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It’s The Beginning

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 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.

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.

It’s The Beginning.

It’s the end.   Moses has brought his people to their new home, and now he is to die.

Moses is  revered by Jews everywhere. No wonder. He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. He gave them The Law. He led them through the wilderness, and finally into their new home – the land promised to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob…. Even though he himself would not set foot there.

And to top it all, as everyone knows, he had the looks of a movie star ……………… he looked just like Charlton Heston . 

Moses hadn’t always been a righteous man. He was a murderer. If you remember, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite unmercifully, and in his anger at the Egyptian, he struck him and killed him.

But God forgave him and decided to bring out in Moses, the leadership skills that were needed to rescue His people from slavery.

And Moses needed all his skills to deal with such a stubborn and stiff-necked people  –  the Israelites, not the Eygptians.    They complained  mightily, and often, to the degree that Moses was ready to give up on them on more than one occasion.

But he loved his God, and he loved his people. And he persevered. For forty long, hard years.

There’s a story which has been going around for awhile, concerning Moses. It seems that George Bush died and went to heaven. He was having a great time. Everybody welcomed him and spoke to him, except for one white-haired, bearded old man. Bush couldn’t understand it. Every time he walked into a room, this guy would get up and leave. He couldn’t figure out what he had done wrong.

But Bush was determined to find out. And finally he found the opportunity. He snuck up behind him the old man one day, tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “ How come, every time I walk into a room, you leave? Why are you avoiding me?”

And Moses said, ” Hey, look at all the trouble I got into the last time I talked to a bush.”

Moses must often have wondered how he got into the business of leading people. 

Just as Paul must have wondered how he got into the evangelism business.

As we can see in his letter to the Thessalonians, a portion of which we heard read today, he had to defend himself from people who had begun to attack him in his absence. 

Some people had been saying that Paul preached in a way to curry favour with certain people. He says, “ We didn’t speak to please people, but to please God who knows our motives. “

We heard last week how the Pharisees put Jesus under attack. Now they are at it again, with a question about the law.  As usual, he disarms them with his wisdom.

We all find ourselves under attack, at times, don’t we?  And we don’t have the wisdom of Jesus to help us handle it.

It can come about just because you happen to be in the way of  someone needing to vent their spleen. Unfortunate people killed or injured in the last few weeks, in numerous gun incidents just happened to be in the sights of someone’s gun. 

And when we feel under attack, and can’t do much about it, it’s frustrating, and we get angry, don’t we?

Some years ago, some enterprising person, recognizing a real need among drivers who  felt abused by other drivers, came out with a button, labeled ‘Missile launcher. ’ You  stuck this to your dash, and when some driver offended you, you just  pressed that button.

I suppose it made some people feel better, even if it only was to smile at the foolishness of it all.

But it’s not  funny when someone is doing it for real –  shooting, that is.  

It’s not  funny when we think of hostages taken, of suicide bombings,  all done in the name of addressing some real or imagined grievance. 

Jean Chretien said something after the September 11th attack. I can’t quote him exactly, but it was to the effect that past policies, and the Western world’s having so much more than the rest of the world, had  something to do with the rise of terrorism.  

He was attacked for saying that, and it was pointed out that some of the 9/11 attackers were from affluent homes in Saudi Arabia. The fact is though, that Western economic policies over the last  century have alienated a large number of the people living in the Third World.  Which is a real tragedy.

And that tragedy is compounded for us, when we realise there is nothing we can do to change the way things are. The problems are just too big and too complicated. 

But we can change our world – the world around us, the world in which we live.

And I hate to tell you this, but the only way to change your world, is to love your neighbour as yourself.

Love the driver who cuts across you and then gives you the finger.

Love the Customer Service person on the other end of the phone who angers you with his or her unwillingness to listen to reason.

Love the surgeon who made a deadly mistake.  

Love the man or men who have killed so many young aboriginal women on the Highway of Tears. 

Impossible!

Again, I hate to tell you, but they are your neighbors.

How do we turn hatred of neighbour into love of neighbour?  Is it possible?

Jesus  basically answered this question, when he said that the first and great commandment was to love  the Lord your God. 

And the second,  to love your neighbour as yourself.

He placed them in that order, because you will never be able to love your neighbour unless and until, you love God  – with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

There are some of us here today who have wondered how God can love us with our history, our weaknesses, our wickedness.  

And we  wonder how God can love those we think are so much worse than us. We sure can’t!

But He can, because he sees a poor soul, wounded by life’s hardships, twisted by life’s lies, fooled by life’s false promises.

He sees a child, born into this world with all the hope that brings, and somehow, a beautiful baby grows up to be a liar, or a thief, or a cruel manipulator, or an addict, or just someone who can’t make it in life.  

And he cries for what might have been  –  happiness, achievement, self-esteem, a thankfulness for God’s  gifts.

And he cries for what is: – sadness, failure, self-hatred, and so on. Nothing to give thanks for at all.  

And he cries for that lost soul.

And he suffers for that lost soul.

And he offers his love to that lost soul, and wants to forgive and heal, and nurture  that soul  back to health.

And He dies on the cross for that lost soul

You can’t help but love  a God like that, can you?

You can’t help but love Jesus, the human face of a God like that. 

But love Him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and you will find that you can also love your neighbour.

It’s the only way. 

John F. Kennedy is credited with saying, “Don’t get mad, get even.”

Jesus tells us, “Don’t get mad – forgive!”

Oh, you might say, “I am not big enough”.

But you can be.

You might say, “I don’t have that depth of compassion in me.”

But you could have.

You see, the problem is, that we begin with the second great commandment; we are distracted by the command to love our neighbour – our enemy – rather than beginning at the beginning and focusing on  loving God.

Because we can’t really love anyone until we first love God.   If we can manage that, then the rest will surely follow.

During the Korean War, a South Korean civilian was arrested by the Communists and ordered shot. But when the young Communist leader learned that the prisoner was in charge of an orphanage, caring for small children, he decided to spare him and instead, to kill the man’s son. 

So the nineteen year-old son was taken and shot, right there in front of his Christian father.

Later as the fortunes of war changed, that same Communist leader was captured by UN Forces, tried, and condemned to death.

Before the sentence could be carried out, however,  the father  whose son had been shot came and pleaded for the life of the killer. He said that this Communist was too young and hadn’t  really known what he was doing.

This Christian said, ‘Give him to me and I will train him.”

His wish was granted, and the father took the murderer of his son into his own home and cared for him.

Today, that young man, formerly a Communist is a Christian pastor, serving Christ.

It comes first from loving God, as we see Him in His Son Jesus.

It’s the beginning.

Amen.