NOTICE TO ON-DEMAND WORSHIPPERS
In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook. Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.
God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Deuteronomy 34 (ERV)
Moses climbed Mount Nebo. Moses went from the Jordan Valley in Moab to the top of Mount Pisgah. This was across the Jordan River from Jericho. The Lord showed Moses all the land from Gilead to Dan. He showed him all the land of Naphtali, Ephraim, and Manasseh. He showed him all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea. He showed Moses the Negev and the valley that goes from Zoar to Jericho, the city of palm trees. The Lord said to Moses, “This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I said to them, ‘I will give this land to your descendants. I have let you see the land, but you cannot go there.’”
Then Moses, the Lord’s servant, died there in the land of Moab. The Lord had told Moses this would happen. He buried Moses in Moab. This was in the valley across from Beth Peor. But even today, no one knows exactly where Moses’ grave is. Moses was 120 years old when he died. He was as strong as ever, and his eyes were still good. The Israelites cried for Moses for 30 days. They stayed in the Jordan Valley in Moab until the time of sadness was finished.
Moses had put his hands on Joshua and appointed him to be the new leader. Then Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom. So the Israelites began to obey Joshua, and they did what the Lord had commanded Moses.
Israel never had another prophet like Moses: The Lord knew Moses face to face. The Lord sent Moses to do powerful miracles in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh, all his officers, and all the people in Egypt saw those miracles. No other prophet ever did as many powerful and amazing things as Moses did for the Israelites to see.
Psalm 1 (TIB)
Happiness comes to those who reject the path of violence, who refuse to associate with criminals or even to sit with people who belittle others.
Happiness comes to those who delight in the Law of God and meditate on it day and night.
They’re like trees planted by flowing water – they bear fruit in every season, and their leaves never wither: everything they do will prosper.
But not wrongdoers!
They’re like chaff that the wind blows away.
They won’t have a taproot to anchor them when judgment comes, nor will corrupt individuals be given a place at the Gathering of the Just.
God watches over the steps of those who do justice; but those on a path of violence and injustice will find themselves irretrievably lost.
Matthew 22:34-46 (ERV)
The Pharisees learned that Jesus had made the Sadducees look so foolish that they stopped trying to argue with him. So the Pharisees had a meeting. Then one of them, an expert in the Law of Moses, asked Jesus a question to test him. He said, “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”
Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ All of the law and the writings of the prophets take their meaning from these two commands.”
So while the Pharisees were together, Jesus asked them a question. He said, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
The Pharisees answered, “The Messiah is the Son of David.”
Jesus said to them, “Then why did David call him ‘Lord’? David was speaking by the power of the Spirit. He said,
‘The Lord God said to my Lord:
Sit by me at my right side,
and I will put your enemies under your control.’
David calls the Messiah ‘Lord.’ So how can he be David’s son?”
None of the Pharisees could answer Jesus’ question. And after that day, no one was brave enough to ask him any more questions.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Face to Face*
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Deuteronomy 34 has Moses climbing yet another mountain. I don’t remember how many exactly but, suffice it to say, it is a lot. A regular occurrence, you might say. Moses liked hanging out on mountains. After all, it is where his best friend lived. Oh, sure, his best friend lived everywhere; but in the Hebrew scriptures, God seems to prefer mountains. So, of course, Moses spent a lot of time mountaineering. And not so much because it was there (the mountain) but because God was there.
This time, however, he climbs to take in the view. Like a couple of retirees on their vacation, Moses and God stood on top of that mountain while God pointed out all the highlights of the landscape before them. God even gave them the names of the tribes that would settle there, “Gilead as far as Dan.” Moses took in the sights, but he doesn’t have anything to say. It overwhelms him. That which was a dream was now right there in living color. You can’t blame him if a tear rolled down his cheek as he stared across the vista with his best friend. With all that they have been through together, you’d expect the moment to be somewhat emotional.
