The following sermon was preached by Meredith E. Harber, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, February 20, 2014.
You’re walking home from class one day, munching on some baby carrots, and you notice that the front door of the old Victorian mansion on the corner is hanging wide open. The tree-lined street seems rather empty for being this time of day and the sky is beginning to cloud over. Is rain coming? That mansion has always been intriguing. You’ve never seen anyone go in or out of it, but the lawn is always perfectly manicured and there is always a perfectly polished black Town car parked in the driveway. You pause for a moment in your walk and take in the scene. You find yourself being drawn to the front porch and begin to gingerly walk up the steps. The door begins to creak as a cool breeze moves the door back and forth, back and forth. It appears to be dark inside of the house, but you step across the threshold. Once your eyes adjust a bit, you notice that there is a faint light coming out of the door in the hallway and you can hear a low hum.
If you would like to knock on the door and see what is in the basement, turn to page 12.
If you would like to turn around and run home, watch hours and hours of Parks and Recreation while shoving your hand into a bag of pretzels, close the book.
As a child, I loved the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from the Goosebumps series. I am the middle child of my family and would always secretly “borrow” these books from my little brother, Chip. In the privacy of my room, I’d anxiously read the set-up of the story and make a decision. Usually, I’d take the riskier decision, like knocking on the door, but then I’d flip back and read the other option too. I couldn’t really make a decision about page 12 or 22, until I knew what that meant.
While I doubt that Moses was sitting with the Israelites gathered around him, each reading their very own Goosebumps-Choose Your Own Adventure book, this is what Moses is offering them. See, friends, God has set before you some options. Should you choose life and prosperity, you’ll live in that place that you’ve been trying to get to and you’ll live with God. Should you choose death and adversity, you’ll be cursed.
Moses has set up these two options: life and death. Choose life so that your descendents may live. Choose life so that you may experience what God has done for you and in this day. If you don’t, you will perish.
This dualism sets us up in a way to say that we assume to know the answer without even thinking of the implications. Choosing life may seem like the “return home without knocking on the door with scary light coming out from under it” because it doesn’t have the risk of monsters, zombies, things that go bump in the night or any other fears. Home, safely, watching TV and eating a snack sounds safe and good and like the life I want to live. But home is not simply the less-frightening route.
As Christ’s followers, we are called to that scary option, the one where we find ourselves peering around the corner and investigating the light creeping out from under the door. Choose life so that you and your descendents may live, loving, obeying and holding fast. Christ has already agreed to death, so we choose life.
It is Christ’s love, the adventure that has been chosen for him, peering out from under the door in our lives. God calls us into a covenant with God in this passage, in this adventure of life and has laid before us the options. And just as we flip the pages back and forth and try to weigh our options, Moses has shared with the Israelites what this will entail, should we choose life, since it is our only hope, as Dr. Spock or someone said.
Choose life and obey the commandments: love God, love what God does, live out what God has called us to do.
Simple enough, right? Not so much. We’re taught to observe the 10 Commandments, including the bit of “not killing.” Choose life, not killing people. Got it. Are we creating life though? Are we acknowledging where life is happening, through people, animals, plants and all of creation? We fear death, yet I constantly choose death over life. We can rattle off a list of where life is being taken and not valued today. We can name the children being shot on the southside of Chicago, the protestors being slaughtered in Kiev, the chemicals the leech into our ground from the amount of toxic waste that we produce each year from our to-go cups and grocery bags. We also take life away when we don’t love God, by loving God’s entire creation. The Israelites wanted desperately to be in the land of their ancestors and to populate that place, the sacred space of memories, stories and experiences, to be filled again with the life of the offspring, and not just children of our wombs. This is the life that God is calling us into, the life that is our relationship with Christ and with our fellow creation. This is God’s dream—the shalom of what we are invited into.
Because here’s the secret, to save you from flipping through all of the possible options on page 12 or 22 or simply closing the book: Christ is life. Through his death and resurrection, Christ reveals to us what is behind that door with light streaming out. It is not to be feared and avoided, but it invites us to bask in the covenant of grace that God has carried out in the resurrection.
As the LSTC community, we have inherited the legacy of great saints who have gone before us who chose life. On this day, forty years ago, students and faculty at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis walked out of the doors in a moratorium, in response to the seminary board suspending the president. They became the Seminary in Exile, or Seminex, because they chose life, even when it was riskier to walk out of their jobs, their education and their community. Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ is risky business.
In thinking about this walk out, I did what most people my age are likely to do and I simply Googled it. I came across a YouTube video with the newsreel from the walk-out forty years ago. While I couldn’t identify who it was, one of the speakers said, “You are going out in order to speak the truth. The truth includes what you know about Concordia Seminary and the events that have taken place here. But that truth is much more than that. It is the truth with a capital T.”
This Truth is risky. The way of life is risky. Instead of going home to eat pretzels and remain content, they checked behind the door, following the light of Christ and choosing life, despite the risk of losing relationships, careers and educations, the zombies and monsters that COULD be behind that door.
Love the Lord your God, walk in God’s ways and observe the commandments. Love God with our whole beings is choosing life. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is choosing life. Loving the life that God has laid before us is choosing life. The land that is of our ancestors is already there. The relationship with God is already official and the table is already spread. Choosing life is our response to it.
The Lord your God has already created life and we are standing on the threshold, debating what is next. Will you close the book and run away, remaining complacent? Or, will you flip ahead, step lightly and find out what the light under the door is illuminating in yourself, in your neighbor and the Lord your God? Will you be propelled out of your seat to love God, to experience God in God’s ways and to choose life, trusting that God has already given you life in the resurrection?