Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sermon: Choose Life!

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Saint Mark UMC
Sunday, February 13, 2011

Choose Life!

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Today I stand in the pulpit, not just as a preacher. Today I stand next to Moses, who is speaking to the Israelites for one of the last times. Today, I stand as a mother whose only daughter is being engrafted into the covenant God made with God’s own people. Today, I come to this text as one who is choosing life for her. I am choosing to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and slavery to sin and death. Today, my family and I are choosing life.

A wise woman once wrote of preaching, in any text we are to write what we see and what we believe. That wise woman is Anna Carter Florence, and she is one of Sloan’s Godparents (and will be here at the 11:15 service!). In this text, the words, “Choose Life!” are all that I see. They leap off the page at me, demanding that I grapple with the sternness of this command. “Choose life!” Moses writes, and you and your descendents will live. In this verse, we learn that God has given us options, and we have the power to choose which path we take. Will it be life and blessings? Or death and curses?

If what I see in this text is the choice God has given us, then what I see in the world backs it up. On Friday Mubarak resigned as President of Egypt after 18 days of civil unrest and fled Cairo. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had stepped down and that the Egyptian military would assume control of the nation's affairs in the short term. Jubilant celebrations broke out in Cairo at the news. Yesterday, Jim Wallis wrote a letter on the Sojourners blog to the young Egyptian protestors, encouraging them in their efforts and exhorting them, saying, “Don’t turn the ‘transition’ to democracy over to the managers, who have avoided democracy for the sake of their stability for a long time now.” In Egypt, we have witnessed what has happened when an entire nation chooses life over death: life which came with a cost, life that overturned stability for the sake of true living. In their actions, the Egyptians have done something virtually unthinkable: they chose freedom, but doing so was not without risk.

In our text today, we hear the climax of Moses’ final speech to those who have been wandering in the wilderness for forty years. This is the culmination of the Covenant that the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in the land of Moab. He begins by reminding them of what they have seen the Lord do for them during their time in the wilderness, that “the clothes on your back have not worn out, and the sandals on your feet have not worn out;” (Deut. 29:5) Moses speaks to the trials, signs and wonders they have witnessed, and he addresses all who have been waiting for this time. All have been gathered to hear- the leaders of the tribes, the elders, the officials, the men, the children, the women, the aliens, the servants – ALL have gathered to hear the promise that God is making with each of them. This is a mark of the social and generational inclusiveness of Israel’s covenant community. No one is “out.” All who have ears to hear and eyes to see are invited to receive the promise from God, in order that all may be established as God’s people, and that God would be God of all.

But this promise is not just for those who have experienced the wandering in the wilderness. God speaks through Moses saying that this covenant is being made, “not only with you who stand here with us today, but also with those who are not here” (Deut. 29:14-15). In all ways, God is seeking to underscore the importance of the covenant that God will be our God and we will be God’s people. This is a promise for the ages, for in God, we have no need. In God, we can put our trust. In God, there is true love and acceptance and salvation.

But the Israelites, who are the first to abandon their end of the deal, see the worst of God’s wrath. They have seen the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, and they live in the stories of their ancestors. No longer is the Lord God a protective creator, a loving Father, but God is to the Israelites a punitive master. It appears as though God has commanded something (to be loved above all other gods) that is too difficult for them to honor. The stubborn refusal of the Israelites to trust in a God who provided for them in the wilderness for decades has become a story of unrequited love. God seems to behave like a lover who has been wounded, whose wrath has been provoked and who has uprooted the very people God once covenanted to protect.

