Face About, March On

Sermon for Sunday, November 22, 2015
The Last Sunday After Pentecost
Preached at the Last Eucharist at the Parish of the Messiah, Auburndale

Deuteronomy 1:1-8, 19-25

moses“You have stayed long enough at this mountain.  Resume your journey…”

NRSV, Deut 1:6

Or, as Newton resident Everett Fox’s translation reads,  “Enough for you, staying at this mountain!  Face about, march on…”

In this passage, the opening of Moses’s speech to the people as they are about to leave Mt. Sinai and journey to the Promised Land, Moses speaks to a dynamic that I suspect all of us have experienced: as much as we may have liked this “mountain,” as much as we may have made our home in a place, sometimes the call comes to “face about” and “march on.”

In just a moment, I want to return to Moses and his summons.  But first I want to turn to Willa Cather and her book The Professor’s House.

51ajariraslIn The Professor’s House, Godfrey St. Peter is a professor at a small college on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin in the 1920’s.  Professor St. Peter has just purchased a new, fancier home for himself and his wife, but he is unable to completely move in.  The old house is filled with decades of memories of his married life and of his daughters’ childhoods.  So – even after the rest of the old house has been emptied – he continues to go to the house to work in its cramped third-floor study, with its mess of papers and the mannequins belonging to Augusta, a family friend and seamstress.  When his daughters ask him why he continues to go to the old house, the Professor replies, speaking of the mannequins:

They remind me of the times when you were little girls, and your first party frocks used to hang on them at night, when I worked.

For Professor St. Peter, the old house is more than a house.  It is the repository of his memories, of how much he and his wife had loved and endured, of the birth of their daughters, and their childhood and young womanhood.  The house holds the breadth of what his adult life has been.

mt_sinai_st_catherines_monastery_600Back to Moses and the people at Mt. Sinai…  At the time of Moses speech in today’s reading in Deuteronomy, the people had been camped at Sinai for 57 chapters(!), from midway through the book of Exodus, through all of Leviticus, and into the first part of Numbers.  During those 57 chapters, this mountain had become their home.  Here at this mountain the Lord had fed them with manna and given them water from the rock.  Here at this mountain they had heard the thunder and the blast of the trumpets and had received the Ten Commandments.  Here, they had worshiped the Golden Calf.  Here, they had argued and fought.  They had loved, been born, married and buried.  Imagine the memories the people had from this mountain!  Like Professor St. Peter, they probably had mixed feelings about moving on.  Many probably would have liked to stay at the mountain.  Yet the call came, “Enough for you, staying at this mountain!  Face about, march on.”

I bet we can all relate to Professor St. Peter – we all have “houses” that hold our memories.  And I bet we can relate to the Israelites – we’ve all had times when the call has come to “face about” and “march on.”

Today, the call has come for us.  Trinity as well as Messiah!  Even though next week we will be in “old” Trinity’s building, and even though we will retain Trinity’s name, “Trinity” will no longer be Trinity.  Together, we will be a new parish.  As much as we may tempted to stay at our respective “mountains,” as much as we may want work in our old “studies,” Moses’ words to the people have now come to us:  “Enough for you, staying at this mountain!  Face about, march on.”

But God forbid that we should lose the memories!  These memories – these “mountain” stories we have – help make us who we are.  Memories can give us strength to face the future and resilience to adapt to changing realities.   Even as we are about to “face about” and “move on,” I pray we can hold on to memories.

eucharistIt may seem difficult to hold on to memories while at the same time facing about and marching on.  But we are better at it than we realize, for holding memory while facing about and marching on is what we do each Sunday.  Each Sunday in the Eucharist, we “Do this for the remembrance of me” while at the same time proclaiming “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”  Here in the Eucharist we remember and look back 2,000 years – to the first Eucharist and every one in between – as we look forward to the changing reality of our future.  Here, as did the Israelites in the wilderness, we eat manna from heaven and drink water from the rock; and here, we receive a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that is to come.  Here in the Eucharist are gathered up all our Baptisms, our marriages, and our deaths; here are gathered all our Confirmations and Ordinations.  Here are gathered up our hopes for a future.  The Eucharist gathers up all our past, present and future because He whose body and blood we eat and drink is the Alpha and Omega, the one who was, who is and is to come. He who is the past, whom we remember in each Eucharist, is also our future, who holds open for us – for our parishes – the possibility of an extraordinary life together in Him.

I’d like to end where we began:  with Moses and the people at the mountain, looking back at all that has been, and looking forward to what might be.  Which is just what we do at every Eucharist:

Enough for you, staying at this mountain!  Face about, march on…  See, the Lord your God has given before you this land, go up, take-possession… Do not be afraid, do not be dismayed!…  It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.

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