A Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy (34:1-12)
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
1 Lord, you have been our refuge *
from one generation to another.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born, *
from age to age you are God.
3 You turn us back to the dust and say, *
“Go back, O child of earth.”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past *
and like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep us away like a dream; *
we fade away suddenly like the grass.
6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; *
in the evening it is dried up and withered.
7 For we consume away in your displeasure; *
we are afraid because of your wrathful
8 Our iniquities you have set before you, *
and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
9 When you are angry, all our days are gone; *
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The span of our life is seventy years,
perhaps in strength even eighty; *
yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,
for they pass away quickly and we are gone.
11 Who regards the power of your wrath? *
who rightly fears your indignation?
12 So teach us to number our days *
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry? *
be gracious to your servants.
14 Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
15 Make us glad by the measure of
the days that you afflicted us *
and the years in which we suffered adversity.
16 Show your servants your works *
and your splendor to their children.
17 May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us; *
prosper the work of our hands;
prosper our handiwork.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians (2:1-8)
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (22:34-46)
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘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.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Just a little over a week ago, Jews throughout the world celebrated the feast of Simhat Torah: the Exultation of the Torah. This is the day when the annual reading of the first five books of the Bible is completed, with the person-appointed reading the same passage from the Book of Deuteronomy that we heard as today’s first reading, the conclusion of that book and, therefore, of the entire Pentateuch. But the Jewish observance does not stop there. Immediately after that reading completes the Torah, another reader proclaims the opening verses of the Book of Genesis, beginning the annual sequence all over again. And so the cycle of the Torah continues, from year to year, from generation to generation.
Our liturgy for today does not include that Genesis reading, with the cycle of the Torah beginning again. But we do, in a little bit different way, follow that pattern of an ending followed by a new beginning. Immediately following Deuteronomy’s description of the period of mourning for Moses, it begins the story anew: “Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.” The account of God’s work through Moses, the work of leading the Israelites out of Egypt and through forty years in the wilderness, has come to an end; but the next phase of the story, the story of the conquest of and settlement in the land, is just ready to begin. The story of Moses has ended; but the greater story, the story of God’s saving work, continues, from generation to generation.
We are now a part of that story. And we carry on that great work through our stewardship of the time, talent, and treasure that God has provided for us. You have read and heard about that stewardship in the letter and brochure that you received in the mail and in the stewardship moment during last Sunday’s worship service. You will be hearing a little bit different take on it the next two Sundays, as other parishioners share with you their thoughts and experiences in using their gifts to support the church and its work. Your generous support is essential if this church is to continue doing the work that God has given it to do in our time.
But, just as the story of God’s work in Israel did not end at the death of Moses but was passed on to Joshua and those of his generation, so God’s work will not end with us but will be passed on to those who will take up that task in future years. Some of them are the younger parishioners who are here among us now, and some are church members who have not yet been born. Faithful stewardship requires us to look to them and to what we need to do nourish them in their faith and in their ministries, not just to what we might find helpful or comfortable or familiar ourselves.
That’s a hard thing to do. In fact, it can often be more difficult than making monetary contributions or gifts of our time and talent. It is difficult because it necessarily means leaving some of the past behind. It means change, and change is challenging for us, for some people much more than others. And it’s not just those whom we consider to be old in years either. There are some people in their 40s and 50s who are old, in the sense that they look to the past and want to return to the past; and there are people in their 80s and 90s who are young, looking to the future and to the needs of newer generations.
We live in a world that is constantly changing; and those of us who grew up in the church more than just a few decades ago came of age in a time when we were taught that our life of faith, including our life as a church, was something that essentially did not change and supposedly would not change. We found, in our experience in church, that here was an anchor: a sort of refuge from the inevitable changes in which we live the rest of our lives. Here was something stable and lasting. That sense of security and familiarity became a part of us, and it’s hard to let it go.
But then the church did change. Some churches responded by choosing not to change. They chose to keep doing things the same way that they had been doing them for years: the same form of prayers, the same hymns, the same regular events, the same ways that things are done. But churches are living organisms; and living organisms that do not change die. And some of those churches who chose not to change did die.
If St. Mark’s Church had decided to keep doing things the same way that it did them 30 or 40 years ago, it probably would not be here today. And if, in the future, it decides to keep doing things the same way that we do them today, it probably will not be here in another 20 or 30 or 40 years either. Change, renewal is essential for life.
There are, of course, some constants. Psalm 90, which we prayed together, celebrates the constancy and the faithfulness of God. And Jesus, quoting from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, cites the ever-valid and ever-challenging great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor. But the way that we understand and celebrate that faithfulness of God and the way that we live those two great commandments do change.
Genuine stewardship of the gifts that God has entrusted to us requires us to use them sacrificially for the work that God calls us to do now. But genuine stewardship of the gifts that God has entrusted to us also requires us to use them sacrificially for the sake of those who will come after us and to place their needs above what is easy, what is familiar, what is comfortable for us now.
In the Eucharistic Prayer that we will be using today, we ask that God would open our eyes to see God’s hand at work in this changing world in which we live. And then we pray that, in coming to this table, we might receive here, not just the gifts of God’s pardon and solace, but also the gifts of God’s strength and renewal: gifts that we need to put our own preferences and our own selves aside for the greater good and for the sake of those who are to come. It is in doing so that we act as faithful stewards of God’s gifts. And it is in doing so that we prepare the way for God’s saving work to continue from generation to generation.