This week it felt like summer finally and truly arrived.
On Friday afternoon, about 1pm, if you were anywhere near Nuckols Road you would have seen big groups of friends walking together with backpacks and smiles so big, it could only mean one thing: it was the last day of the school year and these kids were finished with school for the year. There is nothing that could put a WE DID IT smile on your face like that, except having the whole summer laid out ahead of you.
For pastors, what it means that summer has really and truly arrived is that its wedding season. Pastor Phillip had a wedding ceremony here at Epiphany yesterday and yesterday I performed the ceremony for Tyler Meighan and Lilly Goldsmith in Pembroke, just outside Blacksburg.
Tyler grew up here at Epiphany with his family: his mom, Kendra, and his Dad, Mike, and his siblings.
Tyler and Lilly met one another in 2007, when they were both in high school. They were a part of the same small group when they were in 9th grade at Winter Celebration. No doubt that weekend long ago, they talked about Jesus and about how Jesus calls us to love one another. We’re all glad Tyler and Lilly were listening! And we are glad they have now joined their lives together.
Yesterday was beautiful. It was on top of a mountain. It had rained all day but just before the ceremony the sun came out. Tyler and Lilly had chosen beautiful scriptures and prayers and they came to have their relationship blessed in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
If you can imagine Tyler and Lilly holding hands under that arbor, then you can see the best example that’s available to us, of our relationship with God.
Like a bride and groom, God holds our hand, looks at us in love, and promises faithfulness to us.
God makes a covenant with us and binds himself to us forever.
God’s love for us begins in creation, is continued with the call of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all their children, and is a promise that God will never leave them. No matter what.
And when Jacob’s children go down to Egypt during a famine to find food and become enslaved to Pharoah, God looks on them and promises he will rescue them.
God raises up Moses to lead his people to freedom…through the walls of water, through the Reed Sea, and out of the grasp of Egypt. Hurrying mothers and fathers carried their children along a path of dry land through the sea to safety.
They watched behind them as the Egyptians coming in hot pursuit were covered over by the water falling down on them. And on the safe side of the sea, like kids out on Nuckols Road who have heard the last bell of the school year, the people have smiles that say WE DID IT plastered to their faces. Their long captivity has ended.
God rescues his people! God is true to his promise and his covenant.
And God tells Moses to speak to the people for him, saying: “you have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation”
So Moses comes, summons the elders of the people, and sets before them all these words from the Lord and the people all answer as one: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do!”
But the people do not obey God’s voice and they do not keep the covenant.
They complain, they rebel, they get hangry (hungry + angry, and we’ve all been there).
In kindness, God sends mysterious bread from heaven that sustains the people’s strength and staves off the hunger in their gut, as they wander through barren wilderness.
But the people make idols in their impatience.
At every step, the people are unfaithful.
But even though they have argued, made excuses, and been stiff-necked, God leads them out of their wilderness into the Promised Land. But even a rest from their forty-year wilderness wanderings and a place to finally call home, doesn’t inspire faithfulness in the Israelites.
Still, God is faithful and sends Jesus to renew the covenant with Israel.
We know well that Jesus is God’s gift to us and to all creation, and that he gives us a new covenant. But Jesus’ first order of business was to renew the original covenant with Israel.
In fact, the writer of Matthew’s gospel, writing to Hebrews, tells of a Jesus that looks a lot like a New Moses, who has come to deliver God’s people from the slavery of sin, lead us through the waters of our baptism, and into the promised land of the kingdom of heaven, which has come near in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
And Matthew is clear that Jesus’ first mission is to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Jesus chooses 12 disciples, which calls to mind the 12 tribes of Israel, to help him in his work and mission.
What this all means for us is that a promise from God is good forever.
When God makes a promise, God fulfills a promise, and so we can trust him.
When he says, “This is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you,” we can trust him.
When he says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We can trust that he will be with us always.
Jesus has compassion on us. He knows that we are harassed and helpless, needing to hear the good news, needing to regain our strength at God’s table, needing to have our hearts refreshed and to be renewed in hope.
Our God is a god who keeps promises and longs to renew our lives. God doesn’t just get tired of us and decide we’re unfaithful and move on to find a relationship that’s more exciting or more personally beneficial to him.
God sticks with us.
God has bound us to himself.
And he sends us out as disciples, to witness with joy, to call others who have not heard, to remind those who are far off that they are called to repentance, to tell the good news that since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.
Because while we were still weak, at the right time Christ was bornfor us and God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
And we go to tell this news…
I have a bad habit. You may know what I’m talking about. Sometimes I pull out my cell phone, without even thinking about it!
Yesterday, about 15 minutes after the service in Blackburg, I pulled out my phone and opened facebook and the first thing I saw was a picture of Tyler and Lilly posted 14 minutes before.
Someone had seen something so beautiful and wonderful that they had to share it.
Yesterday, Lilly and Tyler promised to love one another for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as they both live.
Because God had first loved them, and because he will give them the strength, they can be true to their promise.
God has been so good to us. God has been so true to his promises, we have to share it.
We have to witness with joy and tell about our trustworthy God who promises to support, uphold, and strengthen us, so that we may serve him.
May this season be sweet with the harvest of faith, for us as a congregation and for our witness to the Lord of the harvest.