Deuteronomy 34:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
Ordinary 30A; Proper 25
Reformation Sunday in this year of our Lord 2017 is something of a big deal in many congregations.
We are commemorating (a better verb than celebrating, I think), the occasion of Luther and the 95 theses that helped usher in the Protestant Reformation. Louis Weeks, church historian and past president of Union Presbyterian Seminary, reminded a group of gathered Presbyterians recently that the Protestant Reformation came about slowly and over time; a development, not a series of singular events. Such a view of history, while no doubt true, doesn’t help sell Luther swag nor draw a larger-than-usual crowd to worship this Sunday. And yet, his reminder helps assuage any notion that Luther, Calvin or any other human being was who ushered in God’s grand plan for the church or the world.
Reformation Sunday, at its theological best, ought to chasten our pride and heighten our self-examination as we go about being Christ’s disciples in the 21st century. Reformation Sunday calls us to remember that God is always doing a new thing, but we do not always perceive it. God’s salvation story is just that: God’s. Our time is merely a chapter in a narrative we did not conceive nor create. Our limited vision calls us to humility and prayer as we seek to discern: What is essential and what is adiaphora? What must change and what must remain if we are to be faithful? If indeed reformation never ends, what must die for God’s resurrection power to reign?
Taken together, the three appointed texts for today provide us with clues about what we might attend to if we are to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit.
The last chapter of Deuteronomy describes God giving Moses a glimpse of the Promise Land with the proviso that Moses will not set foot there. Moses’ season of leadership has come to an end. Joshua’s tenure has begun. While I used to find God’s admonition to Moses the height of unfairness, now I see God’s granting of the vision of the finish line as nothing but grace. God’s “I have let you see it, but you shall not cross over” seems benedictory-like. It echoes with “well done good and faithful servant.” Rest in your work knowing the story of these stiff-necked, mumbling, beloved people will continue. You have done your part, now enter your reward.
God provides. God called Moses. God added Aaron to the mix and Miriam, too. Joshua is now filled with the Spirit. Seasons of scarcity and abundance, exile and restoration, judges and kings will come, but God’s providence and promises remain unchanged, unshakable and sure. Whatever re-formation, re-shaping, re-making, new thing instituted by the Triune God cannot, will not, does not contradict the promise God made to Moses: I will be with you.
As we struggle with questions of rising secularism, rampant pluralism, rancorous polarization and so much more, on this Reformation Sunday take heart in Moses’ glimpse of the Promised Land. All those wilderness wanderings were not in vain. After the golden calf, the sameness of the food and the landscape, the complaining and the yearning to go back to the known of Egypt, God’s provisions and God’s plan and God’s promise never failed and Moses finally sees the assurance of that with his own eyes.
In 2017 as the world reels with the fallout from natural disasters, as threats of violence loom large and as some are exiled and others wander the wilderness, take heart: God will get God’s people to the places God has promised. God still uses human beings – Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Mary, Luther, Calvin, the whole communion of the saints – to bring to fruition the new, life-giving thing that furthers salvation history.
As this endless reformation unfolds, we have been given clear mandates to help us remain faithful no matter what changes churn around us. Approved by God, we are entrusted with the message of the gospel. While much may change in the church, in the world and in our lives, that privilege and responsibility never wavers. In all times, all ways and all places, our determination to share the gospel and ourselves remains stalwart. The results of our proclaiming the Good News in word and deed? Not our purview. Proclaiming Jesus Christ and giving of ourselves in service to the Messiah? Always, relentlessly, our purpose. How we share this message varies widely. The message, however, remains the same. The “how” may get radically reformed. The who, in the words of Colossians, “is the firstborn of all creation. … Before all things, and in him all things hold together” the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
In 2017 as the world groans under flame and flood, as families are left to piece together lives shattered by sprays of bullets and as the carnage of war is made manifest in waves of refugees and flag-draped caskets, we are still entrusted with the message of the gospel. On this Reformation Sunday, share the gospel and yourselves.
Share the gospel and yourselves through loving God with your heart, soul and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself – all in relation to Jesus Christ, the Son of David, and our Lord. That’s what’s at stake in this odd riddle Jesus poses to the Pharisees: Do you recognize who Jesus is and live your life accordingly? Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus, again from Colossians, “is the image of the invisible God.” Jesus is Lord of all and yet pours himself out for the sake of the world. Are we ready to love God and neighbor like that?
In 2017 when entrenched divisions deepen and hate groups spew chants we’d thought were long silenced and fear runs rampant, Jesus says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love like our Lord, the Son of David, who washes his disciples’ feet, heals the sick and welcomes little children.
On this Reformation Sunday, preach the message God has entrusted you to share in word and deed. Rest assured that God’s promises and provision and providence are sure, no matter what is churning, swirling, re-forming all around us. In all that is uncertain, remember that Jesus is the Son of David, the Son of God, the first born of all creation, the Messiah and our Lord. As Christ’s disciples, love like he loves. Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself, knowing that as you do God is right now acting, doing a new, good, life-giving, world-saving thing – right now, right where you are in 2017.
- Are you celebrating or commemorating the Reformation Sunday? What’s the difference?
- When you read the final chapter of Exodus, what feelings does it conjure? Do you see God’s final words to Moses as gracious or unfair?
- How do we mourn Moses and still follow Joshua? In other words, how do we honor the past while still leaning into God’s future?
- How do we share the gospel and ourselves? Why is it important to share both?
- Why does this exchange with the Pharisees silence them? Why do they dare not ask Jesus anything else?
- How do you understand reformation, change, transformation? Is it always an incremental process or are there times when it is dramatic? What biblical stories would you use to support your view?
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