The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
A few years ago the insurance company, Geico, made a commercial designed to be a spoof on the horror movie genre. The commercial begins with three terrified people running in the dark. Clearly, they are being chased. They come upon a scary house. The young man suggests: “Let’s hide in the attic.” A woman next to him disagrees saying: “No, in the basement.” And the third young woman (I’m pleased to say she was a blond) says: “Why can’t we just get in the running car.” The screen pans to a convertible--and the promise an easy getaway. The young man says: “Are you crazy? Let’s hide behind the chainsaws.” Whereupon we see a gruesome tableau of chainsaws swinging in the night sky. At which point the terrified people say: “Smart. Yea.” And run to the chainsaws. The announcer comes on: “If you’re in a horror movie, you make poor decisions. It’s what you do.” The advertisement now turns to the chainsaw wielding masked man who looks disgusted. The announcer says: “Don’t make a poor decision.” The message, of course, is to insure yourself with Geico.
In the lesson from Deuteronomy Moses says to the people of Israel: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. …. I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him…”
Choose life. It sounds so easy. And yet, Moses knew the people to whom he was speaking. These are the same people who, while he was on Mount Sinai, came up with the idea of worshiping the golden calf. These are the same ones who have spent years complaining as they wandered through the wilderness. The people of God have not been known for choosing the right path. If you were a teacher giving them a grade, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a C. This is true. There is also this…they are ourselves.
The message of this reading is that our choices matter. But the truth is, choosing life isn’t always easy--the situations before us aren’t always as clear as those depicted in the Geico commercial, nor are they as dramatic. On a day-to-day basis, most of us would be hard pressed to see the decisions we make--what to fix for dinner, whether to put off that difficult phone call or just send a text, or who to invite to poker night, as life or death decisions. And, perhaps if we did, we’d find ourselves paralyzed with fear. But think on this--maybe our daily decisions are this important. The decisions we make day after day and week by week lean towards life or death. In the end, these are choices we make and they are our responsibility. Should I talk to that person who I find disagreeable--or ignore them. Should I mend a fractured relationship or hold a grudge? Should I write my representative in congress about this issue I heard about on the news? Do I buy this product, even though I suspect it might be made by prison labor in China? Do I look into this further or simply put it out of my mind? Should I say a prayer as I drive by that car wreck or simply focus on my destination. Perhaps it could be that the practice of making decisions each day--and seeing them in the context of leaning towards life or choosing death prepares us for the larger decisions we face in life. Moments when we are called upon to speak the truth, even when we know the consequences will be less than desirable. That day when we are called to make a choice between staying safe, or moving toward what is, as of yet, unknowable.
This week we’ve learned about the devastating earthquake a world away in Syria and Turkey--it’s a horrific and heart-rending situation. Most of us can’t board a plane and make a trip overseas. We’re not going to be moving rubble or caring for people in hospital beds. But each of us does have a choice--to pray for the suffering, or not. To send whatever donation we can muster to help alleviate need. To keep ourselves aware of a crisis which will have ongoing ramifications for a good time to come or live by the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” Our efforts might not safe anyone’s life--but they may help alleviate suffering. It’s a choice we can make.
The decisions we make are important. That’s the message of this reading. That’s huge. Perhaps even overwhelming. It’s enough to make you want to turn off the news feed and go back to bed. And yet--there is also this--in the end, the greatest, most impactful decision has already been made for us. And this, I tell you, is Good News.
Jesus made the choice for us on the cross--defeating death. Come Easter, we will confess that Jesus “destroyed death”. In the Letter to the Hebrews we are told: “Jesus “tasted death for every one,” and “through death he rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” In other words, God has already chosen life for us. Think of it this way--by choosing death (death upon the cross), our Savior, chose for us life.
In those moments, when we are stymied by the choices we must make--or the decisions choose not to make--it is good for us to remember that the largest, most impactful decision has already been made. Jesus chose life for us.
Our task is to continue to say “yes” to that life. In her poem, “Called to Say Yes” by Edwinia Gateley, she writes: “We are called to say yes. That the kingdom might break through to renew and transform/ our dark and groping world.”
Saying yes and choosing life are not only a means of self preservation and self-improvement--it is a means of renewing our world and all of the peoples who dwell in it. As Christians, we have the blessing of being able to make these decisions with confidence, knowing that in our striving, the final decision has already been made for us. Ours is a partnership with God--in choosing the path that leads toward life--not only for ourselves, but for everyone. Choose wisely this week not simply that you may find life and wholeness--but so that all those around you may enjoy its blessings as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.