Monday, October 24, 2011
teach us to number, 10.23.11
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 1Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar. 4The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 9Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses. 10Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. Psalm 90 (NIV) 1 A prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 3 You turn people back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, you mortals." 4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death— they are like the new grass of the morning: 6 In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. 7 We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. 8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. 9 All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. 10 Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. 11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. 12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. 16 May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. 17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. Matthew 22:34-46 34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39and a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. -------------------------------------------- “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?” It’s a good question for the Pharisees then and for us today. Of all the commandments, all the reminders, all the guidance God gives for our life, which is the most important? People have asked that questions in lots of different ways. For the Pharisees, who saw faithfulness to God largely in terms of following the commandments carefully this makes sense. Ethical Philosophers ask roughly the same question in other words: “How does one live well? What is the good life about?” Other philosophers might ask the question another way: “What is the meaning of life? Why are we here?” It’s a question that naturally sits deep in our souls. We have a sense that there is a point to this journey called life and we long to know what it is. Jesus’ answer echoes in our soul as well, partly because of its simplicity and partly because we know it is true. Love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbor as ourself. It’s simple and it makes sense. Simple doesn’t mean easy though. Maybe the clearest way we know these are commandments is that we know we don’t live up to them all the way. Love God with all your heart and soul and mind. Boy, that’s a big one. Still, it helps that God wants us to use every part of our being to love. In other words, we’re not supposed to shut our brains off when we turn our heart to God. That love is practical and embodied too; we’re not just brains focused on God, but people who find our emotional and spiritual center in God. The trouble with Jesus’ answer is that it’s easy to fret about whether we love God enough or not. It’s easy to worry about whether our emotional connection with God measures up. I’d offer two approaches to that issue. On the one hand love doesn’t grow from worry; love grows from being loved and knowing it. That’s one way reading scripture nurtures our faith. When we spend time with the Bible we read again and again how much God cares for us. We hear stories of God’s calling and concern; we hear songs of praise and stories of relationship. Whenever the other stories leave me wanting more I think about Jesus. In particular I think about the garden and I think about the cross. Jesus worried about himself; he was afraid of facing the pain of betrayal. He didn’t want to be arrested or beaten or hung on a cross. He prayed to God hoping there might be another way, but knowing in his heart that there probably wasn’t. The path he had chosen, the path of being with the outcast and lost, of healing no matter what and choosing relationship over rules led unavoidably to the cross. Jesus knew where his path was leading. He told his disciples several times during their journey to Jerusalem that he was going to his death. He could have turned back, but he didn’t. Jesus loved us too much to shy away from the cross. When I think about Jesus, Son of God and God in flesh choosing day after day to keep walking towards the cross I know Jesus loves me. I know God loves us. I know it not just with my mind, but deep down in my heart and soul, and my heart fills up with love in return. I want to follow God, not because I’m worried about judgment or hell or wrath, but because I remember what God has done for me. Loving our neighbor doesn’t always have the same reciprocity. Sometimes our neighbor doesn’t love us; sometimes our neighbor doesn’t care about us at all. It doesn’t really matter; our calling is clear. When we have a choice between two actions, we are called to choose the more loving one. When we have to choose between caring about someone else or ignoring them, we choose engagement. When we see a coworker hurting we comfort them, regardless of whether we get along otherwise or not. When we see someone hungry, we feed them, like we’re doing at Cameron this afternoon. Love is the chief commandment and guide for our life, but sometimes we need more specific guidance. For that we have the rest of the commandments as well as the history of the church. Notice Jesus doesn’t say loving God and our neighbor replaces the other commandments. He says instead that those are the first two commandments and from them everything else hangs. The commandments give detail and shape to how we put our love into action. Some of those commandments change and others stay the same. We don’t need to avoid reaping the edges of our fields as Exodus commands; for one thing most of us don’t have fields. But that commandment is about providing for the poor, which is part of loving our neighbor and is very much still a requirement for membership in the church of Christ. At its core and in its details, living well is about loving God and loving our neighbor. Our readings also reflect on the limits of our life. Moses was an incredible follower of God and a dedicated leader of Israel. Following God, he led the people out of slavery and through the desert to safety and new life on the other side. Despite all his efforts, God doesn’t allow Moses to go into the land to which he led Israel. It seems harsh, and in some ways it is, but it is also the way life often is. Many of the important things we work on in our lives won’t be finished before we die. Like Moses we will have to trust that others will continue the work after we’re gone. We can work for justice, but we probably won’t live to see equality and fairness prevail completely. We strive to make the educational system work for all our kids, but the undertaking is so great that the struggle will go on beyond our lifetimes. Human life is temporary and fragile: like Moses says in our responsive Psalm, we are like new grass that springs up in the morning and withers by the end of the day. The fact that life is temporary and that many of our projects will not be finished in our lifetime doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take on challenges. The time God gives us on the earth is precious so we need to find the right balance between work and rest, between commitment and letting go and between good stewardship and generosity. Moses prays that God would teach us to number our days so we can acquire wise hearts. That means we have to realize our mortality to value our time properly. The sooner we realize that our time may be short, the better use we will make of the time we have. At the same time we don’t want to let our mortality worry us so that we cling to our days with white knuckles. We’re also called to make time to enjoy the journey and those on the journey with us. That’s part of why God commands us to remember the Sabbath by stepping away from our work. We want to number our days, but not obsess over their limitations. The work we leave unfinished when we take our last breath is holy and, while we won’t see it finished, someone else may pick up where we have left off. I’d like for you to gather in pairs and share with your partner something important to you that you worry about not completing. Now share what your next step might be to release your worry to God, to trust God to take care of your goal when you have to let it go. Then your partner will pray for you to trust God and give up your anxiety while staying committed to your calling. Then switch. The key is to trust that God is in charge. Our attitude should be one of calm urgency. Urgent because our time is short and the needs around us are great, but calm because we are not alone in our efforts. The stewardship pledges we dedicate today are a good symbol of our calling. Our time and our money are limited and the need is great. We commit part of what we earn, and part of who we are to the work of the church. Much of that work will not be finished in our lifetime: people will still be hungry, the building may still need work, some people will still not know Jesus. But others will pick up where we leave off. So we number our days and our dollars, we commit our treasure and our labor to the Lord, and we let our calling to love God and our neighbor shape the time we have on this earth, knowing that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Thanks be to God.