Think about it. Mount Nebo is in Jordan, east of Israel, almost straight east of Jerusalem and approximately even with the northern end of the Dead Sea. Keeping in mind that Moses and the Hebrew people had escaped Egypt which is southwest of today’s nation-state of Israel and wandered 40 years in the “wilderness” … that’s what you call taking the long way home.
At any rate, God and Moses are standing up there on Mount Nebo, looking at the land God has promised the people Moses has been leading all those years, when all the sudden God says, “I will let you see this land, but you will not set foot in it.”
Put yourself in Moses’ sandals for a minute. You’ve just led an entire nation of people – twelve tribes worth – on a forty-year journey to get them to this place, you’ve put up with their whining and complaining … they all get to cross over to this promised land of milk and honey, but you don’t? What gives?
Moses is given the gift of seeing it, but he won’t set foot in it. It sounds like punishment, and it maybe it is. Afterall, there was his anger issues, he struck that rock when he was just supposed to touch it, or something like that.
But what if, in the end, it is more of a kindness than a punishment. A quick scan through the next book in the sequence, the one named after Moses’s successor, shows that this settlement thing isn’t going to be a walk in the park. So, maybe instead of punishment, this is time off for “sorta” good behavior, for doing the best he could to lead a group of people who didn’t really want to be led. Maybe his friend said, “Rest now, Moses. You lived a life of loving God and loving neighbor, even when both were harder to love than you realized when you said yes in the first place.”
The Torah or Old Testament as we call it in the Christian tradition presents Moses as the preeminent prophet, a man of power and wisdom. But what made him so unique was that he knew God face to face. Or rather that God knew him face to face. That’s probably the most incredible part of this brief eulogy at the end of Deuteronomy. All that stuff he could do and did do, all those years that he struggled with these people, and here his epitaph is that God knew him face to face.
Face to face … to know God face to face … that is something, isn’t it?
Do you imagine that, when the disciples caught Jesus looking at them, they knew they were face to face with the son of God? As they were struggling to know who he was, as they caught a glimpse that somehow he was the son of God, the very real incarnate presence of God walking alongside them as they tromped around the countryside, did they hope that Jesus knew them face to face the way God knew Moses? What a gift to be graced by a God who knows us face to face.
That was the question behind the question that contentious day of teaching. It started with a story about a feast, a wedding banquet, and an invitation that some took lightly—to their regret. Then it was tag team question time, Pharisees and taxes, Sadducees and Resurrection and marriage, and then this one about commandments. The commandment. Matthew says the Pharisees gathered together, and then one came out with his question. Matthew says it was another test. But I wonder.
Oh, sure it was a test; everything was a test; everything was trying to trip him up, trying to reduce him in the eyes of the crowds, trying to put him in his place. But I wonder if there was something more in the question. Mark seemed to think so; he tells the story a little differently (Mark 12:28-34). But then given that Jesus messes with their heads a bit with that epilogue about David and his son/Lord, maybe it was just a test.
Whatever is behind the question, Jesus does what Jesus does and gives us a life-giving answer, whether we choose to hear it or not. Whether they chose to hear it or not. It’s there in red and white – depending on the translation you use. He answers the question as if it were an honest one. As if the asker really wanted to know. He pulls from the tradition; he isn’t the first to declare these two statements, one from Exodus and the other from Leviticus, as preeminent when it comes to commandments. They couldn’t argue with this. They couldn’t point fingers and call him names when he leaned into the teaching that all of them knew. So, he was safe.
Except safe isn’t what he wanted. He wanted them to hear. He wanted them to see. This commandment, or these commandments, if you insist, are not simply laws to follow—like coming to a full stop at the sign and don’t speed through the yellow light.
No, they are much more than that. Not just guides to a better life! These two commandments are the essence of life itself. This isn’t a pathway; it is the destination. This isn’t just some good advice for getting along in this world; this is about seeing God face to face. This is who we are supposed to be, not just what we are supposed to do. We are the ones who love God with all that is within us, and we are the ones who see our neighbors as an opportunity to love God more by loving them into wholeness and hope.
