Date: February 5, 2023
Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Scripture Reader: Bob Peterson
Sermon Title: “Journey to life and Prosperity”
You can also listen on Podcast from iTunes and Spotify. Search for “Podcasting from Rev. Bob Jon.”
I want to ask you a little challenging question this morning. What would be the last words that we say to our families or friends when we are dying? Let me share with you a couple of funny stories. Jean-Philippe Rameau was an eighteenth-century French composer. People said that he was one of the best musicians of his time. And he had a very high standard for anyone who sang in front of him. So, when a tone-deaf priest came to bless him, he said, “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.” How about this? Bob Hope was a famous actor, comic, and entertainer in the 1940s. His wife asked him where he wanted to be buried. And he said, “Surprise me.”
Again, let me ask you again. When you are about to breathe the last breath in this world, what would you say to your spouse, your children, your family, or your friends? What were the last words that your parents or your grandparents said to you before they took their last breath? I remember Ruth from my first church in NH. As she was waiting for her final moments, she looked at her husband and said, “Howard. You know how much I love you. I want you to be happy after I am gone. Go meet someone and live happily.” Whatever those last words might be, I believe that they have a lasting impact on our lives, as those people we care about took their last breaths to share their last wishes.
While we often consider Deuteronomy as a bunch of ancient laws that do not apply to our modern society anymore, these are the last words Moses made his last effort to preach and share with his people, the Israelites. After forty years of journey walking through the wilderness, Moses and his people finally arrived at the Promised Land. However, as God already instructed him, Moses knew that he would not be able to enter the Promised Land. Instead, he would die on the other side, merely looking at his people walking across the Jordan River. So, the Book of Deuteronomy, especially chapter 30, is the last words of Moses pleading with them how to live their lives so that they can be truly happy and flourish.
And the answer Moses gives is this. “Choose life, not death, adversity,” When I say, “Choose Life,” I believe that these words have been used as a slogan for many different groups to advance their agendas. One group has used it to overcome the urge to drink or use drugs. Another group has used it to tell people not to harm themselves, as there are help available. No matter what they are going through, the world is better because they are with us. Another group has used the slogan “Choose Life” to oppose abortion. So, when we hear the words, “Choose Life,” we might have different ideas of what that means for us. How about you? How do you interpret Moses’s words here, “Choose life?”
Charles Campbell, a distinguished scholar of preaching, comments that while many of us are likely to see the choice as either life or death, he believes that the choice is also about prosperity and adversity. The good is a material life of abundance. Death is not just the demise of one’s being. It also indicates existence that “lacks joy, well-being, security, and abundance.” In other words, Moses is giving his last sermon to the Israelites not just to wish that his people would stay alive, merely surviving after they enter the Promised Land. Instead, Moses is talking about the quality of their life, how to live their lives as people in covenant with God who grants a life with joy and happiness.
How can we pursue a life with joy and happiness? Moses says, “If you love God, walk in God’s ways, and observe God’s commandments, God will bless you in the land you enter. But if turn away and worship other gods and serve them, you will not live long in the land.” In other words, Moses teaches us that our happiness is grounded in our personal relationship with God who gives us the purpose of our lives and guides our communal lives as God’s redeemed people. Although some religions teach their followers that life is about suffering, John Wesley also argued that we are created by God to seek happiness in this world which can be fulfilled when we love our God and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Unfortunately, we often try to find our worth by measuring our happiness based on how much money we have, how secure our job is, show to others what a wonderful family we have, or how influential we can be to others. Well, we may not build an idol and bow our head to it, as Moses was worried that his people would do when they were about to enter the Promised Land. And we often give our allegiance to something or someone other than God, thinking that these would truly satisfy our deepest needs and make us happy. But how often do we end up, instead, being disappointed, feeling still empty, frustrated, and even more uncertain?
In Confession, St. Augustine states, “You have made us for yourself. O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” God created us in God’s love for us. Love is not just the nature of who God is. Love is the very reason why we are created in the first place. In other words, we can find our true joy and happiness in this world only when we love our God and our neighbors. And our love for God needs to be manifested through our ethical responsibility for others. Therefore, Moses says in Deuteronomy 24, “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers. You shall pay them their wages because their livelihood depends on them. You shall not deny justice to a widow, alien, and orphan.
As you know, we celebrated the life of Joanne a couple of weeks ago. I shared this with you during the funeral service. But I would like to share this story again in case you were not here for the funeral. The day before she passed away, I went to see her at the hospital in Manchester, NH. When I got there, she was doing some MRI tests. Her daughter, Jen, told me that the doctor thought that Joanne had a liver cancer. When Joanne finally came to her room, she was in so much pain. But when she saw me, she was full of my joy and smiles. I laid my hands on her forehead and prayed for her. After I finished my prayer, she held my hand and started praying for me. I had never experienced something like that.
During the funeral service, her daughter shared with the people that the night before she passed, Joanne did Facetime with the staff members at her nursing home. She thanked them for all their love and care. In sensing her imminent death, she still remembered her Maker who created her in His image with so much love. And she was sharing the love of God with all those around her, thanking God for them, praying for them, and telling them she loved them. Just in case you have not read the Advocate for February yet, she even wrote a letter of her last words of love and encouragement and sent it to our church. Let me share it with you.
“Thank you, my treasured Aldersgate family for all the prayers and cards of encouragement in this latest period in my faith journey. You are such a blessing to me and I treasure your presence in my life. Sometimes we don’t know where our faith journey will take us but we know and trust the One who leads us. God is so good! He has blessed my life with my Aldersgate church family! My prayer is we can be together soon and my prayer for all of us is that our waiting for the Prince of Peace is filled with prayer, hope, and peace and love for all.” Joanne Snook.
In today’s reading from Deuteronomy, Moses gives his final words to his people because of his love for the people. He knew that the journey ahead of them was perilous, filled with dangers and temptations. But he encouraged them to remember their God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt and put their trust in God who surely had a path for their life and prosperity. And we remember Joanne as our saint who put her trust in God, and shared her journey of faith and love with us. And we faithfully continue on our journey as it is not over yet. We may not always know where we are going whether individually or communally. But we put our trust in God, encouraging one another in this journey and sing
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
Oh Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
 Sarah Vincent, “15 Funny Last Words That Are Morbidly Hilarious” https://www.rd.com/list/funny-last-words/ (accessed on February 3, 2023)
 Charles Campbell, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Vol 1: year A, (Louisville: WJKP, 1995)