October 25, 2020
Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Matthew 22:34-46
Re-formation and Transition
Moses and Jesus are both at a time of transition in their lives. God shows Moses all the land the people will be moving into. This is the land that God long ago had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It will be wonderful place, filled with towns and houses, vineyards and olive trees. This is the future for your people, but you will not be part of it.
Then Moses dies and is buried in an undisclosed location. For thousands of years, we have known Moses as the prophet who led the people out of slavery and helped form them into one people.
Jesus has made a transition, too. He is in Jerusalem, and the Triumphal entry (Palm Sunday) is behind him. Gone are the gentle stories about moral behavior. Now, he is blatantly challenging the leaders, this time a group of Pharisees. They challenge him with a trick question, hoping he will incriminate himself and they can get him arrested.
Which law is the greatest? they ask. They are thinking about which category of laws ranks the highest. For example, are the laws about worship more important than the laws about marriage? Jesus easily sidesteps the question by assuming all the laws are equal and summed up in the simple statements of the Shema – love God, love others.
Then, Jesus turns the tables and asks the Pharisees who they think the Messiah is. This is a battle of language and wits. What does it mean when David says, “The Lord said to my Lord?” Who is David speaking to – or about? It’s obvious Jesus is referring to himself as the second my lord, but the Pharisees are unable to respond to Jesus’ play on words. They leave, and continue to plot against him. He will be arrested in just a few days.
These transitions, the deaths of Moses and Jesus, leave the people in a state of wonder and fear. What is next? How do we manage now, without our leader? I find it interesting and an amazing part of God’s plan that both Moses and Jesus had leaders in line to step up and take the lead. Joshua has been installed as Moses successor. Peter and the other disciples have been trained to take the good news to the people just as Jesus taught them.
Over the centuries, the basic message has remained the same: remember God brought you out of slavery, and you are supposed to love God and love others. This message has been expressed in different ways, over time, and in various places. Sometimes there is more ritual, sometimes there is less ritual. Sometimes there are corrupt leaders. Sometimes there are uninformed followers. And sometimes, the corruption and lack of good education leads to a call for reformation, re-formation.
Just as there are many denominations of Christians today, there are several groups within Judaism. Re-forming is important to continue to belong to God’s people. The Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther reading scripture with new eyes. He saw that Jesus’ basic message was being hidden by a bunch of rules and practices that served to make some people richer and more powerful while oppressing and cheating poor people.
Our congregation, our denomination, Christianity itself is being re-formed today by circumstances beyond our control. Just think about what has changed at St Matthew since March.
First, while the Council had discussed the possibility of someday making live-streamed worship available, it suddenly became a necessity. Today, we continue to have our services recorded a week or two ahead of the actual Sunday and watch the video together. But, we are ready to livestream worship whenever determine we can gather in the building together again safely.
Second, we soon realized that we would need to find ways to meet for business and Bible study and “coffee” that didn’t put our lives at risk by meeting in person. Zoom and Google Meeting became necessities, not just convenient programs.
And third, the changes will continue to re-form us. We will not return to what was normal – we will only continue with a new normal. When we are able to gather in the building, we will livestream our worship so those who choose to stay home can continue to worship with us. We will not be singing whole songs together or reciting prayers together for a long time. We will not be hugging and touching each other, but wearing masks and keeping our distance.
These changes reflect how we worship, but they have not changed whom we worship or why we get together to worship. They have not stopped us from being church – they have only forced us to re-form how we do church.
St Matthew’s Lutheran Church is also going through a time of transition. We examine ourselves to determine what kind of a congregation we are, and what kind of a leader will be the right one for us in the future. Lutherans believe in training our pastors in seminary, so they are all educated with the same theology, but each pastor has her or his own gifts and skills and experiences and interests.
As we wait and pray for the next leader, the next leader is praying for God to guide them to the right congregation. This transition is in God’s hands as much as the future of the Israelites and the first Christians was in God’s hands.
We still try to obey the commandments Moses taught us.
We continue to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
We try to accept that, sometimes, practices and traditions get in the way of believing that God is with us, no matter what.
We are comforted in knowing that God weeps with us over the lives lost and the challenges faced in the time of a pandemic.
And we work hard to be as patient and trusting as we can in this moment of re-formation and transition. Amen