In this morning’s Scripture, Moses stands with the people on the threshold of the land of promise, and he invites them to do what we do on All Saints Day: Remember. He invites them to stand in the fullness of the present moment, and remember those who have gone before, even as they look forward, in hope.
At some point – in the early centuries of Christianity – we began to think of “saints” as those among us who had led extraordinary lives. We held them up as examples to live by, and set apart individual “saint’s days” for remembering each of them. Over the years, we experienced many saints among us, and there were so many “saint’s days,” that we also set aside one day called All Saints Day – as a day of expansive remembering.
In the Protestant and Reformed traditions, we embraced an even broader understanding of “saints,” returning to the sense in which “saint” would have been used in the New Testament. When the Apostle Paul used the word “saint,” he would have been referring to those living together in Christian community – those set apart for Christ. So Paul would write to “the saints of Philippi” or “the saints in Rome.”
When we’re talking about “saints,” we’re thinking of everyone who has ever called on the name of God– the folks we’re living with in community right now – the ones who sit in the pew (or on Zoom) right next to you – and all those who have gone before – those whom we have known and loved, and the generations of siblings in the faith, known and unknown, down across the years, who have gone before us.
For the past 6 weeks or so, as we have thought of “Long-Haul Living,” we’ve been traveling with one generation in particular of those who have gone before – the Hebrew people as they make their journey through the wilderness, out of slavery in Egypt and toward the Promised Land. As we conclude our “Long-Haul Living” series, I didn’t think we could just leave them there – wandering in the wilderness. So we join them today, toward the end of their journey, as they reach the land of promise – almost.
We set out with these siblings in faith right after they had escaped slavery in Egypt. They’d crossed through the waters, onto dry land. And they found themselves in a bewildering expanse of wilderness. And God accompanied them. When they had no food, they cried out to God, and God brought manna in the morning – bread from heaven – each morning – enough for the day. And then for the next. When they ran out of water, they cried out, and God brought water from the rock. And as they wandered, and realized that they had no idea what it was like to live free from the oppressive systems of Egypt – God gave them the Ten Commandments, and said here, “This is how free people live. Here is how you live in relationships of trust and love, with each other, and with me.”
They’ve journeyed for 40 years now – one generation making way for the next – and here they are this morning, and they’ve reached the land of promise. Almost. For 40 years and 3 books of the Bible – Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers – the Hebrew people travel through the wilderness – and here in Deuteronomy, they reach the river – they’re on the verge – looking forward into the land of promise, and they pause.
They pause, and Moses stands before them, and says, “Remember.” (Just this week, it’s dawned on me that that’s where the whole of Deuteronomy takes place – all 34 chapters – on the threshold of the land of promise, after a long journey, as they pause, and remember.) Moses says to them, “Remember. Remember the law that God has given you. The law called love – the law and love that lead toward life. Remember how God has accompanied you – and your parents and your grandparents – on this long-haul journey.” Remember.
We get a sliver of what Moses has to say in the text that Jillian and Martha read this morning. Standing in the fullness of the moment, Moses invites the people to take a look ahead – toward a day of freedom – and a land and life lush with flowing streams and springs and underground waters welling up in the valley. Look, from their days of manna in the desert, toward days in which they can eat bread without scarcity – wheat, and barley – amid vines and fig trees and pomegranates.
And, as they look forward, Moses reminds them that they also must remember. The only way that they will know how to live with God and each other in a land of plenty is to remember what it was like to live with God and each other in a land of want. Remember when we were hungry – manna, every morning. Remember our thirst, and the water from the rock. Remember, above all, the law called love. Love God and each other. Honor families, mothers and fathers, parents and grandparents. Respect and protect the lives of all people. Don’t lie, or cheat, or steal. Make sure every person, every worker has a Sabbath rest. Remember. And live like that.
Patricia Tull suggests that we glimpse at least three audiences listening in Deuteronomy. There is, of course, the generation of people standing with Moses on the verge of the land of promise. But just before them, there have been their parents and their grandparents – the generation that actually set out from Egypt on this journey that they are now completing. They stand on their shoulders. And then, there is the generation – centuries later – who write this story down – remembering how God accompanied their ancestors, with constancy, every morning of every day, in plenty and in want, and in every circumstance in between.
And then, I would add – in this listening and remembering, we also glimpse every generation who has heard and told this story ever since, from one generation to the next, on down to the next, and then to the next, all the way down to us. Generation to generation.
What we see in this text is a glimpse of what we might today call “the communion of the saints” – across the generations, on down through time, and around the world. All of us, together. Remembering this law of love and life. The gift that God gives us in this remembering is the gift of each other, and the gift of remembering God in the midst of us – over time, all the time. Perhaps the most important gift that God gives us – for the Long Haul – is the gift of each other – the gift of life in community. This Scripture gives us one glimpse of that.
I want to mention – to remember – two glimpses, like that, that we’ve had this year. One is a glimpse of the communion of the saints that we’ve had through the power of technology, the other through the power of imagination.
