Saturday, 22 October 2011

Community is... Passing on the vision

Readings:  Deuteronomy 34 v 1-12
                  Matthew 22 v 34-40
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
1 Then 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, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain--that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees--as far as Zoar. 4 The 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." 

5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord's command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 

9 Joshua 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. 10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He 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, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

 Last week , we attended worship at a tiny church in the village of Collouire in the South of France. It was part of the Reformed church in France. I don’t have a lot of French but I followed the gist of the sermon, helped by the fact that the preacher was using the lectionary, the prescribed readings for that Sunday. It’s one of the things I love about following the lectionary is the idea that churches all over the world, in all sorts of places, different denominations in different languages are, together, struggling with the same texts.
And so, in that little church in France, I was enabled to hear the word of God, a word of challenge and a word of grace.
That afternoon, as we wandered around the village, we were stopped, literally, in our tracks by this colourful jazz band. (pic)
Just a foretaste of the wonderful, fun music we are enjoying this morning. (praise is led by Rae Bros New Orleans Jazz Band)
The promised land is sure to be full of jazz musicians.

What of that Promised Land?
Over these last few weeks we have journeyed, perhaps slogged might be a better description, with Moses and the Israelites, through the wilderness from their flight from Egypt to their journey to the Promised Land.
We have read stories of challenge and confrontation, of triumph and failure.
Today, Moses bids farewell.
That intrepid leader who has overcome all sorts of difficulties, who has conquered personal inadequacies, who has communed with God on the mountain top and then endured the grumbling of the people he led, Moses, within sight of the Promised Land, has to bid us farewell.
After all that he has achieved and all that he has endured, Moses doesn’t actually get to enter the promised land.
But he does get to see it.
There, on the Mountain top, it is laid out before him.
There’s a lovely detail in the passage that Moses’ sight was not impaired and his vigor was unabated – and so he was able to see in all it’s glory, this land promised to the Israelites.
With this sight burning in his mind and with passion still in his heart, Moses died.
The Israelites buried Moses, mourned him for 30 days and then moved on with their new leader, Joshua.
But what a wonderful epitaph we read:

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He 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, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

It is the end AND a beginning.
As the baton of leadership is passed from the elder statesman Moses to the younger but still wise Joshua.
Why was this passage so smooth?
Why does it appear seamless?
Because, although the leadership has changed, although there was the inevitable mourning of a great leader, the vision that the Israelites followed was one rooted, not in humans but in God – the passion that endured was founded on the will and purpose of God.
As it has been in the church from generation to generation,
Leaders pass on the baton and the vision remains rooted in God.
There will always be the grumblers, always the skeptics, always those small minded enough to want to hold things back.
But God’s vision to which we subscribe is so much bigger.
God’s vision sees beyond the pettiness and all the attempts at holding back progress.
God’s vision leads us on to a land and a life we can only imagine, bound as we are in human concepts.
Consider this quote from Oscar Romero:
“The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our wisdom. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No program accomplishes our mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

And the promise from today’s story is that God’s kingdom will come despite us, the followers of God. Even with all our stubbornness and pride we cannot hold back God’s mission.
Fraser Aitken, from St Columba’s posted on facebook yesterday:
“What a comfort this passage is to leaders of the church today”.
That notion that if we are faithful in leadership, though we may not see the fruit of our labour, God’s plans will not be thwarted.
No matter how many obstacles we encounter, no matter how difficult it is to get people to change, to look outwards instead of inwards, to glimpse a vision much bigger than ours, God continues to lead us on beyond the present to a wonderful future.

Supposing then, that we choose not to be a stumbling block.
Suppose we were to embrace God’s vision wholeheartedly.
Where would we begin?
Jesus answer to his antagonists in the gospel provides for us the answer to that question.
6 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, " "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Living like that, discovering HOW to love God by practicing love on our neighbours allows us to glimpse a vision of that new Kingdom that is God’s will for us – that kingdom where people live in love able to enjoy all that God promises to us.
Able to live in love because we are no longer squabbling for position, no longer holding back, no longer grappling for power but living in love with each other and with God.
Loving each other teaches us how to truly love God.
Loving like that takes us right to the heart of God.

As those entrusted today with passing on that baton of love, may we be enabled to lay down all that holds us back, may we stop being stumbling blocks to the kingdom and, instead love until we know the heart of God and see God’s vision come to life in this place, for this time and for this people that we are called to serve.
A vison fulfilled in God's own time, a vision that we work towards by loving God and our neighbour.
To God be the glory.


ramona said...

I love the image of passing the baton and the Romero quote.

Terri said...

First, I love the jazz band! Awesome. And, then I love that you were in the south of France and had that worship experience...and then, I like the way you develop this sermon moving through the story of Moses, the promised land, and the vision of God not being thwarted by us. Well done.