1 The Game of Life Rev. Nancy Willet February 13, 2011 First Presbyterian Church Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 Uvalde, TX “In 1860, the year Abraham Lincoln was elected president, a twenty-three-year-old Yankee named Milton Bradley invented The Game of Life. On a red and ivory checkerboard of sixty-four squares, players start on a square labeled infancy and end, usually but not always, at happy old age. The Game of Life required you to make decisions. Most players try to go to college, heading slowly towards happiness, but even when you are one square away you can end up at ruin, passed out, drunk and drooling on the floor of a seedy-looking tavern where death darkens the door disguised as a bill collector in a bulky black overcoat and a strangely sinister stovepipe hat. Curiously, two directions that almost guarantee that you will lose are going to prison or going into politics. Bradley’s game rewards the virtues that lead to wealth and success. The good squares are honesty, bravery and perseverance. The bad squares are poverty, idleness, and disgrace. The person who wins is the one who gets to happy old age first. In 1960, the year John Kennedy was elected president; the Milton Bradley Company released a commemorative Game of Life, which bears almost no resemblance to its 19th century namesake. Bradley’s game about vice, virtue, and the pursuit of happiness was reinvented as a lesson in consumerism. The box is filled with fake money—seven and a half million dollars of fake money—as well as fake automobile insurance and phony stock certificates. This life is paperwork. Players fill teensy plastic station wagons with even teensier pink and blue plastic mommies and daddies, and have pink and blue plastic babies, but this Game of Life is relentlessly cash-conscious. In this version you do not die you just retire. Life’s most important square is marked Payday. In the 1960 game, whoever finished with the most money wins. Several years ago, Milton Bradley released The New Game of Life: Twists and Turns. In the 2008 version, life is meaningless. This is the game’s selling point, that is has no goal. The blurb on the box says “A thousand ways to live your life. You choose.” Money is a big part of the game, but there is no cash. Each player receives a Visa card to keep track of points. You get the same number of points for scuba diving as for donating a kidney as for getting a Ph.D. In the new game there is no square marked “finish.” It is all pointless.”1 Moses in our lesson for today has a different opinion of life. For Moses, life was about God—probably not a square in Bradley’s Game of Life. They are on the banks of the river Jordan about to enter the Promised Land; Moses speaks to the second generation of Israelites that God has led out of Egypt. The first generation had failed to be obedient to God, and Moses, knowing his own death is near, is telling the people of the second chance God is willing to give. He tells them of the choices that are before them: life and prosperity or death and adversity. 1 Jill Lefore, The New Yorker, “The Meaning of Life, May 21, 2007, 38-43. Brett Younger, The Game of Life, McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta GA. 2 Today, we are a nation of choosers: paper or plastic, small, medium, or large, Coke or Pepsi, fries or chips. Choice is a staple of the American dream. So, for some, these limited choices we have presented to us in Deuteronomy are rather stifling. God sounds too autocratic and in conflict with that free grace we come to expect from Jesus Christ. However, it is a clear choice—choose to follow God’s covenant and receive life or reject the covenant, and receive death. You may either gain or lose the land; you may either receive blessings or receive curses.2 Where is that wide selection we are used to having, and how are we supposed to apply this narrow choice in our lives today? One of the things I have learned living here in Uvalde, is that it is possible to live life fully with fewer choices. You know Bob and I are city folk, used to being able to comparison shop between 5 or 6 furniture stores, or to be able to go to any type specialty store when we want to. We are learning to live with fewer choices—and that is not all a bad thing. Most of us, though, especially when we are used to something different, don’t like having our selections curtailed, because it threatens the illusion of our self-sufficiency—one of the central values of our culture. That being said, we are still stuck with the major choice presented to us by Moses: life or death. What does that actually mean to choose life? To Moses it meant loving God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind. Our choices today are not usually life or death choices, however, whether we are aware of it or