When Jesus answers this question, he is taking us all up to the mountain and showing the vista of the kingdom of God. “Can you see it,” he asks us. “Can you see the Promised Land? Where we all will live this commandment – this description of who and what we are and will be together. Can you see it?” Better yet, can you see yourself there? Can you see yourselves living that way—driven by love and not by the divisions that we’ve created for ourselves. Shaped by loving care for those who need us. Worshiping as though it was the most important thing we could be doing at any time of day or night, because it is. It is an outpouring of love that defines us, lifts us, and heals us.
And some questions won’t matter all that much anymore. That was the little tagline that Jesus throws out to the ones who still wanted to test him. He decides to test them back. “Who is in charge here?” is the question he asks them. Tradition? Heritage? Or the indwelling Spirit of God moving us forward into the Promised Land of hope and love?
As we draw closer, we’ll catch a glimpse of the one who knows us face to face. And if we listen as we draw closer, we may even begin to not only glimpse the Promised Land but live in it … in the here and now.
Wait! Explain that, Rev! The “Promised Land” is heaven! Streets paved with gold. A gated community where only the good guys get to live for all eternity in a mansion with many rooms. See! I’ve got my golden ticket!
But … “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
What if we’re already in the Promised Land wherever we stand and we just can’t see it? Jesus told us, “The kingdom is at hand,” and “The kingdom is within you.” How do we heal ourselves of the blindness that prevents us, prevents the world from seeing the Promised Land, the Kingdom?
All the laws and the writings of the prophets hang on the answer … the answer that lays within the two greatest commandments. Love God with everything we’ve got and love one another as we are loved.
Love God … the Holy Mystery of many names … love God by whatever name you give them.
Love one another regardless of who the other is. Your neighbor, friend, family, enemy … your ideological or theological or religious or political polar opposite or identical twin.
As you are loved. That might be the hardest part. That may be the thing that is keeping us blind, keeping us from seeing not only the Promised Land, but God and Jesus face to face.
We know God, Christ and the Spirit love us unconditionally just as we authentically are. We know they love us when we are in the darkest valleys. We know they love us when we are going through life’s storms. We know they love us when we fail to love them fully … when we get angry with them because those great big miracles we prayed for aren’t granted instantly as if they’re the three fairy godmothers in the story of Sleeping Beauty … when we become disillusioned with the religions we’ve created around them … even when we fail to trust that they’re there and they really do love us.
The problem isn’t whether they love us. The problem lies in our ability to love ourselves as fully as they love us. And if we can’t love ourselves, how could we ever love others?
We have been taught for centuries to fear God … that even one single mis-step will send us to the land of damnation forever. For centuries, we’ve reduced Christ’s purpose to dying on the cross to atone for our sins … sins which we’ve then been reminded of and shamed for every time we walked into a religious service. And through all those centuries, we’ve learned not only to judge others as less worthy in an effort to make ourselves feel more worthy, but we’ve also learned to judge ourselves as shameful, guilty, broken wretches whose only hope is to constantly beg for forgiveness we’ve already received.
All the laws and the prophets hang on these …
The prophets didn’t teach us fear and guilt and shame. The prophets didn’t teach us to judge others or to look down on others as less worthy. The prophets told us how we were messing up when we did mess up and what had to happen to correct our mistakes … time after time, prophet after prophet. The prophets consistently told us to lift up those we look down on, the vulnerable, the stranger, the captive, the orphan, the widow. The prophets told us we are loved by God who has told us what goodness is. This is what God wants from us:
Be fair to other people.
Love kindness and loyalty,
and humbly obey your God.
