Robert Frost once famously wrote in a poem “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Those words reflect well the theme of this week’s Old Testament reading. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” This passage really reflects the whole thought of our faith. We can choose to follow one of two ways. In my opinion, this passage is really simple to preach because it’s just lying out the simple reality that we can choose a way that leads to life or we can choose a way that leads to death. One is a wellspring of hope, faith, love, compassion, mercy, and grace. The other is despair, loss, hatred, self-centered, cruelty, and stiffness. One leads to saying to life, abundant life, here and now. The other leads to a life that cannot live up to what it was called to. This is what our faith is, following the life-giving way.
Early Christianity was called the Way. It was called this because the early Christians knew that Jesus Christ was the Way. He was the way that they were called to live. They were to give up their lives and instead live life through him while allowing Christ to be the one that lives through them. Those who follow God are called to live a different way than the rest of the world that surrounds them. Christians follow a Kingdom way, the way of the slaughtered lamb who reigns forever and ever. The Kingdom is a way of life, while what I often call “Empire” is the way of death. Pastors, in every passage we are given the opportunity to preach the Kingdom while preaching against the Empire, but it is especially made clear in this passage. The Kingdom way leads to the life (both now and after) that we are to possess. The Empire way leads to death.
I mentioned above that this is a simple passage to preach. I stand by that. With that being said though, it is not an easy passage to preach. Our people are so engrained in the ways of the Empire that they barely notice it. If I’m honest, sometimes we are too, Pastors. The Empire’s gods of greed and idolatry weasel their way into our lives in real and dangerous ways. This is an opportunity for us to preach a different God, a better God, a true God. The Empire, the way of death tells us we need to get more, more, and more. It tells us to work ourselves to death. We must have the newest, the nicest, the most. The Kingdom, the way of life, however, tells us to rest. We are to take a Sabbath’s rest. Relax. Rely on God, not your own strength. The way that leads to life also tells us to give away what we have. If you have two coats, give one away, and whoever has enough food, share! (Luke 3:11). Saint Basil the Great sums up the Kingdom way that leads to life like this: “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”
The false gods of idolatry are a major hindrance to the way of life as well. These idols of the Empire are well hidden. As mentioned just previously, the idol of wealth and greed, but there are also idols such as safety, family, “freedom,” and so many others. While those things are all good, when they get in the way of following Christ’s cruciform way of living, they become idols and false gods of the Empire that must be preached against. Again, this passage is a simple passage to preach, but it is in no way an easy one. It will make our congregations uncomfortable because too many of us are entrenched in the Empire’s way. We must return to the Way, the Kingdom way, Jesus’ way of living.
One of these ways is easy. One of them requires no sacrifice, but ultimately leads to death. It is well traveled. The other way, though, the better way, leads to life. The better way is a hard way, though. It requires sacrifice and for us to give up our life, so that we would have Christ’s life. It calls us to a cruciform way of being, giving of ourselves to others, so that both they and we might have life. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” You have a choice, Kingdom’s life or Empire’s death. Choose life, brothers and sisters! “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”