not, we make life and death choices everyday. “Most of our choices aren’t labeled life and death. Most of our decisions do not seem important, but life and death are before us every day. We choose death when we ignore God and choose anything inferior. Death can be more than that final moment when we take our last breath. Death can be the slow process of giving ourselves over to things that do not matter.”3 Each time we turn from life, we die a little. Our lives are so full of habits—many habits that we are totally unaware of. But, every once in a while, we are jolted out of a habit and forced to examine our behavior. We take our lives off of autopilot and take control of the steering wheel. It is then that we are fully and truly free to choose. Maybe you feel like you have no choice, that there are very few options for you to consider. The only thing we can always choose, though, is our attitude. Claiming our choices, even if they are few give us control and a sense of dignity. Every once in a while, we are given a choice in black and white—choose life or death, choose God or no God. THIS is our opportunity to claim who we really are, when we are able to assert our free will in choosing. God gives us choices—at times God even seems to force us to choose—because only in choosing do we become fully human, fully ethical beings, fully Christian.4 “Choose life”—how often do we make non-life affirming choices? I have heard the statement before that we live life in the “Orange Alert Era.” Haven’t we all 2 Andrew Foster Connors. Feasting on the Word: Pastoral Perspective-Deuteronomy 30: 15-20. Sixth Sunday After Epiphany. Page 338. 3 Brett Younger. Feasting on the Word: Homiletical Perspective on Deuteronomy 30:15-20. Sixth Sunday After Epiphany. Page 343. 4 R. Scott Sullender. “Pastoral Implications of Deuteronomy 30: 15-20. Lectionary Homiletics, Volume XXII, Number 2, Feb/Mar 2011. Page 15. 3 heard that announcement at the airport before or on the news? This era is characterized by all that hold us in death’s thrall: who’s in and who’s out, who’s safe and who’s not, the right versus the left in the church, in politics. How do we dig ourselves out of the orange alert zone and choose life?5 Moses, once again gives us the clear choice: love God, obey God, and hold fast to God. The challenge to faith is in loving God, obeying God and holding fast to God, for in doing that you are choosing life. This is Life with a capital L. It’s the kind of life where God is not just hanging around the margins of your comings and goings—not just on the edge of your consciousness. This life has God standing right smack in the middle of all that’s happening—right there in the whitewater with you. It’s the kind of life when you realize there is no mother or father, no knight in shining armor, no mythical figure coming to swoop you away from all your issues; there is only you and God, eyeball to eyeball. THIS is the kind of life you find when you find God dead center and filling you whole screen6—when you find God in your life day and night, 24/7. God wants us to choose life. “God wants us to be caring, courageous and strong. God wants us to know the kind of love that never fades. We do not choose everything that happens to us, and life is hard, but God can help us choose life and the hope of the Spirit in a thousand different ways.”7 “Know that you are never alone, but are in the embrace of God who wants to give you joy. Hold your cheerful friends especially close. Learn things you have told yourself you would never learn. Enjoy simple things. Play with children, laugh often and laugh loud and long. Cry when it is time to cry. Be patient with yourself and with the imperfections of others. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity. Worship with all your heart. Remember the stories of Jesus. See Christ in the people around you. Share God’s love with someone who’s forgotten it. Care for people who are hurting. Pray asking God to change you in ways you haven’t imaged. Live a good life you can be proud of. Delight in God’s good gifts. See that everything is sacred. Open you heart to the Spirit. Live in the joy beneath all of these things.8 Maybe we need to come up with a Christian version of the Game of Life. We could do that, you know—we could each make the decision to choose God—when we make the decision to choose life and blessings. Choose life today and be a part of God’s abundant blessings. Choose life and let joy be the finish line in your Game of Life. Amen. 5 Jana Childers. “Preaching the Lesson. Deuteronomy 30: 15-20.” Lectionary Homiletics, Volume XXII, Number 2, Feb/Mar 2011. Page 19. 6 Ibid. 7 Brett Younger, McAfee School of Theology. “The Game of Life.” Deuteronomy 30: 15-20.” Lectionary Homiletics, Volume XXII, Number 2, Feb/Mar 2011. Page 20-21. 8 Ibid.