So Moses lays out the choice to the Israelites in stark terms. I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. Choose life, which is to love and serve God. The invitation in this speech is for all who have ears to hear – a message of inclusion to all people to live in love with God their creator, that all creation might be saved. God offers us this message through the lips of a leader who has remained faithful through the worst of conditions. Through the bleakness of their enslavement, the desolate wilderness time and the rebellious acts of the Israelites, Moses stood as the intermediary between God in heaven and the people on earth. The man who heard the voice in the burning bush did not turn away from the flames and heat, but stood in the presence of God. This man now makes his final plea for the people to choose life that they and their descendents may live, so that they may live in the land flowing with milk and honey (31:20). This land was not just for those who had wandered, but for all who had come before – the ancestors of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But here’s the thing: Moses himself will not see the Promised Land. “When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them: ‘I am now a hundred and twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the Lord has told me, “You shall not cross over this Jordan.” The Lord your God himself will cross over before you.” (Ch. 31, v. 1-3). The promise was always for the Israelites, for those who had survived the exile and those born in its memory. When Moses says, “Choose life!” He says so with the knowledge of his own death. He knows that once he dies, the people will continue to forsake the God who has pursued them relentlessly with promises of care and a land of endless plenty. They have left Egypt – a land of slavery – and crossed the Jordan into a land of freedom. Moses passes his mantle to Joshua, and relinquishes the power to speak. In dying, Moses finds life in the culmination of his faithful life. He performed signs and wonders in Egypt, against Pharaoh, and in the sight of all Israel. His eyes saw the Promised Land, but he never crossed the Jordan, the river of promise.

The Jordan River separates the people from a choice of life and death. Choose death and adversity, and you will stay in Egypt – a land of slavery. But cross over the Jordan River, where all of God’s promises will come to be fulfilled in Christ Jesus through the waters of baptism, and you will have life – life eternal, life flowing with milk and honey, life filled with love for God and neighbor. This choice holds the promise of the greatest gift – that all who might choose life will have it in Christ. We repeat the actions given to us by John the Baptist each time we administer the water on the head of a child, we say “yes” to life. We make our own choice to cross over the River Jordan and into the Promised Land, lived out in the faithful community. Today, as we baptize a child –my daughter - in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the water placed on her head will unite all of us into one covenant, made by God to the Israelites.
As Moses began his speech, he reminded the hearers that the promise from God was for all in time - for their ancestors and their descendents. For us, and our children and our children’s children. So, let us choose life. Let us be reminded of our baptism, which began in the Jordan River – the river of promise – and is the mark of the life we have in Christ. Today, we live in a world where slavery and injustice are still prevalent forces, but we have witnessed to a nation that has chosen to find its identity not in bondage, but in freedom.

Today, I stand beside Moses because I do not know what will happen in the future of my daughter or sons. I stand before you and make promises to raise her to grow in faith and love of Christ, I boldly denounce the spiritual forces of wickedness through my own faith in Christ, and I know that all of this is foolishness without the covenant that God made first. For God has already chosen life for us. In the ultimate paradox, Christ died that we might live, and have eternal life. All we must do is choose it.

Today, you are invited to make a promise to my daughter. I do not know how long we will be with you. I am a pastor in an itinerant system, and though my hope is to grow old and gray with you, I do know now the way the Spirit moves. But you are making promises to her, to raise her up and teach her. Your children are covenanting to pray for her when she is sick. What I see in this text is the invitation for the community to choose to live by keeping their promises. Remember, Saint Mark, that before you came to take these vows for my child, someone made them for you. You are living out the promises that were made for you simply by being here and promising to do the same for Sloan. In baptism, we enact our faith to believe what God has said: that eternal life is for all. This covenant connects God, the community of faith and the person being baptized so that we may choose to respond to what we see with what we believe.

Moses says to the people, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey God’s command to love the Lord your God, then you shall live.” This is the epitome of health. We have a choice in life. We may choose that which destroys, or that which sustains. Today, as a congregation, we are electing to choose life and to witness that choice for this little girl, making promises only a community of faith, living in the grace of Christ could fulfill. But, the God who initiated this covenant is eternal and faithful and will enable us to keep it in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For you, little one,
the Spirit of God moved over the waters at creation,

and the Lord God made covenants with God’s people.

It was for you that the Word of God became flesh

and lived among us,
full of grace and truth.

