First Things: The Law of Life
“First things” is a time-to-time look at the first reading for this coming Sunday. Next Sunday’s reading is Deuteronomy 30:15-20, which you can find by clicking here.
The following essay is based on an earlier work of mine, originally posted to Modern Metanoia, a now-inactive--but excellent--resource for those preparing to preach. View the original here.
The Israelites were in Egypt, enslaved under Pharaoh’s cruelty. They cried out to help, and in a mighty feat, God delivered them from bondage. Right away, the Israelites responded like any grateful people would: they made an idol (a golden calf, remember?) and began to worship it.
So they had to wander in the wilderness for forty years. After much wandering and lots of drama, Moses leads the people to the promised land.
Tradition holds, they are all standing on Mt. Nebo, overlooking the Jordan valley and peering into Israel, the land that God had promised them. Here, Moses would give an extended speech begging the Israelites to honor the covenant they made with God. At the end of the speech, he would drop dead.
Imagine the world’s worst family road trip. The car has no air conditioning. There are two screaming children in the back, whining the whole way. The GPS breaks. The kids beg to turn back. You get lost. You’re hungry. The kids continue to act out.
Now, imagine this car trip goes for 40 years. And right as you can see the theme park, you drop dead. Depressing, isn’t it?
In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses lays out the stakes to the Israelites, with whom he has endured the world’s worst-ever road trip. "You can choose life or death. God has delivered you, led you, fed you, promised to care for you forever, and also gave you some guidance for living. And alllllll you have to do is live into the relationship God desires for you,” he seems to say. “Please just this once make good choices.” Before, again, he drops dead.
Hardly uplifting stuff on its own. Thankfully, that’s not all of it.
The remarkable liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, is famous for his book The God of Life, which articulates a simple-but-novel understanding of who God is. God, simply put, is life. God creates life. God wishes for life’s flourishing. And when we bring death to the world with our sin, God turns that death into more life by dying and rising again.
It reminds me of my favorite verse, John 10:10, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”
As I have said before elsewhere, Jesus didn’t die on the cross just so we would behave. God’s ultimate concern is the radical flourishing of life everywhere, and God gives the law, not simply to tell us what to do, but to bring about that flourishing life. Gutierrez writes, “The law or Torah must be put into practice; it is life because it is a way to God.” God gives us the law to become for us the way of life.
This is why we forgive. For the sake of abundant life, for less violence, less death. This is why we oppose racism. Because racism kills. This is why we feed the hungry, so they may live. We don’t do the right thing in a vacuum, rather God grants us life and puts us to work as co-creators, extending that life to all the globe.
This is the attitude Lutheran Christians bring to life. God has saved us, and all the world, by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are born into that eternal life through baptism, and we spend our lives in thanksgiving for what God has done for us. The law, things like honoring each other and serving others, this is done by God through us.
And, because we are forgiven, we don’t have to waste time worrying about what is right and what is wrong. God grants us life even when death stalks us. What we should do becomes what we get to do. And all of the “culture-wars”-esque proscriptions against divorce, dancing, laughing, diversity, and the like fade away. “What brings life?” Becomes our ultimate question, because life is God’s ultimate concern.
You, too, can be a source of life for the world. In your forgiveness, in your honesty, in your good works, you bring life to others. The sick are healed. The oppressed are set free. The hungry are fed. No one can do it all, but we can all do something. And our congregation works hard to do something life-giving in our community, especially in partnership with GWCM, a mission-focused group of churches in the Woodbury area. Together, we are Christians… for life.
For more reading about a theology of life and an excellent sermon by the incomparable Rev. Anna Tew, click here. In her sermon, she rightfully takes down the notion of “good food” and “bad food."