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The Last Will Be First, And The First Will Be Last

Exodus 16:2-8; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16 Bigfork Community United Methodist Church September 20, 2020 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost/Rosh Hashonah

What a time we live in. The traditions of our people are being challenged and eroded. The Great Consensus we once shared has become a great polarization.

Paul lived in such a time. That is what made him great…and not merely a zealot.

Jesus lived in a time like this, too. So did Moses. We grieve our misfortune.

We are indignant about getting the common lot of humanity just as our parents and our grandparents did… perched on this little rock hurtling through space… away from something…toward something else.

We have met people who went through as hard times as we face now. We meet them now on the other side of their sorrow…when we all want to see that it will never happen again.

They only wanted…and we only want…something better for their children.

We all go through that same dance-of-becoming. They did then. We do today. We are as much in the wilderness as they ever were.. We grumble as much as they did against everyone we can point to…except ourselves.

We have been given so much power…so much understanding… so much to be hopeful for. We suppose we are free of the elemental challenges that our forebears struggled with.

But now we find that we have only come over a high mountain ridge and looked down at the valley below us and the ridge beyond. Then we realize that we have to humble ourselves all the way to the river at the bottom of the drainage …ford it…and climb the next slope to the next horizon line.

Let us be thankful for all of those who have crossed so many wildernesses to settle us here, now.. It was such a hopeful destination back at the turn of the 20th Century… freedom…a new frontier…free land…a new community of friends...a new future.

We meet as those who carried the Word to us, to cast it forth…as many celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is a time to make glad noise…and give thanks we no longer labor under the misunderstandings of the past….and step, clean and holy, into a new day.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away as Rosh Hashanah began this year. Nina Totenberg, who has covered the U. S. Supreme Court as long as there has been public radio, noted that tradition has it that one who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a person of great righteousness…a soul that God held back until the last moment when they were needed most… when they were the most righteous they could be.

My favorite story about Justice Ginsberg happened way back when Charlie Rose was still on the air… maybe 5 years ago. He asked her what she thought was the greatest opinion she had written. She told him, “Well, we don’t know…yet …do we?”

That fits into where I hope we are headed today. We are all becoming what God meant for us to be and each new day is a new year…a new beginning. We may grumble, but we have to accept our lot.

The people in the wilderness had risked all to find a new place…the first settlers in this place…the first adventurers back to a place…they have been told…again and again… God had promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

It would be a long and winding road and there would be many hardships, but they knew this journey was better than oppression in captivity. It was a new day…a geographical shift. It was Rosh Hashanah.

Like Abraham they were going from their homes to a land God would show them. There, they would seek the sustenance and peace… community …and with all that, the Justice they had been denied in the old place.

The old way had become harder and harder.. It was time to start again. The last in the land of Egypt would become the first in the Promised Land…but they would only continue to be first so long as they became the last…learned how to sustain the peace …their community…and with it all …justice.

This is repeated again and again and again in history. From Egypt to Jerusalem to Rome to England to America…the path leads the way from the wilderness to some better understanding of our place in the heavens…from unknowing to wisdom.

We aren’t moving around as much as we used to these days. I used to drive 20,000 miles a year, mostly to get to meetings. Now I get to those meetings on my laptop, and my best guess at this point in time is that I will drive, maybe, 10.000 miles this year.

I am going fewer places, but I am going to more meetings. I am seeing less scenery but more faces. I only hope I am getting more done.

We are reaching more people with our worship services. I only hope that more people are reaching us. The question is how do we stay in touch?

How do we continue to grow in understanding and community? How do we remain one with each other, one in Christ, and one in ministry to all the world?

Make no mistake about it…I have said this many times, even before the COVID era…the church is more important now than it ever was…staying in touch with your spirit…and having friends to help you do it…has become all-important.

If you can do that, what you were born to be at the first shall become what you are at the last. When the sprout emerges from the seed… and the bud from the sprout…then the blossom unfolds…then the next generation is called to the dance that those who have gone before us have danced.

The theme song from a movie that came out just at the beginning of World War II is coming back to me this week.

You must remember this

A kiss is just a kiss

A sigh is just a sigh

The fundamental things apply

As time goes by.

The lives of that generation were coming apart, even more than ours. But they faced up to it and overcame it.

At least they could see the challenge. We can only guess whether the challenge we face now is near or far and try our best to protect each other from it.

The challenge is the same now as it was then, though…the same as it was when Israel plunged into the wilderness…leaving a place they knew to a place that did not know them…and making peace with it.

We can only hope that our gentle savior will not pass us by, either.

We come to the throne of mercy, seeking sweet relief, kneeling there in deep contrition, pleading, “Help my unbelief.”

It is never too late. When we need to go there, hard as it might seem, it is exactly the right time…we are always with exactly the right people …even if it doesn’t seem like it.

It's still the same old story

A fight for love and glory

A case of do or die

The world will always welcome lovers (believers in goodness)

As time goes by.

It is never too late. Christ shows us today that those who come to labor in the vineyard late in the day receive the same reward – wage – recognition – place in heaven – as those who came at the break of day.

You can see the Christian church that has begun to form in Matthew’s day talking back to the ancient faith of Abraham in our gospel reading today.

They have accepted even Gentiles into their fellowship. They have let the understanding of the Greeks and the Romans…and the Egyptians and Babylonians…enter into their thinking.

They have been so many places. They have seen so many things. They have become so much…or less…than the generations that came before them.

Those who have come late in the day to the Christian church, the Gentiles, will receive the same reward as those who have carried the Word forward from the dawn on civilization, the Jews.

Trusting only in Christ’s merit do we seek his face. Heal my wounded, broken spirit…save me by your grace.

Others may criticize us for being new in town or new in the region or new to our faith tradition. But I think that those who have gone before us would be happy to see others building on what they have only just begun.

What was last has been carried through the wilderness of their lives to the Promised Land of a new time.

It is a new place and a different hour…but those who follow us will walk with all we learned…they will read with all we have taught them…they will hope with greater understanding and more peace.

No matter what we do…no matter what we say…the truth is still the truth…and maybe it’s just good to know that new people at a new time in a new place are still humbling themselves to the new frontier of the human spirit.

May they be well. May their journey be full of humble hours and may they bring back new knowledge… and new understanding…and a new day.

May you be well, too.

O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …through me…this day? Amen.


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750 Electric Ave
Bigfork, MT 59911

(406) 837-4547