St. Paul’s Congregational Church
October 25, 2020
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; Matthew 22:34-46
“The Compassionate Life”
The Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
For the past several weeks we’ve been journeying through the wilderness with Moses and his flock – on their way to the promised land. The Old Testament lesson for the day comes from Deuteronomy – where the story of Moses comes to an end – he’s standing on the mountaintop, the Lord shows him all the land but tells him, I will give this land to your descendants – I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there. Don’t we wonder how Moses felt, looking out on that sweeping, majestic horizon of hope and promise…satisfaction, gratitude, triumph – accomplishment…but yet, a sense of longing, a sense maybe of loss. There was no prophet like Moses – and his story ends as he dies and it is Joshua who finally brings the people into the land. God’s promise was to Joshua too: be strong and of good courage, be not frightened, neither be dismayed – for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
We also today read Psalm 90 – the only psalm with a heading claiming Moses as its author – his words to us: what a mix of feelings there is in this psalm – and such beauty. God, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or before you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night…”
God, our dwelling place – the eternal, everlasting God; in contrast with the brief, fragile, almost momentary existence of humankind, swept away, like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning, flourishes and the, in the evening, fades and withers away.
The psalm ends with a prayer – asking God for help and compassion: satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days….prosper for us the work of our hands. Let our lives, then, no matter how brief, no matter how difficult, have meaning – let there be meaning and everlasting value, in our having lived.”
What beautiful words! We need the assurance they offer us today – that God holds us now and forever, no matter who we are, solitary individual or community of faith.
How we need those words of comfort and assurance, don’t we. It feels like we’ve all been journeying through our own wilderness times, along with Moses and the Hebrews, dreaming of the distant promised land, yearning to move past these difficult days, weeks, months we’re experiencing today…death toll now at 225,000 for COVID, our fears for the spike of cases, economic troubles, isolation, depression, not to mention the increasing turmoil of election season, uncertainty about what’s next for us, will we ever get back to normal, whatever that new normal looks like – as individuals and as a community of faith.
It was quite early Wednesday morning when my niece called me about the death of my brother – yes, we knew he was seriously ill, looking toward entering hospice care this week, hopefully at home – but this was such unexpected, such stunning news – there are no words to describe the numbness, the shock. The heavy wilderness closed in around all of us – his wife, my nieces, and me too. That morning we talked with each other, cried with each other: and later in the day our circle expanded as we notified the rest of our family, shared the shock and sadness – and that evening at 9pm we all lit candles in memory of Carl, took pictures and shared them on our family Facebook page. That was the beginning of light coming into this darkness – and it was powerful.
On Thursday there were a zillion phone calls between us as reality began to set in – partly due to the mountain of details that have to be handled following a death – but we just wanted to be in touch with each other. For me, though, one of the most profound calls was the one I had with my youngest niece. Now, often PKs – preacher’s kids – are not especially close to the church, to their religious beliefs – she was calling me absolutely sobbing, where is Dad now? Is he ok?
We talked for an hour – the longest we’ve talked in a very long time – it was a sacred conversation that I believe brought comfort to both of us, a step out of the dark and lonely wilderness – into the light of God’s presence, care, and love. Into a realization that no matter what, no matter how far we’ve strayed, no matter our situation, our God is a forgiving God. God holds us, no matter what, in love. And God holds Carl in love, now for eternity, healthy and whole.
From everlasting to everlasting, God is our dwelling place. We all need that reminder. We all need the reminder that in everything we’re going through, we are being held by God in love. Hearing those words can bring such great peace for each of us, as we feel that we are standing alone in this world at different times and different moments of our lives – but especially when a loved one has died. Today in the midst of everything, we are all anxious and worried – of course we are – but through it all, God is holding us in love.
No matter what we’re going through – worry about our jobs, our security, our church, our future, our health – our own and the health and safety of our loved ones – we are worried and anxious – and still, God is holding us in love. God is our dwelling place, full of mercy and grace, peace and love.
Whatever fear we live in, in our homes, our workplace, our neighborhoods, still, God is our dwelling place, and God is holding us in love. If we're loaded down with more work than we think we can handle, more responsibilities, more people who are counting on us than we think we can manage, still, God is holding us, always, in love.
If we are grieving, and so many of us are, if we are aching with loss and disappointment and disillusionment, wrestling with betrayal and hurt from ones we have loved, God holds us in love. And if we are depressed, lonely, struggling, uncertain, filled with doubt, needing to forgive when we feel like we can't, and even if we think we are lost, no matter what – God is holding us all the while, in love.
And even more: if we are happy today, if this is a day of relief from worry, of celebration, of accomplishment, of hope, of love and sharing and quiet joy, or even if this day only brings moments of such joy and hope, we know too, that God is holding us in love.
Kate Huey writes, “What does it mean, then, to live our lives, like Moses, held by God, with God as our dwelling place, the God who made promises to our ancestors, the God who is faithful, the God who is from everlasting to everlasting?”
For one thing, it means letting go – it means living in utter and radical dependence on that God, not on our own will or power. It means being sustained by God's steadfast love each morning, remembering and rejoicing and being glad, all of our days, that we are each, individually, a precious child of God, held by God in love. God loves us, warts and all! What a gift.
And what do we do with that gift? We share it. We observe the great commandment every day of our lives: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
I came across these words of Mother Teresa, "I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, 'How many good things have you done in your life?' rather he will ask, 'How much love did you put into what you did?"
Let’s share the gifts of love and compassion we have received in such abundance – for these are the gifts that will bring us out of our wilderness and into God’s light, into the Promised Land. God is holding each of us in love – we will get through all this together. Of that we can be sure. Praise God – prosper for us the work of our lives. So may it be. Amen