October 23, 2011 -- 19th Sunday after Pentecost - Anne-Marie Jeffery

posted Oct 29, 2011, 5:00 PM by ajeffery@stmargaretsdc.org   [ updated Oct 29, 2011, 5:01 PM by Terry Brady ]
Transition in faithfulness

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

In seminary, one of the exercises we would engage in from time to time was theological reflection. Theological reflection is a structured way of asking where God is in our lives. I believe it is a big part of EFM – Education for ministry, a Christian formation course that we offer at St. Margaret's and that many of you have taken. There are many ways to engage in theological reflection, but one way goes something like this - you reflect on a situation in your life, and  think about a piece of scripture that reminds you of your situation or in which you see connections to your life. Then you reflect on how God was acting in the scripture and might be acting in your life.

Dear friends, this week's Old Testament lesson offers the opportunity for much theological reflection because it is about transition and all of us are in a whole lot of transition – you as you prepare to welcome a new rector and me as I prepare for my call as the rector for another church. In the Old Testament lesson, we hear about the end of an era – one that has been going on for 120 years - from when Moses was born and hidden in the rushes to protect him from being killed, to him being raised by Pharaoh's daughter, to God calling him in his old age to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and then to wandering in the desert 40 years with a people who at times thought it would have been better to never have come at all. And now Moses' time is at an end. He will not to go to the Promised Land, but God shows it to him before he dies.

Now before I go any further, I want us to be careful not to take this theological reflection too literally.  I am not comparing myself to Moses and I'm not comparing you to Moses.  What I want to focus on is the theme of transition. What was it like for the people who for forty years had followed Moses and who had hoped and dreamed about a new life in the Promised Land to not have him with them?

Here they were on the brink of the fulfillment of a promise and Moses must go even though he was healthy. Yet God has not left them wanting.  Joshua will now lead them – Joshua is full of the spirit of wisdom and Moses has laid hands on him. Joshua will now be the one to walk with them in the next phase of their journey.  

 Joshua has been prepared for his role of leading the Israelites into the next stage of their journey.  If you go back through the book of Exodus you will see that Joshua is Moses' right hand. At times, he accompanies Moses up the mountain. He is described as Moses' minister. When Moses would speak with God in the tent of meeting where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, Joshua would remain there after Moses had left – trusted to be in the holiest of places.  Joshua brings a faithfulness with him and a faithfulness to the    journey so when Moses dies and the people have completed their period of mourning, they follow Joshua.

 You the people of St. Margaret's have been in transition for a good bit of time - not 40 years, but it has been almost 2 years.  It began when Susan Blue, your rector, announced her retirement.  It will continue because even when the new rector is announced and even after you have researched the person on the internet, until the person comes and you all get to know one another, and start to figure out your future, this time of transition will continue.  And remember that transition is a special time which requires a lot of us.

One of the other parts of the transition from Moses to Joshua that I want to look at and find wonderful is the tenderness and care that God shows Moses. Even though Moses is not allowed to go to the Promised Land because God was angry, that anger is past.God takes Moses up the mountain and shows the extent of the land he has brought the people too - 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. This is the Promised Land that Moses has helped lead the people too. Moses dies at the Lord's command and is buried. One commentary suggests that Moses' grave cannot be found     because God buried him – a final act of care.

If we meet transition with faithfulness and are open to God's mercy, grace will abound.  It is tricky, because it is much easier to let fear or anxiety take over – what will happen?  What will this next rector be like? Will our future be good? These were the same questions the Israelites were asking.  They knew Moses and Moses had led them through thick and thin. Would Joshua be up to leading them into this next very important stage of their journey? What would happen when times got tough?

We know what happens.  They mourn Moses and then Joshua becomes their leader. Joshua leads the people into the Promised Land and Israel becomes a great nation. Like the Israelites, we are invited to trust that God is calling us to be with the new rector of St. Margaret’s or in my case the people of a new parish, who have been prepared to be with us and whom we have been prepared to be with. Just as God had been preparing Joshua, God is preparing all of us.  God has prepared a great leader for this place and is inviting you all into a time of great mission and ministry. If we go forward with faithfulness, and trust in God's amazing mercy and care that accompanies us, then all will be well.  Go forth my friends trusting in the power of God to lead all of us into an exciting future.