Saturday, February 15, 2020

Year A, Epiphany 6, Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Matthew 5.21-37, Choose life

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
God grants us the freedom to choose, but the choice is between life and death.  Nevertheless it is still our choice.
Put in those terms, as Moses did, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would choose anything but life.  But it gets complicated.
In our world today it’s hard to hear these words about choosing life without calling to mind the whole debate concerning abortion and the way it’s been framed as a question of pro-Life or pro-Choice.
We all have heard the arguments on both sides.
The pro-Life people argue adamantly that the unborn child has a right to life, and that abortion is murder and should be banned.
The pro-Choice people maintain that a woman has the right to make her own reproductive choices, that is, to determine whether or not she gives birth to a child.
The way this issue has been formed, as a conflict between the rights of the mother versus the rights of the child, there will likely never been any consensus about what is right, though some of us may try.
Personally, I find myself in the middle.  I believe that it is indeed the right of the woman to choose what happens to her, but that the moral obligation in most circumstances is to choose life.
This is in keeping with the teaching of our Church on this matter.
Our social statement on abortion lifts up the sanctity of life and questions whether it is ever appropriate to talk about absolute rights.  In this regard, talking about a woman’s rights versus the rights of a fetus is simply wrong.  It’s not either or.
And our Church acknowledges that there are some situations where choosing abortion is morally justifiable.  Three situations are specifically mention: when a woman’s life is in jeopardy, when the fetus is not viable, and in cases of incest and rape.
But the abortion statement leans toward maintaining that these decisions are best made by those involved, weighing all the considerations. 
My point is that there is a middle ground, and I believe that it is Choose Life.  Namely, that the woman has the right to choose, but that the moral imperative is to choose life in most every circumstance.
Having said that, one of the criticisms of the pro-life position is that it is too often just a pro-birth position.  That is, there is so much more to life than simply birth.  And to advocate for life, is to advocate for those things that are crucial to life beyond the delivery room.  Caring for the child throughout that child’s life.
Moses put it this way.
We choose life “by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances.”
Today’s lessons are once again part of the holiness tradition.
Often times in our teaching we focus on confession and absolution.  And the Gospel is viewed almost entirely from the standpoint of what Jesus has done for us that we might be forgiven and saved.  He died to take away our sins.
The holiness tradition is different.
The holiness tradition begins with the supposition that how you live your life matters.
If you live and upright and Godly life you will experience enumerable blessings.
But if you abandon the ways of the Lord you will experience the consequences of those choices.
We have a choice.
But the choice is between life and death.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches us about life and living.  And when we consider his teaching we quickly discover that Jesus was concerned not just about the letter of the law, but the Spirit of the law.  And also, in keeping with that, the choices we make will have consequences.
Consider his teaching on murder:
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
What Jesus is saying here is that to choose life is more than simply not murdering someone.  It also involves how we treat one another.
In our highly polarized society, how often has anger, or insults, or accusations of foolishness been at the core of our behaviors?
Just watch the news.  Just watch the news.
Day after day, cutting one another down and showing one type of disrespect after another has become the norm.
Too often we fail to honor and respect one another.
I also believe that when we listen to Jesus teaching there are other implications.
Health care, for example.
I rather imagine that if Jesus was alive today he would say “It’s not enough that you do not murder.  You also should provide the healthcare that is essential to life.”
During one of our classes a while back the question was asked whether we determined what is sinful or not.
My response was “Yes, and no.”
Yes in that there are many things in our modern world that were not addressed in the Bible because they simply did not exist at the time.
But no in that it was Jesus taught us that we are to love the Lord our God and our neighbor as ourselves.
We are too love one another.
But what does love involve in a particular circumstance.
One example of an issue that goes beyond what the Bible addresses is the whole field of medical ethics.
There are choices today that the Bible could never have anticipated.
End of life choices, for example.
This is something that surprised me when I became a pastor.  I had no clue when I became a pastor how frequently life and death decisions are made at the end of a person’s life.
We are moving toward the day when every single death will involve a choice on our part.  When do we keep people alive at all cost, and when do we allow them to die.
When I entered the ministry, no one had prepared me for all the times that I would have to help people with the decision to let their loved one die.  Many times I was the one to tell the doctor to stop treatment.
Underlying those choices was always the question of what is the loving thing to do in that circumstance.  What is God’s will? 
Divorce is another issue that Jesus addresses that is very relevant to today.
It’s complicated.
There is a story told about a young man that approached Billy Graham with a question about divorce.  He explained that he and his wife just didn’t love each other anymore.  His question was whether God really wanted him to remain married to someone he didn’t love anymore.
Billy Graham replied “No, God doesn’t want you to be married to someone you don’t love, so get on your knees and pray that God will help you to love your wife again.”
So that is one side of the question.
But at the same time, marriage was never intended to be a prison.  Some marriages should end because of the abuse and harm that is part of the relationship.
The question is how can we best live in a health enduring relationship.
Here is where the Spirit of the Law and the Letter of the Law come into play.
One of the things that humors me is when people avoid getting married because they are afraid of getting divorced.  And so they just live together.
According to the letter of the law they will never have to divorce and feel that pain.
However, if their relationship comes to an end they will grieve just the same.
A relationship is a relationship, and God desires that we choose lifelong faithful relationships.  That is to choose life, not death.
Choices.  Life is full of them.
And the choices we make affect the quality of the lives we live.
We are free to choose, but the choice we make has consequences.
That’s life.

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