In their synagogue services, our Jewish neighbors read through the entire Torah each year. Christians refer to these books as the Pentateuch, or the five books of Moses. They can be found as the first five books in the Old Testament portion of our Bibles.
The narrative of the Torah follows the journey of the people of Israel from the creation of the universe, to the family of Abraham, to the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, to the 40 year journey to the Promised Land. Along the way, Moses instructs the Israelites on the laws of worship and covenant fidelity to God and their neighbors.
Our Jewish neighbors read through these books each year because they believe that people today, no less than the Hebrew ancestors, are a community on a journey. We travel somewhere between the slavery and freedom, between alienation and home, between sin and salvation. We are not yet what we ought to be, but thank God we are not what we used to be!
This year, our congregation has been a people on a journey. We began 2016 with the sobering realization that we could no longer afford to maintain our building or a full-time pastor’s salary; we ended it with a tumultuous election season in our country that has left many feeling hopeless.
But I am not hopeless. I believe that hope is more than a feeling of optimism. Hope is not based on feelings. Hope is not based on the goodwill and ingenuity of our fellow human beings. Hope is not even founded on the ideals codified in our country’s Constitution, as noble as they may be. For Christians, hope is an act of defiance, founded on the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ, who says to us in Scripture, “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “I am making all things new.”
For a time, in this broken world, hope feels like sadness and anger. We look around and observe that this world is not yet what our Savior intends it to be. The hungry are not fed, the sick are not healed, the strangers are not welcomed, and the dead are not yet raised. We are still a people on the journey. The Promised Land lies ahead.
We sometimes hear a voice within that tempts us to turn back to the fleshpots of Egypt. But then there is also the voice of Moses, who prefigures Christ, continually urging us to trust God and keep going. God has not brought us out of our old life just to let us die in the wilderness. Sure, we could turn back toward Egypt, but that road would lead us back into slavery and certain death.
I believe that God has better things in store for us. With bold defiance, founded on nothing less than the Word of God, we march forward into the future with hope. We trust God and keep going.
That is precisely what you, the people of North Church, have accomplished in 2016. You have marched through the streets of this city and taken up residence in a new tabernacle. You have added new members to your number in this space. You have started new initiatives of education and outreach. In your life together, you have embodied the truth that the mission of the Church is not to preserve the status quo or return to some golden age of the past, but to keep moving forward to a future that we have not yet seen. You are a people on a journey. And I never grow tired of telling people how proud I am to serve as your pastor.
Trust God and keep going!