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Sermon: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Epiphany 6 – February 16, 2020 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

I would imagine that most of us have had this conversation before. The conversation is with a neighbor, a friend, or a relative who doesn’t believe in God, doesn’t go to church, or was raised as a Christian but doesn’t worship anymore. We do the right thing and encourage them to come to worship, but they respond, “I can believe in God without worshiping. I can get to heaven without going to church.” You acknowledge that we are saved by faith and not because we go to church, and the conversation ends there.

But you end the conversation with an uneasy feeling. Something isn’t quite right. Yes, we’re saved by faith alone, but worship is a very essential and integral part of the Christian faith. We go to church to honor and worship God, to hear and learn his word, and to receive Holy Communion. There’s a good reason for that person, or for anyone, to come to worship.
You feel uneasy partly because you let the person off the hook. You allowed them to have their excuse, and by allowing them to have their excuse you allowed them to make a bad choice. And they make that bad choice Sunday after Sunday.

In our text today the LORD God of Israel gave his people a choice, a very clear and obvious choice. It was a choice between life and prosperity or death and destruction. It was such a clear choice that there was no excuse for making the wrong choice.

The choice that God gave to the people of Israel is really no different from the choice that he gives to you and me every day. And it’s still a very clear and obvious choice, so clear and obvious that there’s no excuse for a bad choice.

Today we need to remember

It had been about forty years since the people of Israel had left Egypt. Moses had led them all that time, but now they were ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses would soon pass away on Mt. Nebo. Our text is part of his words of farewell to the people of Israel.

Moses gave the people a very clear and obvious choice. “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” They could choose life or they could choose death. And if they chose a life in which they followed the LORD God and kept his laws and commandments they would be abundantly blessed in the Promised Land. But if they didn’t follow the LORD, if they worshiped other gods then they would be destroyed and would not live very long in the Promised Land.

In my personal Bible reading I’m presently reading in the book of Numbers. This week I read the account where Moses sent out twelve spies to look over the Promised Land so that they would know what they needed to do to conquer it. Two of those men, Joshua and Caleb, came back and proclaimed that they should march up and take the land because the LORD God had given it to them. But the other ten men came back from scouting the land whining and crying that the people were too powerful. They couldn’t possibly conquer them. They even said they would have been better off to stay in Egypt. And then they proceeded to convince the people of Israel that they couldn’t possibly enter the land that the LORD had promised to them.

The LORD God was so angry at these ten men and the people that he declared the people would live and wander in the wilderness for forty years. That adult generation that came out of Egypt would die out before the nation of Israel would be allowed to enter the Promise Land.

After being set free from Egypt, seeing the Red Sea divided, after the LORD blessed them with food and water, led them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, they still didn’t trust God enough to lead them into the new land. This was only the beginning of a whole history in which the nation of Israel didn’t show faithfulness to God. Again and again they sadly didn’t choose life.

There had already been the golden calf incident in which they worshiped an idol completely contrary to the very first commandment. They complained about food and the lack of water. When the next generation did enter the Promised Land they almost immediately fell into worshiping the false gods of Canaan. Eventually Israel divided into two nations. Both of them were conquered by mid-eastern empires, many of the people killed or taken captive. By the time that Jesus was born only a remnant of the tribe of Judah remained. Through its whole history most of Israel did not choose life. They chose death and destruction.

We wonder why. When we read the accounts of Israel from the Old Testament, when we think of so many of the stories we learned in Sunday school, we are shocked by how unfaithful they were. They had an obvious choice to make, a choice of life with God, but they continually chose death and destruction.
We shouldn’t wonder why. Sin causes people to choose death and destruction all the time. Sin causes people to make the wrong choice all the time even when the good choice is so obvious. Our whole world for all its history has almost always chosen death and destruction.

In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Jesus is acknowledging and warning that the vast majority of people make a bad spiritual choice in life. They in the end choose death and destruction.

In our Second Lesson today the Apostle Paul writes that the sinful human mind can only conceive of and comprehend the wisdom of the world which does lead to death and destruction. The wisdom of God and the ability to believe the wisdom of God comes only from the Holy Spirit.

For the last fifty or so years the people of our own nation have been choosing death and destruction at a breathtaking and ever increasing rate. Our young people are choosing death and destruction at a tragic rate. And there’s no excuse for people’s bad choices. In his word God clearly promises us blessings and forgiveness if we believe and follow his Son Jesus Christ. If we don’t there ultimately will be death and eternal destruction in hell.

I say the choice is very obvious, but the truth is that Satan does a really good job of blinding people to the truth. When the people of Israel worshiped the golden calf they talked themselves into believing that their bad choice wasn’t so bad. As a matter of fact they still believed that they were worshiping the LORD God of Israel just through a different form, just through an idol made of gold. Their choice and behavior are very much like the person who says, “I can believe in God without worshiping him. I can get to heaven without going to church.”

Satan also misleads people to believe that their choice of death and destruction is not really death and destruction but life and prosperity. People who don’t believe in God or follow his will, people who reject Jesus as their Savior, quite often live quite good lives, lives often blessed with lots of wealth, good jobs, an abundant social life. But lurking behind their bad choices is eventual death and destruction.

You and I are tempted to choose death and destruction every day. And Satan is very good at making death and destruction look like life and prosperity. That’s why we need to listen very carefully to God’s promise to the people of Israel: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Still today God gives us every reason to choose life, to make that good choice. He says, “The LORD is your life.” Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Less than twenty-four hours after Jesus said these words he gave up his life so that we could have life. He died on a cross to atone for our sins. He rose again from the dead to prove to us that our sins are forgiven and that death and hell have been conquered for us.

So do what Moses told the people of Israel. Love the LORD your God. Listen to his voice. Hold fast to him. This is the obvious choice. Love God for what he has done for you. Love God for creating you. Love God for giving you life. Love God for preserving you in life. Love God for sending Jesus to save you from your sins. Listen to his voice. Hear his word. Read his word. Come to worship. Live according to his commandments.

We often mourn the fact that almost all the Israelites made a bad choice and chose death and destruction. But don’t overlook the wonderful truth that there were many who did choose life and prosperity. The pages of the Bible are filled with their names. There were Job, and Abraham and King David and all the prophets and thousands whose names we don’t know. In Jesus’ day there was Simeon and Anna. There were Mary and Joseph, the disciples, the Apostle Paul, and many, many more through the centuries and to this very day.

And we can mourn the history of our world and our own nation. So many have chosen death and destruction. But many have chosen life and prosperity as well. Their names are recorded in the Book of Life. There are millions who have put their faith in Jesus and chosen life, life in this world and eternal life in the world to come. Be sure to be among them. There really is no excuse for a bad choice.

Don’t let your friends, neighbors, and relatives off the hook when they deliberately choose not to worship and honor God and believe in his Son Jesus Christ. They have no excuse for their bad choice. Don’t let yourself off the hook by excusing bad choices. There are no excuses for a bad choice. Amen.