Sanctity of Human Life Day January 21-22, 2023
“Last Words” Deuteronomy 30:11-20
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
A while back Marilyn and I put together our wills. When we die, these, so to speak, will be the last words that we utter. I find it humorous that those important words should begin with the declaration, “Being of sound mind…”. In all of my life I’m not sure that I have ever been “of sound mind.”
Our wills are unique in a way. They both start with a Christian preamble. Maybe you have one of those in your will, as well. It acknowledges that we have been in God’s care all of our life, from the time of conception to the day that we’ll take our final breath. It confesses that Jesus Christ is our Savior and we trust in nothing else than His death and resurrection to save us. It reminds those who read the will that we are now in God’s hand. Our last and final words are important words. Then we get to the big stuff – who gets the couch??
Last words are big words. The words in our text are the words from Moses, just a short while before he died. Pouring out his heart to those God called him to lead he says, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; that you may live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20)
Those last words from Moses are “either/or” words. It is either life or death. It is either blessings or curses. Light or darkness. To me it sounds like Genesis 2, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Verses 16-17) Or when Jesus speaks, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Joshua, the successor of Moses, is a little bit confrontational in the last words he speaks to the Israelites, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Where do you stand? Where is your hope? Who is going to lead you? Jesus in John 14 says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Verse 6)
You have to have life for yourself. I pray that you truly have the fullness of life that God wants to bring to you through Jesus Christ – the Savior and the Lord. But we do not consider ourselves, alone, in this matter. This fullness of life is for all. When Christ says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10) it includes all people. The last words in Matthew’s gospel are, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Today, in tens of thousands of Christian congregations, in thousands of denominations, Life Sunday is celebrated. We recognize that our words, the first ones we speak as well as the final ones, are impactful to others. How we speak about the unborn, the baby in the womb, the poor, the disadvantaged, the handicapped, the refugee, the sick and the elderly is important. In some of the final words in the Book of Proverbs we hear, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of those who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
Words that you speak to others, or on behalf of others, are important; they make a difference. I bet you have had words spoken to you that have cut and stung and that you can’t forget. I imagine that we have spoken words that have damaged and destroyed others. We have had words leave our lips that we wish we could have back. First words, last words, our final words must be the right words.
Speak up for the life of others. We live in a world where life is not defended. We live in a state where a child, to the very moment of birth, can be murdered through an abortion. We live with too much violence, too many senseless acts of brutality, too much sin.
When Moses and Joshua spoke their final words, their most important words, they laid out the choice that had to be made. It is either life or death, either one follows God in life, or they do not. Either one trusts in the work of God, our Savior, or they do not. St. Paul, in speaking about the choice that one makes with the use of their body gives the either/or word, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
Too many times we have been weak on words. Too many times we have lacked the backbone to stand up for what is godly and right. Lord, forgive us for our cowardice!!
But I know another who had the final words, the last words that changed everything for sinners who need a word of hope. When Jesus is on the cross the thief on His right says, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” (See Luke 23:42-43) Jesus had these words when He gave Himself for our sins, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) He also said, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Rev. Dr. Greg Seltz, the former Lutheran Hour Speaker and now the Executive Director for the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C. says that Life Sunday is Grace Sunday. “The Church consists of repentant-believers, graced-receivers of His message of life. Sin doesn’t disqualify us from His gift of life, unrepentance does. Struggle doesn’t prohibit us from receiving and sharing God’s message of life.”
Have you seen the recent commercials about Jesus on TV? They are titled “Jesus – He Gets Us.” It is a 100 million dollar campaign to introduce Jesus to people. Already 120 million folks have seen these commercials. It shows real families in real conflict, with true anxiety, families facing crisis pregnancies. It shows real people who are displaced and are refugees. It shows real people who are broken, shattered, weeping. And then the word at the end of the commercial says, “Jesus – He Gets Us.” He really does.
He has the final word of grace and forgiveness and hope to all of us who have misused our final words or who have failed to defend God’s gift of life from birth to end. He has the final word so that we can choose life and invite Him daily into our own home and life and the lives and homes of others.
Last words mean everything. May ours be: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And, one more – “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” Amen!!