October 29, 2017
Matthew 22:34-46, Deuteronomy 34:1-12
“Famous Last Words”
Do you ever think about what you want your last words to be? If you need some ideas, here are some that are recorded by famous people:
“Love one another.” George Harrison
“I feel something that is not of this earth.” Mozart
“This is no way to live!” Groucho Marx
“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” Steve Jobs
“Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.” Pancho Villa
“Lord help my poor soul.” Edgar Allen Poe
“Back in no time.” William S. Burroughs
“Money can’t buy life.” Bob Marley
“It is very beautiful out there.” Thomas Edison
I went to visit Don Bush two days before he died. He wanted to tell me what to say at his memorial service. He told me about his life and the things he had done. He summed it up by saying, “I’ve had a wonderful life.”
Both texts today are encounters with men at the end of their lives. Moses has lived a long life. He has led the people through the wilderness and today he is given the opportunity to see the promised land even though he will not be allowed to go there. What a poignant picture of a man who has given his life and will not see the promised land after all. We heard this in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech the night before he was assassinated:
“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.
And I don't mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I'm happy, tonight.
I'm not worried about anything.
I'm not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”
(from I've Been to the Mountaintop delivered 3 April 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters), Memphis, Tennessee)
King is echoing Moses and acknowledging that God will go with the people the rest of the way.
In the reading from Matthew, Jesus is in his last days and he is being tested yet again. This time the test is to pick the number one commandment. In some ways, Jesus is being asked what his last words will be. So, he says, “It all boils down to this. Love God and love your neighbor.”
It is a test because the Pharisees believed that if Ten Commandments were good, twenty commandments were even better. The rabbis searched the Scriptures for every word of God that could be taken as law and come up with 613 – 248 positive commands and 365 negative commands; a ‘Thou shalt not’ for every day of the year.” (Lectionary Homiletics, October 2002, p. 12) So one of them asks Jesus to pick one. It feels a little bit like asking a teacher or a parent to pick their favorite child.
Jesus doesn’t seem to struggle. There is no flipping a coin, rock, paper, scissors or any other method to choose when there is more than one answer. Jesus just zeroes in on the heart of everything. Love God. Loving God means loving everyone. We can’t love God and not love others. Jesus seems to be telling them that the real test of the law is love.
On this day as we remember those who have gone before us, we can ask how they loved. We answer that question in stories and memories and examples of lives lived in love. In the Broadway musical Rent, many of the characters have been cast out of the families and communities because of their sexuality or gender identity. They form a loving, supportive community during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. As their friends are dying left and write they ask in a song:
“How do you measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love”
Yes, there are many ways we can measure a life. But Jesus suggests only one. Measure in love.
Perhaps we get there by measuring each day in love. What if we begin our days with the question, “How will I love today?” and then we end them with, “How did I love today?” Each day we begin again and live the greatest commandment to love God the best way we can.
The pictures on the table represent many different lives with many different stories. I know very few of them, but the thread that runs through them all is love. These faces reflect the love of God. They are people we love and they are ones who have loved us. Our lives are forever impacted by that love.
This morning we offer gifts to reflect our love of God and one another. We call it an estimate of giving. It is a way of saying how we will allow God’s love to flow through us into the world. We will come forward and these beautiful saints will be gathered around as we offer our gifts. Giving is a tangible way of expressing our love for God. Our gifts are a way of saying thank you today and an investment in the future. We commit ourselves yet again to live God’s love, justice, and inclusion.
What will be our last words?