Red. Debby Neal
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. 4The 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 descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 9Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.
10Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
Well there you have it. We are hearing the end of the story. The end of the book of Deuteronomy and if the story of Moses were not so familiar, I would not have chosen this for my sermon today. But, I have to confess that I find the story of Moses to be an intriguing one.
So this ending is truly powerful. After all we know that an ending to a story is never quite the end. An ending becomes a beginning. Of course this story does not turn out like I want it to turn out. I want Moses to enter the Promised Land. That would be a simple enough ending. Moses climbs the mountain and leads the people into the land. That is what I had in mind. I don’t care that he is old –because he is old. I don’t care that there are scriptures that suggest that there was a disagreement between God and Moses and that prevented him from going into the Promised Land. I really do believe that he was old. But there are many things happening in this passage.
So I was given some help for this sermon by the minister’s group that occasionally meets to discuss the lectionary. Someone gave me some information that described the place where the land was so nicely that even I with my directional challenges could appreciate the land that Moses saw. Well, maybe not.
Moses views from Moab on the eastern side of the Jordan then climbs over to the top of Mt. Pisgah, over 4000 feet above the Dead Sea. He sees the land, can tell where the different tribes will settle.
There is the land- this land of milk and honey- this land that does not require the death of plants or animals nor does it hinder the growth of their source for food. The land is fertile. The land is ready. Of course five different groups inhabit the land. So the land is not just waiting for them to move. The vision of the land that God brings Moses to, is one that Moses can see. He is right up to the edge of the Promised Land and God shows him the land. He can see it. He can see the colors. He can see the bounty that is there. His vision is good and he is in great physical shape. Moses can see for himself that it is a wonderful place.
I can’t read God’s mind. What I do see is a writer including Moses right up to the end of his life. Surely if God were angry at Moses and were denying him entrance into the land, God would not tease Moses by showing the land that he has worked so faithfully to get the Israelites ready.
But before we journey farther, I want you to mentally take your shoes off, put on a pair of sandals or sit barefoot. I want you to participate in the eulogy of Moses because, the whole story, though we won’t read it today, is a retelling of a life well-lived. It is a story of memories. Don’t you know that people are almost the same, when it comes to having memories? We may be from different cultures and we may have different ideas, but we are so similar that it is a shame we can’t appreciate each other more. It takes listening to a story. It takes hearing a snapshot of someone’s life.
In EFM or our class for the Education for Ministry, one of the first things we do is listen to one another. I am always amazed at the beautiful sharing that I am blessed to hear. We sit at the table and I swear I can feel grace pouring out. I feel it. For me that is what reading the Bible a place for grace becomes-. It would be wonderful to hear firsthand the stories, but reading is so much a blessing.
So here today we hear the end of the story. But as a part of the eulogy we have the blessing of memory and we can remember much of the story of all that happened. Moses’ life went in many directions from the basket in the water, to being saved by Pharaoh’s daughter, to killing a man(he probably would wish we could forget that one), to marriage, to hearing and seeing God in a burning bush, to calling out a Pharaoh and demanding that a group of tired, worn-out slaves be set free . Then, for the sake of God he led his people to freedom, he gave them God’s law, and on and on and on. He was not a perfect man but he has been very close to God. He gets old and he dies maybe just very old maybe not what-120 years. . His journey is over. His job is complete. Someone else will lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. But he is buried by God someone said and so no one can find his place. No one can disturb him. And that is probably a blessing.
There is something though more important than that Promised Land. It’s their relationship- God and Moses. God could be offering the Eulogy- This old man was my boy all along. I was there when he was born. I was there when he went to live in the palace. I helped him see that there were people, his people being mistreated. I helped him get them out of Egypt. I helped him when they were in the desert. I gave him laws to help them all. I helped him all throughout his life and then I showed him the prize- and he felt so blessed he could die in peace. I loved Moses as I love all my children.
The eulogy that we are privileged to hear talks about the way he was revered. Moses was powerful. He managed to use a sort of divine power over the pharaoh and his servants. Deuteronomy describes Moses as a prophet, priest, military commander, or king. He became the friend of God.
