is, so easy to create our own modern day golden calves. Political ideologies and charismatic leaders, political and religious alike, cause us to forget who is in charge; flashy consumer goods entice us to believe that we can be as good as God if not even better; the latest smartphones are our beguiling Tower of Babel, tempting us to assume we can have perfect answers to life’s most monstrous mysteries simply by typing a few letters or saying, “Siri, why does God let evil exist?” Moses knew of these atrocious idolatrous temptations that would lure us time and again from choosing life and casting us into the dangerous wastelands of desolation.
Moses is here tonight tenderly urging us, on God’s behalf, to choose life. Moses’ hopes and prays that our lives will be much richer when we realize that The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. Moses only has a few words left and so he says to us, “God who freed our ancestors from bondage can free us, too.”