PSALM 90, DEUTERONOMY 34: 4-5, MATTHEW 22: 37-40 

Reflection for October 23, 2011

Reverend Marguerite Sheehan, First Parish of Northfield and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon 

Focusing Scripture:

Psalm 90: 1-4 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.” 

Deuteronomy 34: 4-5 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 descendents.” 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.” 

Matthew 22: 37-40 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." 

I Have Been the Mountain Top April 3, 1968 

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so I'm happy, tonight. 


Last Sunday, October 16 th, the statue of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was unveiled and celebrated at the Washington Mall. Martin Luther King, who clearly saw himself in the prophetic tradition, and who, like Moses, got the mountain top, predicted that he too would not live long enough to get to the Promised Land. Dr. King is being memorialized now in another time of economic and social unrest in this country. The symbolism and timing is exquisite. And so is fitting that we remember on this day that while Moses, and Martin, and you and me, are like dust in the sight of eternity, the work of justice lives on for generations past our time. The inheritance is not just for us or not even for us at all, but is for our descendents. That is the promise – for the descendents. Martin Luther King says, with a touch of humor, in this his last public message “Longevity has its place, But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.” My guess is that Moses, ancient as he was when he died, with his sight unimpaired and his vigor not abated; Moses would have said the same thing. “I am happy.” 

Doing God’s will is living in accordance with God’s teachings. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Doing God’s commandments brings us into dangerous territory. We are called to give away everything that keeps us from God, from our neighbor, and from our best selves. We are called to be naked, vulnerable, and accountable. We are called to preach and to act on the mountain top for the rights of the people who clean the street, for the poor, the war torn, the distressed, oppressed, weary, lonely, and the grieving; for that 99% that Dr. King lost his life for. And then, when we find ourselves preaching to ourselves, because we have strayed far from this dangerous calling, we know that we have come back home to roost. We may be granted the vision of the Beloved Community, but in our day the Promised Land is still at a distance. Longevity and dust has its place. For now, what we can grab on to is a daily striving to live fully and well in the dwelling place of God. We are called to do what we can, in our short lifespan, to make this dwelling place a home for the Beloved. We are called to open the doors and the windows to the wind and to set the table for the stranger. It is a calling to live for and to die for. 


God you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Teach us to look backward to those who paved the way for us, toward the future to those who depend on our work, and to the present moment which is ours. We are but like grass that is renewed in the morning and in the evening fades and withers. In this our day, may we flourish and may the work of our hands prosper. O prosper the work of our hands! Oh humble and grateful be our hearts! Oh determined and courageous be our actions! Have compassion on us your servants, from everlasting to everlasting.