Emily C. Heath
"The Lord said…you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, 'Be careful not to go up to the mountain or to touch the edge of it.'" - Exodus 19:12
In a couple of weeks my family and I are leaving the mountains of southern Vermont for the seacoast of New Hampshire. I've been called to serve a new congregation there as their pastor. That means that here in Vermont I am saying a lot of goodbyes to a community that I love.
A part of this process is reminding people of the pastoral boundaries I will now have to observe. All UCC ministers understand that when we leave a parish we no longer may return to officiate funerals, or weddings, or baptisms. We know we can't be the first person former parishioners call when everything goes wrong. We know, in short, that we are no longer the pastor of a congregation we have tried our best to serve well, usually for years.
And as hard as that is for us, we know that it's sometimes even harder for those we served. There's a temptation when faced with rules to look for a loophole, to deride them as pointless, or to justify your situation as somehow different. And yet, these rules didn't come out of nowhere. They came from experience, and from the understanding that when a congregation calls a new pastor they also need to trust that God will work through that pastor to meet their church's needs.
Today's Scripture reminds us that even God drew boundaries with God's people. God tells Moses to tell the people not to touch the mountain. My guess is that the people had no idea why God had instituted this rule. Some probably even thought it pointless. But Scripture reminds us that God doesn't do it arbitrarily. God does it to protect the people, and to guide them to a better future.
What has been true for the earliest communities of faith is true for us still. Sometimes someone has to say "we can't do that." And sometimes someone has to hold the line, even when it might be easier not to. As I prepare to leave this literal mountain on which I live, I'm reminded of this more than ever. And I am grateful for the example.
God, thank you for setting the boundaries when we have needed it. And thank you for journeying with us all, even when it means we have to journey apart from ones with whom we have loved and served. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the pastor of West Dover Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in West Dover, Vermont. She also serves as the chaplain of a local fire department, and as a speaker and writer on Christian faith and social justice.