Deuteronomy 34; Matthew 22: 34-40
Which way from here?
Paul tells us that faith, hope and love are the only three things that remain. They are what the Christian carries with her or him. Those are what the Christian is supposed to tap into. At the end of each conversation he has with a guest on television, interviewer Tavis Smiley (PBS) predictably says: “And as always, keep the faith.” How does Moses feel about keeping the faith at this moment on the heights of Moab as He can see the Promised Land his people had abandoned soooo many years ago? You can count on that: Moses cannot enter the Promised Land, frail and old as he is. The people must enter the Promised Land without Him. They have to depend on faith as they are there without their leader. Psalm 90, from which we take our call to worship today, has as its heading that it is a “Prayer of Moses.” It is a Psalm that puts our life in context as fleeting and temporary. But it is also full of the hope for God to come and satisfiy us in that fleeting life. So after faith, here is hope.
Because the leader is not allowed to go, he is just allowed to see from a distance, is symbolic. Now the people must go alone. Martin Luther King, in Memphis, appealed to the memory of Moses when he said: ”I have seen the Promised Land, but I may not get there with you.” Because that is what Moses could say. In fact I can clearly imagine him saying that. And I can also imagine the people after all their complaining suddenly feeling very insecure without their leader. It is a clear journey they must take. The landscape lies clearly stretched out before them: they must cross a desert landscape, from the heights across the Jordan down to Jericho, one of the oldest towns and lowest places on earth and then climb up toward Jerusalem and then spread out over the land, each group of descendants of Jacob taking their place. From there they will live a history that is even more volatile than the history chapter they are closing off. There will be Judges and three kings under the united kingdom, then the kingdom will split into two, next comes a slow crumbling of the nation, two exiles to the east which will empty the whole country over again. Then only a small number will return, making another journey home to a land they have never seen and they will settle and rebuild the Temple. All along they have to keep their eyes on one great commandment: “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul.” The story of the Old Testament is pretty much the story of how well the people kept his commandment. We too have that same commandment to follow: “Love the Lord with all you heart and all your mind and all your soul,” but Jesus in our Gospel reading on our cover adds another commandment to it “and your neighbor as yourself.” Love for God Who loves us translates into loving our neighbor. So after faith and hope we are back at love. Faith, hope and love are the principles we must carry on with, in this land we call America and the Presbyterian church USA. But that is a narrow road to walk. It is not easy to do. Loving a Being we cannot see is hard for most of us. Loving the neighbors who annoy us isn’t much easier. But the Bible throws out this challenge: “do these things and you will get it right every time.” And, friends, as Christians our lives are a record of how well we have done that.
The Bible doesn’t say we can’t enjoy our lives, but it is still a narrow path. We are constantly losing the trail, veering left and right, high and low. Right now we love in a age an fanaticism. David Brooks wrote a column entitled “how to engage fanatics.”(New York Times, November 2017). He says: “The only way to confront fanaticism is with love,” he said. “Ask the fanatics genuine questions. Paraphrase what they say so they know they’ve been heard. Show some ultimate care for their destiny and soul even if you detest the words that come out of their mouths.” It is not an easy thing to do, but it is what is required of us.
Friends, we too are the people, the spiritual descendants of the people of Israel. We always find ourselves in some bend in the road, some crossroads, in the valley or on the heights and we ask ourselves: ”which way from here?” Does the old formula : faith, hope and love still apply? Yes, it does: think of the alternative: cynicism, despair and violent hatred. Faith, hope and love are what we carry and always will. They need one another, for without faith we are alone, without hope we are stuck with no future and without love we cannot breathe.
It implies three things: one, that God exists, two, that God is reliable and three, that God is love, that God at the heart of it is loving. “God so loved the world.” Everything begins and ends with that. As Paul so clearly states. May God inspire us.