“How Will You Be Remembered?”
October 29, 2017
By John Partridge*
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 Matthew 22:34-46
The story is told that while Calvin Coolidge was sometimes referred to by his opponents as the “Do nothing” president, he was still popular with many Americans. When a reporter once asked how both of these things could be true, he responded by saying simply, “America wanted nothing done… so I done it.” Calvin Coolidge was okay with being known as the “do nothing” president because, in his view, that is what he was elected to do.
But here’s a different thought. How many of you have ever been to a funeral or visited a cemetery?
In both cases, we encounter the names of the deceased but when we do, that information is almost always associated with two additional pieces of information, the date of that person’s birth, and the date of their death. Quite often there is also a dash or some other typographical marking that stands between these two dates. As we walk through a cemetery, we generally find that we don’t know any, or at least few, of the people who have been buried there. All that we know of them are those bits of information on their tombstone.
But what about that dash?
For those of us who are strangers, it conveys no additional information. We don’t know what they did, who they were, what they were like, or who their friends were. But to their friends and to their relatives, and perhaps to a few genealogists of historians, that dash means something else entirely. For the people who knew them, or to those who studied them, that dash is a remembrance, it gives us a snippet of time in which we remember. We remember who they were, how they lived, what they meant to us, and how they made us feel.
Poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
And as we bring in new members this week and as we prepare to celebrate All Saints Day next week that brings us to a question that all of us need to consider: How will you be remembered? What is it that you want people to remember about you when the time comes to carve that dash in your tombstone? This is important because choosing how we want to be remembered will have an enormous impact on how we choose to live our lives, it will have a significant effect on decisions that we make every single day, and it will change how we treat the people around us.
We begin this morning in Deuteronomy 34:1-12 where we meet Moses at the very end of his life and as we witness his death and burial, and as we watch Joshua assume leadership over the nation of Israel.
34:1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.
9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.
10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
On the surface this is a story about the death of Moses and Joshua’s succession to the leadership of Israel, but a significant part of this passage is about Moses’ dash and describes for us what the people of Israel remembered about Moses after his death. They remembered that Moses was a “servant of the Lord.” We are told that he remained intellectually and physically vital in his old age because “his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” Moses was a man “whom the Lord knew face to face,” who did “signs and wonders” as an agent of God in Egypt, and who was responsible for the freedom of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Moses was remembered for being the only person, ever, to display the kind of power that he did, or perform the awesome deeds that he did, or have the kind of relationship with God that he did, and he did it all in front of an entire nation.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 we see something similar. In this case it isn’t about death, but as Paul reminds the church about his visit with them, he doesn’t talk about fundraising, or politics, or disagreements that they had, he focuses on the dash, on the things that he wants them to remember about him, about his ministry, and about themselves.
2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
Paul says that he and his companions had been treated outrageously and their ministry faced strong opposition. But even so, their motives were pure, they didn’t use flattery to manipulate people, they weren’t greedy, their ministry wasn’t about ego or power, but instead they were innocent like children. They cared for the church, they loved the people, and they shared not only the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they shared their lives together.
Paul wants the people to remember the importance of the gospel message, but he also wants them to remember that the message was delivered with compassion, tenderness, integrity, love, and lives shared with one another. The facts were important, the gospel message was important, but so was the dash; the way that they remembered the delivery of that message and how they felt were also vitally important.
And finally, in Matthew 22:34-46, we encounter a story where the religious leaders of Jesus’ time once again sought to embarrass, discredit, and humiliate him. But once again, their attempt doesn’t quite turn out the way that they expected.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’
45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
In the time of Jesus, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were dueling political parties and each held power in a different way. The Sadducees believed only in the oldest books of scripture and had power sharing agreements with the Roman government. The Pharisees believed in the whole of scripture, as well as the importance of the writings of learned Rabbis and scholars. These two groups often opposed one another both publically and privately. In our story, the Sadducees try to make Jesus look foolish, and when they fail the Pharisees, being competitive, decide that they should take a swing at it. If they succeed where their opposition had failed, they would look good to the people and shame their opponents at the same time.
But when they try, they fail as miserably as the Sadducees had. Without hesitation, Jesus handles their hardest question without getting tangled in any of the potential political or religious arguments that might have been attached to it. Jesus demonstrates clear and precise thinking, cuts to the heart of the question and provides a direct, solid, theologically correct, and definitive answer. But, having answered their question, Jesus has a question of his own, regarding the identity of the Messiah. Everyone knew that the father was always superior to his sons, and a king was always superior to his heirs, and so when Jesus asked how the Messiah could be both the son and heir of the great King David, and, at the same time worshipped and called Lord by that same King David… the Pharisees are stumped. They have no idea. In all their theological training, and all of their scholarly study, none of them had understood that the messiah would be both the son of man and the son of God. They totally missed the idea that the messiah was to be not only a human savior, but also divine, God in human flesh.
And so this also adds to the dash of Jesus. The Pharisees and the Sadducees no longer dare to ask Jesus questions or to try to trick him into looking foolish because every time they try, Jesus answers their most difficult questions and instead embarrassed them in front of the people they were trying to impress. Jesus, even among his opponents, becomes known as quick witted, intelligent, theologically learned, politically astute, wily, and both street smart and book smart. To his friends and followers, Jesus is remembered as someone who makes them feel safe, protected, and loved, but to his opponents he is feared and respected for his intellect and his ability to make them look, and feel, foolish.
Calvin Coolidge was known as the “do nothing president” but also as a skillful and honest public servant. Moses is remembered as the rescuer of Israel, the most powerful prophet ever, and the man who had the closest relationship with God. Paul wanted the church to remember that he was honest, that he loved them, cared for them, and taught them the truth of the gospel message. Jesus, even among his enemies is remembered as smart, thoughtful, theologically intelligent, and a force to be reckoned with.
For those of us who know and love Jesus, there is little doubt about the importance of the dash between his birth and his death.
But what about you?
The choices that you make today, the choices that you make this week, and the way that you treat the people around you, shapes your dash.
The message that you carry with you, either a message of hope or a message of despair, is up to you.
You can carry with you the compassion, mercy and love of Jesus Christ and the good news of his life, death, resurrection, and rescue of the entire world, or you can allow the people around you to stumble under the guilt, fear, and other burdens that they carry.
What choices will you make? How will you live your life? How will the people around you feel when you are with them?
How will you be remembered?
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.