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Pentecost  20 Proper 25A RCL October 26, 2014

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

Our first reading this morning gives us the privilege of being present at an extraordinary moment in history and in the life of God’s people. Moses, the leader who has brought the people out of slavery in Egypt and has led them though so many challenges, is now gazing upon the promised land, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees.

The land stretches as far as the eye can see, and it is a beautiful sight, We can imagine how Moses must feel. Perhaps he gives an inward sigh of relief. Whew! We made it. This may seem quite a miracle, given all the complaints along the way. Why did you bring us out here to die of hunger, or of thirst? It was just wonderful back there in Egypt, with all the good food. Now we are going to die. But the people did not die, Here they are on the verge of moving into their new home.

But it is a bittersweet moment because Moses is not going to cross over into the new land with them. He is going to die. After all, he is 120 years old. This is sad, and indeed the people mourn for thirty days. But the text makes it clear that Moses died at the top of his form. The scripture tells us that “his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated.”

After the period of mourning, Joshua, who is full of the Spirit because Moses has laid his hands upon him, takes over the leadership role. But the text makes it clear that Moses is the greatest leader the people of God have ever seen.

In our gospel, the Pharisees are gathering to pounce and trap Jesus. They ask him which commandment is the greatest, and he responds by quoting the rabbis, who have given us the summary of the law from Deuteronomy and Leviticus: “‘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 a second is like it. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Then Jesus asks them what they think of the messiah. Whose son is he? And they say he is the son of David. But Jesus answers by giving a hint as to his true identity, by emphasizing that the messiah is the son of God and that he is that messiah.

In our epistle, Paul is continuing his letter to the Thessalonians. Thessalonica was a major city in  Macedonia and a key city in the Roman Empire. There was a strong Roman influence in the city, and that was in direct opposition to the new faith, so there were many stresses on the growing congregation and on new converts. There were also people who questioned Paul’s motives, and there were competing teachers. Paul is making it clear that he does not have any mixed motives. His purpose is to serve our Lord. Paul touches a deeply personal note. He tells the people how much he loves them and he compares himself to a mother caring tenderly for her own children. He writes, “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but our own selves.”

If we can stop for a moment and imagine Paul’s ministry. Paul was a person of high status in his society, He was a Pharisee and he was a Roman citizen. But that did not protect him from being put into prison several times. In fact, he and Silas had been thrown into prison in  Philippi just before they came to Thessalonica. Paul and his assistants were courageous, They suffered all kinds of hardships—not only imprisonment, but beatings, shipwrecks, and constant harassment by other teachers who were trying to get control of the congregations he had started.

Unlike other leaders, Paul did not ask for contributions from the congregations he served. He was a tentmaker, and that is how he earned his living. This meant that he would spend time each day in the marketplace with other craftspeople and workers. He was right on the grassroots level, He got to know people in the towns where he nurtured churches.

And he was not distant from the people in the faith community. He made it clear that he loved them. He nurtured them. He shared his personal journey with them, and this encouraged them to share their journeys with him.

In our reading for today, Paul is offering us a wonderful gem of truth about our life together and our ministry in Christ, and that is that we are called to share, not only the good news in Christ, but also our own selves. Not just our intellectual insights. but our hearts, our feelings, our struggles, and the high and low points of our journeys in Christ.

When we do this, we create a safe space, a safe community in which anyone can share struggles and triumphs and know that he or she will be safe and will be treated with respect. Years ago, a friend of Jean’s and mine came to Grace. We had our usual coffee hour sharing and some of us were having some struggles and talked about them and got encouragement and wisdom from our brothers and sisters. This friend said—and he is a devout Episcopalian— “You guys are a support group.” Well, we are, and I think that is what Paul is talking about today.

But we are not just a support group on our own. We are a supportive, safe community rooted in faith in Christ. That’s where the power and the healing and the guidance come from. Grace is a healing place to be and to grow. We not only share the good news. We share ourselves, and we share our faith in Christ.

We know that this is not our doing. We have received a gift. We have received many gifts from our Lord—the gift to know that he is the savior, the gift to be able to accept his love for us and to share that love with others.

So, because of the presence and power of Jesus, we grow close to each other and we grow close to our Lord, and that is a great gift. May we always cherish that gift.    Amen.

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