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October 26, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25):
Other Texts: The Irony of American History, Reinhold Niebuhr
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Draft text, please do not cite without permission
Can you imagine how Moses must have felt?
Standing there on that summit.
Just as God was always nearby throughout Moses’ long life.
Looking down at the land, and being told, “but you shall not cross over there.”
You’re not going to make it.
How do you suppose he felt?
Do you suppose he wanted to complain?
“I’ve come so far!”
“I can’t stop now!”
Did he consider pleading?
I can imagine that he felt many of those things, because those are things I might have felt.
You can probably think of others…
But, we don’t know what Moses felt, because in the next line Moses dies at God’s command.
Seems almost cruel doesn’t it?
And if God were as small, and petty, and mean as most humans it would be pretty cruel.
But God is not cruel.
God leads Moses to the summit of this mountain, and shows him “all the land.”
Which is so much more than just a beautiful panorama.
Moses sees the land sworn by God to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and how many more generations between Jacob’s son Joseph and Moses?
God shows him “all the land” or in some translations “the whole land.”
Not as it is, but as it will be.
“The whole land” is the land promised but not seen with human eyes.
The whole land is the promised land as God sees it.
On that mountain Moses sees the promise fulfilled.
With this vista before us God reminds us of Abraham.
Who, like Moses, also left everything he knew.
Everything that was safe…
Everything that was comfortable, and if not easy then at least familiar.
Abraham and Moses left a world where they knew the many answers and moved to a land where there were mostly questions.
Abraham was promised children—as numerous as the sands beside the sea and the stars in heaven.
He died with many children, but no where near the number of the stars in heaven.
Abraham also died before he saw that promise fulfilled.
Do you think he ever said, “well, I guess that didn’t work out.”
Did he see himself as a fool for following along all those years?
He was human, so maybe.
But out tradition tells a different story.
A better story.
Abraham trusted the journey itself—trusted the process—and kept moving step by step believing that God could do, and would do, all that God had promised.
That’s what Moses sees—the promise—the vision of the land restored.
No longer desert.
No longer at risk of inlands drying up or coastlands flooded…
Moses sees the land filled with Abraham’s descendants—
The descendants of Hagar, and Sarah…
Of Esau and Jacob…
Of all the tribes and all the nations.
Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindu, Buddhist, the spiritual but not religious, natural born and adopted, foreign and native.
He sees the land filled with the children of God.
And then he dies at God’s command without comment, and without complaint…
an indication, I think, of his willingness to be led into another unknown land by his God whom he knows and trusts deeply.
This is the end of Deuteronomy.
The end of the Torah—the five Books of Moses.
The next section of Hebrew Scripture, the Nevi’im—the prophets—records the difficulties between entering the land and the Babylonian exile.
It is the story of the land seen with human eyes.
It’s the view from down in the trenches, not up on the heights.
We too have been gifted with this double vision.
Seeing our unpromising reality with our eyes and the promised reality with God’s eyes.
Seen with human eyes, the land ahead of us is still a land of mistrust and hardship…
of difficult choices and unclear outcomes
of mistakes and missteps
of people loved and lives lost.
From down on the plain we can see the land where
22% of all children in the US live in poverty
where one in every three black males will go to prison some time in their lives
where one in five women will suffer sexual assault
where in some states you’re more likely to die from a gunshot than an car accident.
From down in the valley we see a world unready for dramatic climate change, and increasing conflicts over rapidly diminishing resources…
a world of enflamed religious fundamentalism and crumbling trust in institutions.
Yet we also caught a glimpse from that mountain top, so we can also see a world where although the population of people over 65 has doubled, the number of them living in poverty has been cut in half.
Where since the 1980s the number of deaths due to drunk driving has been cut in half.
In Boston we’ve seen a decline in homelessness, thanks in part to projects that we partner with such as Crossroads Family Shelter and Habitat for Humanity.
Boston was one of the first to become a member of the International Council’s Climate Resilient Communities Program, and for over a decade people in this parish have been doing the daily work of shrinking our carbon footprint through simple actions like switching to all CFL lightbulbs, to working with others to switch to solar.
We’ve seen the beginning of nursery schools in Tanzania, and a growing relationship with El Hogar.
We’ve seen the reality of the promise as well.
We can see it in the community that gathers here.
In the transformation that happens here
In the mission and ministry that is generated from here through the faithful work and commitment of each one of us.
With Moses we can see the promise—the whole land, or maybe it would be better to say “the land, whole.”
But the promise wasn’t fulfilled with Moses, or Joshua who came after him, or even David, and like all of them we won’t see it completely fulfilled in our lifetimes either.
But it has been fulfilled by another Joshua—another son of David—a person filled with the Spirit.
The promise has been fulfilled by this other Joshua whose name—Yeshua—we hear as Jesus.
Jesus, as the incarnate God, reconciles and sanctifies all of creation.
Draws all of God’s children together…
Fills the land—the whole land—creation—with worship and praise of the creator.
Moses was the one whom God knew face to face, and Jesus is God’s face.
Christ is God’s very presence, who shows the world what and how God loves.
The promise that all is redeemed, and all has been reclaimed by God has been fulfilled.
Yet even on the very best of days it still doesn’t look like it.
We still can’t see the whole land.
But we have this table.
We have the sacraments:
of baptism, and communion,
of healing, and reconciliation,
of marriage and burial
of affirming vocations
—all those places and moments where the promise becomes clear…
Where we see not with human eyes, but with God’s eyes.
We can catch a glimpse of the land, whole
when we gather around this table—
and commit to being in communion with one another
to standing in solidarity with those who are poor…
poor in resources, and poor in spirit,
with those who mourn…
with those who hunger and thirst for justice and for food
when we receive and respond and rejoice.
One of my favorite philosophers and theologians, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote in his work The Irony of American History
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
As we bring our explicit commitments of treasure to the altar today, knowing that our commitments of time and talent come with them, let’s hold this double vision before us.
Let’s bring the world as it is, with all it’s brokenness and damage and pain to the altar.
And let’s also remember that by coming to the table, by making these commitments, by saying yes, that we are also being offered a vision of that promise—a view of the whole land…the land, and the people whole and healed and reconciled.
And that’s a vision that needs to be shared.