I have had many friends as I am sure you have had in life. We have had a lot of good times and some were not so good. Some of my friends have challenged me to rise to the occasion and to do more. And some have let me down. There have been some that I wish would have done more in life.
So I can kind of imagine what it might be to be a friend of God. It might be a little like the way the commandments talk about with relationships. It might be like the friendship of the Good Samaritan that Jesus talks about. It might even be like the commandment that Jesus brings up about loving your neighbor as yourself. I wonder if that is not the kind of relationship that God had with Moses. I wonder what that kind of relationship is like. Imagine being the one challenged by God because God wants your friendship.
The relationship between Moses and God seems somewhat equal at times. I don’t know if any of us would be willing to handle the responsibility of all that Moses did in order to be on the terms that he was on with God. I know that the scriptures suggest that the folks who had left Egypt didn’t want that responsibility. They were too afraid. The ones in the desert didn’t want that responsibility. They also missed a closer relationship with God.
I wonder how many of us sit on our pews and consider the burning bushes in our lives. I used to do that a lot. I sat on a pew in a Disciples church in Greenville KY and listened to the preacher every week. Well it got to a point of me talking to God instead of listening with a conversation that went like this: “Well, I know I could do that. I could do what that preacher is doing. I will too if I get the chance.”
Be careful what you ask for. Then it went more like: “I don’t speak good enough. I have this accent from Muhlenberg County. My voice- oh well God lets don’t go there. And then my hands shake. My knees don’t but my hands do. That burning bush just keeps on burning.
As I think on my memories I remember back before that when my mother had her heart attack. I was 18. It was between my Freshman and Sophomore year at Western. I didn’t know if I would be going back but I did. I knew I needed to work and so I applied to be an RA-resident assistant. I wasn’t hired. So I thought it was because I wasn’t good enough. I would look in the mirror in the dorm room and say-“You’re not good enough. They don’t want you.”
In November I got a call to come up on the hill and I was scared. What have I done? I thought. It must be really bad. So I went to my meeting and I waited until it was my turn. And whoever was in charge of RAs, said, “Would you like to be an RA?”
“But, you already said I couldn’t.”
“But we didn’t have an opening. Now we do. Do you want it?” A bush had been burning all along.
I have done the things I have done for a reason. I became a teacher because I needed to sleep at night. I became a chaplain so I could sleep at night. I became a minister so I could sleep and all the other things that have confronted me in a burning bush have let me sleep as long as I listened. I sleep a lot.
It’s like a driving force and I see it in a lot of people. I see it in many people, parents, and physicians, and nurses. I see it in teachers, and restaurant owners, etc. . I see that burning bush in so many. At church I see it in the board and the deacons and the elders and the nominating committee. I see it in the children and youth of the church. I see it in the people who are volunteers, who are leading the music and who are singing in the choir. I see it in EFM students. I guess it is all around me and the passion that I see and hear is from all of those around me who experience the burning bushes in their lives are also able to sleep at night because that is their experience of God.
So maybe like Moses we get older before we get everything we anticipated done. It really isn’t so important. It is important to climb the mountain while we can and to look into the Promised Land. It may be a promise for someone else to accomplish but, there is a blessing in being able to see, being able to vision. There is blessing in following our faith. There is even blessing in stepping out of the box. And it’s those small things that lead you into the direction your burning bush wants you to go.
I saw that our youth were going on the Buddy walk yesterday and I was so glad. I am glad for the relationships our youth continue to develop with the folk at the Buddy House. Then when I think of all the new groups-Food and Friends, the Lamp Lighters, Mosaic, Room In the Inn and all the other things. I know that somebody is following their burning bush. You are planting seeds of faith that will continue to grow and our church will journey forward, because we too see the promised land-right where we are. You can take off your sandals in your mind and you can judge for yourself as to where new bushes will spring up. I don’t think that any of us will be here for everything that happens as we grow and change. I do think God is with us in this place and we will see many promised lands before us. I wonder who will go to see among us?