â€œFor Love and Promisesâ€
Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Matthew 22:34-46
I love both the stories from Deuteronomy and Matthew this morning. These are two of my favourite readings from the Bible, on one Sunday in the church calendar!
When I hear the reading of Moses going up onto the mountain, I can’t help but picture it in my mind. Here is Moses, climbing to the top of Mt. Nebo and standing there at it’s peak. Behind him is the desert where he has spent the last 40 years. Before him the lush green of the promised land they have been longing to enter. I picture Moses walking up, putting in his looney and peering through the binoculars as God points out to him all the points of the land they are about to enter. Moses knows he won’t be entering the land with his people, but to just see it in it’s beauty after spending so long wandering the desert, and before that all the years the Israelites spent in slavery, it’s just got to bring a tear to his eye.
The people of Israel have gone through a lot to get to this point. An entire generation has passed away on this journey, and finally they are about to cross the river and take possession of what God has promised to them. A promise that was made first to Abraham, then to Isaac and Jacob.
It was this promise that prompted Abraham to pack up everything and head out into the wilderness in search of a land God had promised him, along with the promise of an son to share it with. A promise finally about to be fulfilled.
As a candidate for ministry, every year I am asked to select a biblical story that connects with my life. In my first years it was the story of Abraham and Sarah as my wife and I left the lives we were living in Ottawa to move back to Nova Scotia so God could mould me into someone who was ready to do ministry in His church.
It has been a long journey, there have been many times where we felt like the people of Exodus, lost and alone in a land far from the one we left. But now that I am in my final months of school, preparing to take my leave of AST and move into a church of my own, I’ll let you guess which story I am connecting with this year.
This final year of study I am standing on top of the mountain and looking over at the promise God has promised to myself and my wife. We have children now. We have gone through the highs and lows of the journey. We are standing on the edge of the river, waiting to cross over. It’s been God’s promise to us that has kept us going this long. It’s been almost 6 years since we left Ottawa, and the journey has taken longer than we thought it would. I just hope I have a better ending than Moses did, and I get to cross the river in a few months and reach the promised land.
We are all on a journey. We are all recipients of God’s promise. Each of us has a promise from God. Some of us know what the promise is, others may not know yet. Some may have already received their promise. Each one of us here today is on a journey of faith. Like the people wandering through the desert we are looking to God for direction, following His lead in our lives, trying to be as faithful as we can.
I know you’ve had a vote in this pastoral charge recently. For some of you the result wasn’t what you had hoped for. For some of you, you weren’t ready for a change, especially one that would cost you the church home you have been part of for a long time.
For those of you who may be angry and can’t understand how someone could vote ‘yes’ for such a change in this area, or if you can’t understand why someone would vote ‘no’, I encourage you to talk. To listen to one another’s stories. To spend some time reflecting on why things came out the way they did. To put yourself in the shoes of your neighbour’s for a moment. Try to understand together why the vote came out the way it did.
But also remember this. God has made a promise to the people of Lawrencetown, Lake Echo and their surrounding communities. I don’t know what the promise is, except to know that God is here and working among you and your communities. So no matter what decision is made among you as to what to do with your church buildings (human decisions on human constructs) God’s work still needs to be done.
â€œWhat is the greatest commandment?â€ Jesus was asked in our Gospel reading this morning.
â€œTo love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.â€ Jesus replies. He also tags on a second command. â€œTo love your neighbour as yourself.â€
In these two seemingly simple statements, Jesus has summed up the entire 10 Commandments. Love God with your entire being, and love your neighbours as yourself. Follow these commands and all will be good in the world.
Seriously though, can it be that simple? The financial crisis is the result of greedy marketers who only care for themselves, not caring at all for the people they rob of their retirement money, but building up their own wealth. Extreme poverty, environmental warnings, disease, unfair labour practices, racism… all come from people who do not care for their neighbours as they themselves would like to be cared for.
Clearly these two simple statements are not as easy to follow as one would think. And as you wonder what the future holds for you as churches in the communities in which you live, remember God’s commandments.
â€œLove God with all your heart, mind and soul,â€ and â€œLove your neighbour as yourself.â€ Love God with your entire being. All that you have to offer, offer it to God in love. God’s promise depends on it. The future of our churches depends on it.
People like to talk to me about the future of the church. I suppose it has something to do with the fact I am a young man entering ministry. My response has become that our future is dependent on our love of God. We need to love God with all our being. Our heart, soul and mind must be God’s. We need to find our passion for being God’s people again. God is passionate about us, we also need to be passionate about Him. We need to take this passion and bring it into our worship, we need to take this passion and bring it into the places we serve, work, and play.
If we can do this, if people in our neighbourhoods and workplaces can see this passion within us, I guarantee there will be no need to talk about closing churches. If we let our passion and love of God through Jesus Christ shine first and foremost in our lives, we will be building churches instead of tearing them down. Opening instead of closing. Growing instead of dying.
God’s promise to us, as we journey together through this world, through the work we do together, through the lives we live together, through laughing, mourning, crying, celebrating, God’s promise is to be here with us in the journey. God will lead us into the promised land, whatever that might be. Your promised land is different than mine. As a community, God’s promise is different here than downtown Halifax.
So let your love shine on, let your passion be your light as you love our God and those in you meet each and every day. God’s promise is something worth hearing. Had Abraham never left his home in response to God’s call, had Moses never listened to the burning bush the people of Israel may have lived in ways God never intended for a long time.
The example of these two men, and many, many other people in the Bible who stopped and listened to God calling, each of them had a great and unimaginable influence for generations of people who followed.
If you are sensing a promise from God, if you feel like you have something to offer, but don’t believe that you can do it alone, as just one person, know this: you are not alone. If God is calling you, God is promising that you will never be alone. In the example of Abraham and Moses, God was with them, and God also brought to them the people who would help.
God’s promises may seem big, but God doesn’t make promises He doesn’t intend to fill. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob didn’t see the results of the promise God made, but many years later, their descendants did. God’s promise came through, in God’s own time.
I encourage you to listen for God. To love God with all you are. To let your passion be known, and to follow the promises God has made to the churches of this area. Whatever they might be.