For you, Sloan, Jesus Christ suffered death

crying out at the end, "It is finished!"

For you Christ triumphed over death,

rose in newness of life,

and ascended to rule over all.

All of this was done for you, little one,

though you do not know any of this yet.

But we will continue to tell you this good news

until it becomes your own.

And so the promise of the gospel is fulfilled:

"We love because God first loved us." - PCUSA Office of Theology and Worship

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

ReMarks Article- By Water and the Sprit: On Baptism

This week is a special week for our family. Sloan is going to be baptized on Sunday morning at the 11:15 service (join us!), and we are so excited for this day. Family and godparents will be joining us for the occasion, and it's going to mean a week of cleaning and schedule-organizing for us. Among the honored guests will be my dear friend, Rev. Kara Root, who was present with us when Sloan was born. In our baptismal liturgy, we recount how Christ was "nurtured in the water of a womb" and this water is the central symbol for our baptism. It makes my soul sing to know that the person who was there with us as my daughter's waters were broken will also administer to her the water of grace.

In the last several weeks, we have had a number of people join Saint Mark; they have come from a variety of traditions. In each case, we ask our new members if they have been baptized. It is part of what we do to show our membership in this church, because it is baptism that brings us into union with Christ, with each other, and with the Church in every time and place.*

Baptism is no small thing.

And yet, it is. God's gift of grace (that is, a gift which we do not deserve) comes to us through the simplest of elements: water, bread, wine. Last Sunday, we celebrated at Christ's table, and this week we will watch as water is placed on an infant's head (and her mother cries a little). These are simple acts, which we perform daily. We eat, we cleanse, and often, we share in these acts communally.

The same is true for our baptism. This gift of water is the means by which God's grace comes to us. In Scripture, God continues to use water as a way to demonstrate faithfulness to the lost and wandering through water in creation and the covenant after the flood, parting the Red Sea, and safe passage through the river Jordan. No matter our failings, God is faithful, and there is nothing we can do to destroy God's love for us.

But it is not just with water that we are baptized, but also with the Holy Spirit. God bestows upon those who have been baptized the presence of the Holy Spirit, marks them with an identifying seal as God's own, and plants in them their inheritance as sons and daughters of God.

This Sunday, as my daughter is marked as a Child of God, I will celebrate with the water of my own tears of joy. For on this day, she will join us in this sacred community. I am so honored for her to be a part of this congregation of believers, and I thank you for welcoming her into it so lovingly.

*For more about the United Methodist understanding of baptism, see: "By Water and the Spirit."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Carnival of Natural Parenting: Ode to My Maya Wrap Sling

Welcome to the February Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Essentials

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared the parenting essentials that they could not live without. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Upon hearing the news of my pregnancy with my second child, I ran immediately and found my trusty pocket sling where my firstborn had spent the vast majority of his infancy. It was the only tool I had, other than my ability to nurse. It was the only help.

But even though I was the same mother, the baby that was born to me was different. He enjoyed the sling but it wasn't necessary for him. Except, I had a 22 month old and needed some way to hold my new little person as he grew.

It was then that I found the MayaWrap ring sling in a consignment store near my home. I found it in a natural, cream color. It was undyed, natural, elegant and simple. My six month old took to the sling with such zest and joy that my older son began to request a sling for his own baby. I ordered some tiny rings and fashioned him a tiny sized sling out of some fabric. We baby-wore our little ones everywhere. His baby slept a lot more than mine, and always at very convenient times.

As my younger child grew into his legs, we moved to the Ergo carrier, where he would nap on hot summer days after mowing the lawn with his daddy or attending a baseball game. The MayaWrap was hung in a closet and, though occasionally touched with fondness and nostalgia, remained unused.

