Deuteronomy 34:1-12?? I Thessalonians 2:1-8?? Matthew 22:34-46

October 26, 2014 by Ken Dale

Sometimes Biblical characters really come to life for me. I really wonder what it must have been like to be them. Moses is one of them. It is an awesome thing to think about what Moses went through. No doubt sometime along the way you?ve heard me say that Fred Buechner says he was more apt to look like Tevye the milkman than Charlton Heston with whiskers glued on. Over the past weeks in the Hebrew scripture readings we have heard some of what Moses went through after the Exodus. He listened to the people complain and actually wish they were back in slavery in Egypt. While he was up conferring with the Almighty, they made and worshiped a golden calf. And the one on one time he had with God! He even got to a point where he had to remind God that this whole thing with the people was God?s idea, not his, and he even got God to change God?s mind when God wanted to wipe them all out. How awesome is that?!

Last week we heard how Moses wanted to see God ? but God would only set Moses in the cleft of the rock and pass before him, and Moses was only allowed see God?s back. How awesome is that!? But today we find him on the mountain and God tells him to have a look. Can?t you picture it in your mind? I think of God and Abraham and God telling him to look up at the stars and count them if he can. I think of looking out from the top of Katahdin. God shows Moses the whole Promised Land all stretched out before him as far as he could see. I picture a tear in Moses? eye when God says ? yes, here it is ? you can see it, but you won?t be going there.

Lucy and I had quite a conversation in the office about that moment. I wondered if it was unfair for Moses after all he had been through. But then Lucy mentioned the truth that some places look beautiful like that from a distance but being there can be a totally different experience. Then she added what happened when Joshua led the people across the Jordan and into the land and all the violence and war and slaughtering of thousands of people carried out by ?God?s people? just because they were there. Not a pretty picture at all. So maybe Moses was spared. We?ll never know.

But Fred Buechner?s characterization of Moses in the book Peculiar Treasures, ends with these wonderful words: Way back when he was just getting started and when out of the burning bush God had collared him for the first time, he had asked God what God’s name was, and God had told him, so that from then on he could get in touch with God anytime he wanted. Nobody had ever known God’s name before Moses did, and nobody would ever have known it afterward except for his having passed it on; and with that thought in his heart up there on Pisgah, and with that name on his lips, and with the sunset in his whiskers, he became in the end a kind of burning bush himself.?? Surely Moses? love of God and love of God?s people was tried and true.

We are told Moses died there at the age of 120. For Moses it really was all about the journey and not the destination.

Think of all Moses did leading the people and being an intermediary between God and the people. He led them to the Promised Land but did not get to go in himself. It brings to mind the work of many who work with people, such as teachers, who never get to see or experience that end result. In many ways that is true of being the church.

Here we are in church ? a building that most of us enter once a week for an hour or so, some of us more than that, still others may even feel like they live here. We are here to practice our faith. What is our faith? Jesus? response to the lawyer begins with the very heart of what we believe. Every son and daughter of Israel repeated it by heart each day: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. In other words ? love your God with everything you?ve got.

It is my hope that we are all really looking forward to getting together with Renee on Saturday morning as a church. I guess in some way we will be sitting together and looking ahead ? maybe not to the Promised Land, but most certainly into the future and at next steps as we move forward.?? There is no doubt that this is not the first time this church has been in such a place ? nor will it be the last. But it is a very important time to be together and to pull together and love God with everything we?ve got. It is an important time for us to pray.

I spend a lot of time in prayer ? not secluded and on my knees ? often in bed before I fall asleep at night and in the early morning before I rise for the day ? often while I?m driving – sometimes I come into this sanctuary ? sometimes it?s just in my mind.?? In a way it is a way of life. God is a constant presence and in many ways it is a constant ongoing conversation. I often think how wonderful it would be if we had the opportunity that Moses did ? some face to face time with God, so to speak. But that is not the life of faith for us. Like Moses we are in community ? at various levels. We are not alone ? like all the people of faith we read about in the Bible we are part of a community living together as God?s people ? and for us we are gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ ? and together, in various ways we experience his presence in our midst. But again, we don?t get face to face time like Moses on the mountain with God.

Thinking of being church and thinking of Moses on that mountain, looking out at the Promised Land he would never enter, I couldn?t help but think of Fred Buechner?s words in a sermon preached at a graduation. He reminded his listeners that it is our business to be the hands and feet and mouths of one who has no other hands or feet or mouth except our own. But then he spoke these words ? as you hear them, listen for the importance of the community of faith which we are:

Christ is our employer as surely as the general contractor?is the carpenter’s employer, only the chances are that?this side of Paradise we will never see his face except?mirrored darkly in dreams and shadows, if we’re lucky,?and in each other’s faces. He is our general, but the?chances are that this side of Paradise we will never hear?his voice except in the depth of our own inner silence and?in each other’s voices. He is our shepherd, but the chances?are we will never feel his touch except as we are touched?by the joy and pain and holiness of our own life and each?other’s lives. He is our pilot, our guide, our true, fast, final?friend and judge, but often when we need him?most, he?seems farthest away because he will always have gone on?ahead, leaving only the faint print of his feet on the path?to follow. And the world blows leaves across the path. And?branches fall. And darkness falls. We are, all of us, Mary?Magdalene, who reached out to him?at the end only to embrace the empty air. We are the ones who stopped for?a bite to eat that evening at Emmaus and, as soon as they?saw who it was that was sitting there at the table with them,?found him?vanished from their sight. Abraham, Moses,?Gideon, Rahab, Sarah are our brothers and sisters because,?like them, we all must live in faith, as the great?chapter puts it with a staggering honesty that should be a?lesson to us all, “not having received what was promised,?but having seen it and greeted it from afar,” and only from?afar. And yet the country we seek and do not truly find,?at least not here, not now, the heavenly country and homeland,?is there somewhere as surely as our yearning for it?is there; and I think that our yearning for it is itself as much?a part of the truth of it as our yearning for love or beauty?or peace is a part of those truths. And Christ is there with?us on our way as surely as the way itself is there that has?brought us to this place. It has brought us. We are here.?He is with us–that is our faith–but only in unseen ways,?as subtle and pervasive as air. (From ?The Road Goes On?).

??????????? So my request is quite simple ? will you join me in praying this week? Pray for this church and pray for our time together on Saturday morning ? and pray together ? if you live with someone take a little time together and pray together ? as husband and wife, as parent and child, as a family, as friends, – pray that we will be open to God?s guidance and God?s Spirit, that we can see and hear God in those places of which Buechner speaks – in each others? faces, in each others voices, and feel his touch in the joy and pain and holiness of each others? lives. In doing so maybe we too will experience that gentle nurture of which Paul spoke in our reading from I Thessalonians this morning.