This year has disrupted our life together. Among other things, it has required us to shift from a practice of meeting in person to a practice of gathering here on Zoom. Like everything, Zoom comes with its challenges and its blessings. Zoom can’t completely replicate the experience of being in-person together – our bodies, in the same room with each other – one body – like that. And, Zoom has offered us a different glimpse of the body of Christ gathered in worship – a different glimpse of the communion of saints. In January and February, when we gathered, our glimpse of the communion of the saints would have been of the people in the room with us – all of us sitting in rows of pews. Here in this space, we are face to face – and our glimpse is not bound by any four walls.
When we share communion, we sometimes say that folks will gather at the table from north and south, and east and west. We see that here – we get a glimpse – across this array of beautiful faces – from the east and from the west, the north and the south, across continents and oceans – a glimpse of the communion of the saints broader than any room can hold.
The other glimpse we’ve had this year is one I stumbled on back in January – this sense of the “200-year present.” You may remember: Elise Boulding says that we live in a 200-year present – our lives touch 200 years of lives. She invites us to think back to the oldest person that would have held us when we were an infant – for me, that would have been my 80-year old great-grandmother Elsie Ruark. Then, think of the youngest person you know now – a child you might hold in your arms – not hard, the Sunday after a baptism – and project for them a life-span of 80 or so years. Your life has touched, and will touch, 200 years of lives – 200 years of history.
That’s what Moses is doing in this text. Moses invites the people to look forward in hope – to the lives that their children might live, in a world where bread is not scarce, and water pours forth over a dry and weary land – a land of figs, and honey and pomegranates.
And, as they prepare to move in hope into that tomorrow – Moses encourages them – no, let’s say it plain, Moses commands them to remember their yesterday. Gustavo Gutiérrez says that “memory is where faith resides,” and that’s why it is essential for the life we live today. Memory is the place we remember God loving us, and liberating us, and bringing us into life – how we have lived life, in love, together with God.
As this church was getting ready to celebrate its Centennial in 1997, a number of folks set out to write a church history, which is titled: Our Past: A Window to the Future. As I read through the list of writers, I see folks in our midst now – Walt Davis, Jo Gross, Mary Gillespie, Sally Johnson, Jean Holm – and folks who have gone on before us, Nan Harle, Phil Gross, Verna and Roy Fairchild, Betty Stott, to name but a few. In explaining their purpose as they wrote this history, they said this: “We write about the past for the sake of the future. We seek to articulate the nature of the legacy which we pass on to our children and our children’s children... We offer this account of our historical legacy as an act of faith in the future and as a stimulus to live into that future.”
Our memory of life with God yesterday points us to where and how we might find our way to life today – and not just for us, but for our children and our grandchildren, for the generation on our heels, and for all the generations yet to come.
The purpose of remembering those who have gone before –
the lives they have lived –
the lessons they have learned –
the love that they have conveyed on to us.
The purpose of all that is to bless and enliven the present moment – this world – and to live into the hope of the life and the lives yet to come. The lives we live today, we live because of those who have loved us into this moment. The lives we live today we live FOR those who are yet to come.
The lives we live today, we live for Gavin and Claire, and Cecelia; Cici and June; Anders, and Everett, and Paula – for those who may someday stand in this place and remember our names.
The lives we live today, we live for children, and youth, and college students who are living in this world of pandemic and sheltering and conflict, figuring out with loving parents and teachers how to learn and grow and thrive in this day, and then the next.
The lives we live today, we live for children at the border, who have been separated from their parents, and whose parents our government, through its neglect, cannot find – in the hope that those children will be restored to the love of family and that they will live free.
The lives we live today, we live for young black lives in the earnest hope that they will be able to move through streets free of fear of the police and of all the ways we have constructed systems that seek their harm.
The lives we live today, we live for children who will become adults in a world of climate emergency – in the hope that they might have air to breathe, and water to drink, and an Earth to enjoy with tender care.
The lives we live now embody for the world the hope of the saints of every time and every place –
· hope for a day when people will gather from north and south, from the east and west, and feast – at a table where everyone is welcome and everyone has enough -
· hope for a world where all that is broken is made whole –
· hope for a world where everyone lives free –
· hope for a world where we will live together with each other,
with all those who have come before,
and with all those yet to come –
in the loving and just communion of the saints,
together with God,
finding our way to life, forever and ever. Amen.
© 2020 Scott Clark
 See Book of Common Worship (PCUSA) (Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing, 2018).  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2561  As explained by John Paul Lederach on the On Being Podcast: America Ferrera and John Paul Lederach, “The Ingredients of Social Courage, interviewed on the On Being podcast with Krista Tippett, June 7, 2018 (updated June 7, 2018), https://onbeing.org/programs/america-ferrera-john-paul-lederach-the-ingredients-of-social-courage/  Gustavo Gutiérrez, The God of Life (New York: Orbis Books, 1991), pp. 4-6.  Our Past: A Window to the Future, written by The Centennial Historians of First Presbyterian San Anselom, Walter T. Davis, Jr., ed. (1997)