Until this summer, when my daughter was born. With two brothers, ages 4 and 6, she was born into a world that demanded her flexibility and portability. She was easygoing and delightful from the start. And, 13 days after her lovely natural birth, I was ordained as an Elder in the Methodist Church. Our ordination service looks a lot like a huge graduation ceremony. I had to be there, and she had to be with me. I nursed her on the side of the stage while my colleagues were processing to the Bishop. As I was packing for the event, I knew that this was the sling that I needed to have. It was gra c eful and perfect for my newborn girl. It vaguely resembled a stole. I found it as we were preparing to leave, and she spent the entire trip nestled next to me.

I toted her from meeting to meeting, unfazed by the expectations of the other clergy. Most of them were men and had never seen a baby being worn. I did my best to make it look effortless, and mostly, it was.

This sling has provided for me a way to hold my baby close to me, even as she grows, and take her to all of the places we need to go together. She comes to work with me and frequently naps on my chest while I answer e-mails. The sling has made this possible. She has accompanied me to protests, parades, and lobbying days, always in the sling.

It is more than a tool, it is my best way of parenting. It keeps us close and happy. I can nurse her, hold her, teach her and show her. In turn, she continues to communicate with me her joy with the world.

Also, this sling has a pocket. Really, need I say more?

Find this post on Baby Center here.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Not Without Him — The love Starr at Taking Time shares with her husband is the foundation of her parenting.

  • I Cannot Imagine Parenting Without B(.)(.)bs — From an uneducated dreamer to a breastfeeding mother of a toddler, nursing has forever changed Kristy at Strings to Things's relationship with her daughter and her outlook on life.

  • Raising a Child in the Internet Village — When Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction has a question or concern about parenting, she turns to the Internet. What did parents do before Google?

  • Partner in Crime and ParentingBethy at Bounce Me to the Moon can't imagine parenting without her husband's sense of humor - he brings her laughter and love every day.)

  • I Make MilkPatti at Jazzy Mama can't imagine trying to mother her babies without her breasts, but she could do it if she had to.

  • New Perspectives Bring New BeginningsMJ at Wander Wonder Discover, who is a former authoritarian mamma, has gained perspective via parenting.

  • Time Out!Mrs. Green at Little Green Blog explores how time apart can increase your capacity to give unconditionally.

  • Unimaginable Without HimKristina at heyred designs is celebrating her amazing partner, without whom none of her parenting experience would be possible.

  • My Parenting NecessityClaire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl needs "me time" in order to be the Mama she wants to be.

  • Babywearing As a Way of LifeDarcel at The Mahogany Way talks about the benefits of babywearing in everyday life.

  • Parenting Partnership — Sometimes Abbie at Farmer's Daughter doesn't appreciate her husband enough, but she definitely couldn't imagine parenting without his help.

  • Parenting EssentialsMomma Jorje loves her parenting products, but she needs you even more.

  • My Parenting Must-Have: SupportJoella at Fine and Fair wrote a letter to her daughter about the role that support from friends and family plays in her mothering.

  • It's More Than Just Hair — Think doing hair is full of fluff? Too girly? Useless? Karli from Curly Hairdo Ideas used to think so too.

  • The Minimalist Parent — The parents at Living Peacefully with Children embrace a minimalist perspective when it comes to baby gear. A good sling is all they need.

  • Without My BreastsCharise at I Thought I Knew Mama can't imagine parenting without her breasts; here's why.

  • Loves Books, Loves PeopleSeonaid at the Practical Dilettante discovers that the library is a perfect fit for her family's needs.

  • An Ode to the Maya WrapRevMama's next child might be named Maya, because of her fondness for the sling.

  • Avoiding the Padded RoomPecky at Benny and Bex is here to testify that it takes a village to raise a child.

  • My parenting essentials, from Tivo to battery-operated monstrositiesLauren at Hobo Mama presents a list of parenting essentials you didn't even know you needed (and probably don't…).

  • Attachment Parenting Through Separation: It Makes It a Little BetterJessica at This Is Worthwhile talks about how she couldn't survive her separation without attachment parenting and the bond it's afforded her with her 3 year old son.

  • Parenting EssentialsDeb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares the principles she used to parent her children from infants to adults.

