Sermon October 26, 2014
Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Matthew 22:34-46
It seems like months ago since we began reading the story of Moses and the Exodus. Moses is such an unlikely leader. He wasn’t a good speaker. He was a murderer. He didn’t ask for this job and he certainly didn’t want it. But God came to him in a burning bush and said, “I’ve heard the cries of my people. I am going to release them from bondage and you will be the leader. I will take you to a place of beauty and safety. I will bring you to a land of freedom and hope.”
This story of God calling an unlikely leader to do a rather preposterous task reminded me of comedian Bill Cosby imagining the story of God calling Noah:
“There's fella by the name of Noah
Built an ark
Everybody knows he built an ark…
But very few people know about
The conversation that went on between the Lord and Noah
You see Noah was in his rec. room
Sawing away, he was making a few things for the home there.
He was a good carpenter
Whoompa, whoompa, whoompa, whoompa
Whoompa, whoompa, whoompa
Who is that?
It's the Lord, Noah
Where are ya?
What’d you want? I've been good.
I want you to build an Ark
What’s an Ark?
Get some wood build it
300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits
What’s a cubit?
Lets see a cubit...I used to know what a cubit was
Well don't worry about that Noah
When you get that done
Go out into the world and
Collect all of the animals in the world by twos
Male and female, and put them into the ark
Who is this really?
What's going on?
How come you want me to do all these weird things?
I'm going to destroy the world
Am I on Candid Camera?
How you gonna do it?
I'm gonna make it rain for a thousand days and drown 'em right out
Listen to this, you'll save water
Let it rain for 40 days and 40 nights
And wait for the sewers back up
God was forever calling people to do ridiculous, impossible things. Remember God was talking to Moses in a bush and saying, “just go over there to Pharaoh and tell him to let the people go with you.” I’m guessing Moses replied something like, “Right!”
We’ve been reading the saga of the people in the wilderness. They were hungry and thirsty and complained. It was like the never-ending bad camping trip. Over and over they wondered why they left Egypt. God had said something about a land flowing with milk and honey when they left, but that was so 40 years ago! Who has that kind of memory and patience? I’m guessing they had begun to give up about year 17 or maybe even the 3rd day. In the text today, God shows Moses this Promised Land. He will not go into the land, but he sees where they have been heading for 40 years. At that point, he dies and the Israelites continue into this land of hope and freedom.
This is the God we worship. This God who calls people to do the impossible, the absurd, the unbelievable and gives us one tiny, magnificent promise, “I will be with you.” This God is there when we complain, “we didn’t know it was going to be like this. We want to go back to the way things were. We don’t want to be in this wilderness anymore. We are tired of struggling. We are tired of waiting.” Just when we think we have gone past the point of hope, God shows us what is possible, where we are going, and we are stunned at the new life ahead.
Even when we are tired and wishing things were easier, God is calling us into the future. The reading today reminds us that we can trust God’s promises. They are not empty. They aren’t cheap either. They are real and they require us to dig deep when we are feeling impatient and annoyed that God hasn’t yet come through with that winning lottery ticket. Just as God hangs in there with us, we are called to hang in there with God.
In the gospel lesson, Jesus tells those who are testing him that there is one great commandment. It’s a question of focus and he understands that if we know where to focus, the rest will fall into place. I know how difficult it is to focus when there are phone calls to return, emails to address, plans to make, decisions to discern, people who need our attention, our own desires and responsibilities all tugging on us at the same time. How are we supposed to focus when we don’t know where the money will come from to do pay our bills? How do we know what is most important in these days?
Even in the wilderness it seems that focus was a problem. When the people got off track and worried about things, they would be reminded that their focus should be on God. If they can stay focused, the rest would fall into place. There would be sustenance and there would be no need to build some other gods to worship.
I keep thinking of that scene in City Slickers where Mitch who is in the midst of a mid-life crisis and has come to the wild to discover what life means. There he meets Curly who is tough as nails and who terrifies him. One day they are talking and Curly says,
Curly: You know what the secret of life is?
Mitch: No, what?
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that…
Mitch: That’s great, but what’s the one thing?
Curly: That’s what you’ve got to figure out.
Jesus makes this one easy. He doesn’t make the Pharisees guess. He tells them that the secret is to love God and make God the focus. He goes on to say that loving your neighbor as yourself goes hand in hand. We can’t say we love God, but don’t love our neighbor. If we are deeply focused on loving God, loving our neighbor will be a natural consequence. If we are deeply focused on God’s crazy, ridiculous dream for our church, we will find ourselves out in the wilderness wondering how we got here. We will complain and whine and seek to overthrow the leaders in favor of someone who makes soda flow from the water fountains and free ice cream in every worship service. But if we can stick with this God through the wilderness, we will wake up and find ourselves walking, maybe dancing into the Promised Land. You can trust that the God who gave us life is the God who will lead us into this promise. Our responsibility is to trust and to love without counting the cost or keeping a tally of the ways we haven’t gotten what we wanted yet.
We keep getting up and loving God and without realizing it, we find that we are loving our neighbor. We keep giving and trusting. We keep showing up and we find that God is showing up for us. One day, my friends, we will step into the Promised Land. Through it all, we must remember the one thing. Through it all, we can trust that God’s promise is constant. We will get tired. We will get lost. We will forget. But God does not. God will not give up on us. God has brought us through 134 years and we have a beautiful future ahead. Together we are walking toward God’s promised land.