You and I make choices every day….big and small…at least we think they are small. For example, think about that long day you had, when you got home and you just wanted to sit on the couch and recharge. But it is dinnertime. The thought of getting up and making a healthy meal is beyond your energy level. The little dive near you has a deal on some delicious, greasy tacos – three for $3. You could get in the car and go get them or better yet, you could use your phone app and have Door Dash deliver it to your door. And who are you hurting? The tacos are only $3. I’m hungry just thinking about it.
Or how many times have you decided to drive yourself to an event, even though someone offered you a ride. The independence of having your own car parked right outside is too important. You might want to leave before they do, after all, and your convenience is important.
Choices….our days are filled with them. We already know what choices are better for our pocket books, our health, for others, for the Earth…but our infractions seem small…and we are so good at justifying our choices. What does it matter if we use paper plates, just this time? I prefer to drive myself and it isn’t that far. It isn’t that big of a deal. I’m not really hurting anyone. I deserve those three tacos after the day I had.
We make bad choices every day…knowing that they are bad choices…for our health…for the environment….for our descendants.
We make choices that necessitate the slaughter of animals; the destruction of the rain forest; the subjugation of poor and minority communities; the diminishing of health. We make bad choices every day…knowing that they are bad choices…and we do it anyway.
Moses, standing at the edge of the Promised Land next to his people is worried about them making bad choices. They have been through a lot together. They escaped a brutal dictator. They wandered for years in the wilderness trying to sustain life on very little. Moses knew his people and he knew who they were when he wasn’t keeping a sharp eye on them. He remembered that when God provided them manna in the desert, they complained. He remembered that as soon as he went up the mountain to meet with God they had melted down their golden jewelry to build an idol to worship. They had built a golden calf and called it their god. They worshiped a god of their own making.
Moses knew his people and he knew the choices they would make if given half a chance. And at this moment, after forty years he was watching the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land. They were about to cross the river and enter the land they would call “home” and Moses wasn’t going to get to go with them. Moses wouldn’t be there to tell them “no”. And so he sings his “swan song” to them trying desperately to influence their future behavior.
He says to them: “What I am about to tell you already know. You carry it in your heart and your mouth. The right choice lives in your body and yet you often don’t make the right choice even though you know what it is. Today is a big day. It is decision day. As you cross this river you have to ask yourselves who you are going to be in relationship to this land…this gift? You have a choice to make and I implore you to choose life! Choose life and what is good over death and what is wrong. How do you do that? By obeying God, loving God and serving God. God, with a capital “G”…not a god, with a little “g”, of your own making. Make the right choice so that you and those who come after you will live. Today you must decide. Choose wisely.”
William Gould was the founder of Gould Farm, a farm in Massachusetts in which a community of people live by Christian principles and share family life on a farm with people in need. What he created had its frustrating and difficult moments and not long before his death, Gould gave an evening talk to the community based on Moses’ last words to his people. He said of Moses’ speech: “I wonder if there was ever a farewell message from any leader finer than this, the most magnificent summing up of a leader to his people….Choose ye this day between life and death. The decision is not for the future, it’s not conditioned by circumstances – when this thing or that thing has worked out the way we hoped; the decision can be made now.”
I believe that each and every day we stand in this Promised Land of God’s creation it is decision day. Who are we going to be in relationship to this land…to this gift we have been given? Moses tells them that their decision should be to choose life by loving, obeying and serving God. When we make our decisions about our relationship to the gift of this creation I don’t think most of us start by focusing on loving, serving and obeying God. I think we start somewhere else.
We might focus on what others are doing wrong. For example, I was going to start my sermon today by telling you all the decisions made by our government in the past year that will harm this land. And I don’t just stop with our governmental leaders. I notice how much water my neighbor uses watering his lawn and I feel superior. It is always easier to point to someone else’s bad choices than take responsibility for our own.
Now I know that many of you are careful about the choices you make and you are choosing to use Fair Trade products. You are using less water, installing solar panels, riding your bikes, driving a hybrid or zero-emission car, and striving to use locally grown products….all good things. But we have to be careful that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that the way we choose life is through our consumption.
Let me be clearer about that. Earth Day was created in 1970 to show support for environmental protection and to educate ourselves about how we can do a better job of caring for the Earth. But it has been widely co-opted by Corporate America. Not too long ago Tide put out an advertisement on Earth Day to advertise its new “Coldwater” detergent. The ad said, “Earth Day. Every Day. Every Load.” Jeep put out an advertisement of one of their vehicles driving off the edge of the Earth that said, “If there is no planet, where will you drive?” The message of Earth Day has been stolen to hawk products that actually might not be that good for the Earth. Even when we make good choices in what we buy, we have to remember we are still consumers…big time consumers.
We can become puffed up and proud of ourselves for the privileged choices we make to save the Earth. While we are proud of ourselves for refusing the three tacos for $3 deal, an impoverished parent is feeding their children on those tacos and is grateful. We get to buy locally sourced products. Does our privilege mean we have chosen life? No.
Now I’m not saying, “Don’t make good choices with your money.” Please do. But we can’t worship our consumption. We are a country that worships a bunch of idols of our own making—greed, hatred, nationalism, domination, self-indulgence, security, rights and consumption. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our life and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”
Correct consumption is not the choice that Moses was talking about when he said, “Choose life”. Moses wanted the Israelites to see the land they were about to enter as God’s gift, just as we are called to see this Earth as a gift from God. If you stop and notice this pretty planet as created by God as a gift to you, how differently will you treat it? Correct consumption isn’t the beginning, it is simply a by-product of loving, obeying and serving God….for what we are worshipping we are becoming. We can’t buy our way into choosing life.
William Gould of Gould Farm went on to say:
Choose ye this day what ye shall be, what you yourselves shall be. Have we got to wait till all the world is sound before we are sound? Till all the world is unselfish before we are unselfish? Till all the world has peace, before we have peace? Till all the world has joy before we have joy?
Of course we don’t. Each and every day we live in God’s Promised Land. Each and every day we have a choice to make. Who will we worship? Who will we serve? Every day is decision day. Every day is a day to say yes to God. Every day is a day to look around us and say this is God’s holy ground. Every day is the chance to say, “I am going to take off my shoes and treat this land with respect for it is a beautiful and sacred gift. I am going to worship, serve and obey God. I am going to choose life!” Amen.