Obey … obedience … words that have been used to frighten and condemn us for centuries. Words that may not mean at all what we think they mean. In “Listening for the Soul,” author Jean Stairs writes, “In Hebrew, to listen, shema, includes the meaning “to obey.” Likewise in Greek, hypakouein (heepahkoheen, from which we derive our word acoustics, means “to listen and obey.” Our English word obey is from the Latin obedire (ohbuhdeareh) (and its root audio), meaning “to listen from beneath.” Unfortunately, the rich value of obedience has become misunderstood and much maligned over the years. In traditional wedding vows, when partners promised “to love, honor, and obey,” the promise of obedience did not mean unwavering submission so much as obedience to the promise to listen to and for the other.”
So, listen again to Micah 6:8
Human, the Lord has told you what goodness is. This is what he wants from you: Be fair to other people. Love kindness and loyalty, and humbly [listen to and for] your God.
If we could learn to listen to and for our God, perhaps we could better learn to love ourselves. Perhaps we could hear God remind us that we are worthy, we matter, we are created in their image … all of us … every single one of us … that God knows who we are in our souls and loves our authentic selves.
If we could learn to listen to and for our God, perhaps we could learn to listen to others … really listen … to listen for their souls.
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning, he wakens – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear. (Isaiah 50:4-5a)
“Listening to the other is, in itself, a ministry – the ministry of listening. Giving the other attention gives us access to God. God both wakens our ears so that we may listen and opens our ears so that we may hear. Listening for the soul helps us foster spiritual depth in the lives of others in our communities, neighborhoods, world, even our own souls. It is about letting our ears be awake and attentive to the voices of yearning, weariness, and supplication in the form of words, holy screams for new life, or sighs too deep for words.
To listen for the soul, both our own and those of others, is more central to life than anything else we do.
And it is through learning to listen for the soul that we begin to hear God. To be truly obedient (listen to and for God) is to hear the other into speech, or to help the other express what has remained hidden or beneath the surface: “hearing into speech” as a way of understanding that what we hear may well have been known all along. Who we are and what we are about inside, in our souls, is our own truth. And the same is true for all others. “To be a person is to have a story to tell,” but “you can’t tell who you are unless someone is listening.”” (Listening for the Soul, Jean Stair)
God has a story he’s waiting to tell us through our own souls and through the souls of others – all others – even our enemies. And when we can hear God in the soul of the other, we begin to see God in the other … face to face.
And the second is like it: To love one another as you are loved. All the laws and all the prophets hang from these.
Now let us pray for one another, for our church and community, for our nation, and for our world:
Lord, you have told us what to do. But this love thing is hard. You’ve invited us to love you with everything we have; instead we have fallen in love with our jobs, houses, and electronic toys; with flags, firearms, and false gods.
Loving you intimately is scary, and we often opt for another way.
You’ve invited us to live in loving relationship with everyone we encounter, but there are folk who are downright hard to love and we struggle to love ourselves as you love us.
We confess our inability to love as we should. We need your forgiveness and help living out this love thing. Free us to love as you do.
God Who Walked Among Us, Prince of Peace, we ask for your intercession on our behalf. We ask that you strengthen us to follow your ways, The Way you came to teach us, The Way that leads to the kingdom on earth, to the kingdom within, to kin-dom. Etch your lessons on our hearts. Help us to become the Peacemakers the world so desperately needs.
God Who Dwells With Us As Spirit, guide us now on the paths of peace and love. Fill us continuously that we may preach Christ’s gospel through our living and loving all created by God and in God’s image, even those we would rather hate, even those who choose to hate us.
Holy Mystery of many names, cleanse this world of greed and lust for power and wealth. Wash hate for the other from the hearts of all your people, all your world. Help us to understand your will and learn the patience you have extended to us throughout time.
Be with both those we love and those around the world who are sick, who are injured, who are hurting, who are mourning, holding them in your loving and healing arms.
Soften the hearts of those who would curse others, those who believe vengeance is their birthright, those who seek to stake claims to pieces of your creation.
Protect the innocent and bring wrongdoers to justice.
Help us to see you in each face that we meet.
- Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
- *Today’s message was adapted in part from the planning and preaching notes for October 29, 2023, at Discipleship Ministries.
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