  • My Parenting Essentials — The things that are truly essential to Kim at In Desperate Need of Entertainment aren't things at all.

  • I'm No One Without My Sling — How baby carrying is essential to the parenting of Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama.

  • I Cannot Imagine Parenting Without...Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine talks about what she needs to raise her children.

  • February Carnival of Natural Parenting — Through her experiences over the last five and a half years, Casey at Love What Is has discovered her most important tool for parenting is using her instincts.

  • CNP: I Cannot Imagine Parenting Without __________.The Artsymama discloses the one thing that gave her back control of herself as a parent.

  • Laugh Until I Cry — Laughing with her sons keeps Acacia at Fingerpaint & Superheroes connected and grounded.

  • I Cannot Imagine Parenting WithoutLuschka at Diary of a First Child realizes what the one thing she can't imagine parenting without is, and it turns out it's not a thing after all.

  • It Takes Two — Here are a few of the reasons why Jenn at Adventures Down Under cannot imagine parenting without her fabulous husband.

  • Stopping to Listen — Though it wasn't easy at first, Knocked Up - Knocked Over cannot imagine parenting her daughter without listening first to what she is telling her.

  • The Essence of Parenting — There are many wonderful resources that make life easier for Michelle at the Parent Vortex to parent, but the essence is the relationship between parent and child.

  • What I Cannot Live WithoutSybil at Musings of a Milk Maker considers her computer to be a parenting lifeline.

  • True Blessings: White Noise and GrandparentsKat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment can't live without her white noise machine and the support of her parents.

  • The Necessities! — What "stuff" does a natural parent like Lily, aka Witch Mom really need? Not much, it turns out.

  • Mama Showed MeMama Mo at Attached at the Nip writes about how parenting wisdom is passed on by example.

  • Ode to the Loo — For Joni Rae at Tales of a Kitchen Witch, the bathroom is her safe place, where she can take a minute to calm down if she is feeling touched out.

  • Go, Mama. Go!Andrea!!! at Ella-Bean & Co. has been able to integrate her many roles through her get-up-and-go parenting essential, exercise!

  • My Other HalfBecky at Old New Legacy realizes what a relief it is to have her husband parent alongside her.

  • Grace, Love, and CoffeeMrsH at Fleeting Moments realizes that lifelines can take the form of the profound, or the mundane. Both are ok.

  • Supportive Spouse, Check! — There are so many parenting tools and gadgets that are superfluous, but the one essential, for Danielle at, has been her supportive spouse.

  • Why I'm a BabywearerMeredith at Becoming Mamas reflects on the ways babywearing has enhanced her mama baby relationship...and made life easier to boot.

  • It's Marvelous Out Here, Kiddo!Rachael at The Variegated Life can't imagine parenting in the big city without the marvels of Prospect Park to share with her Critter.

  • Yes, Thank YouAmy at Anktangle offers tips on how to ask for and accept help, an essential for successful parenting.

  • Parenting Essentials Checklist: Mom’s Inner Rebel and Her Kids’ VoicesOlivia at Write About Birth reflects on raising global citizens and saying no to societal norms.

  • Eco-Mama Online! — An Eco-Mama living in the mountains of a nature island, Terri at Child of the Nature Isle finds it essential to connect to nature and to connect online.

  • Sorry, We Just Sold the Last OneNev at The Adventures of Lime confesses she missed out the day they handed out patience.

  • LaughTashmica at The Mother Flippin' Blog reveals her super power, her talisman agains mean mommy.

  • My Priceless Parenting Resource — What do books, a magazine community, my mother and the local playgroup have in common? Lucy at Dreaming Aloud tells us...

  • The Gift of Shared TimeTree at Mom Grooves strives to experience the world from her daughter's perspective.

  • Follow the GigglesDionna at Code Name: Mama can’t live without the sound of her child’s giggles - come watch her video and you’ll agree!

  • Can I Mommy Without Boob?Emily at Crunchy(ish) Mama shares her fears about weaning and losing part of that the mother/child bond.