Sermon: What Moses Saw
Scripture: Deuteronomy 32:48-52; 34: 1-4
Date: June 9, 2019
There has been a part of me that hoped this day would never come. Even after I decided it was time for me to retire in January, this day seemed pretty far away. But it has gone by so fast.
Just like the nearly seven years of Sundays where I have had the privilege of sharing with you in worship, have gone by so fast. And so this morning I am emotionally torn. There is that part of me that just wants this to be over. The saying of good-byes. I am not very good at that. And if it’s to be, then let’s be done with it. Move on. But then there is the larger part of me that wants to suspend this moment in time, make it last, not pronounce the benediction. Knowing that when I step off of this chancel this morning, it will be for the last time.
And that in a few weeks another minister will have this profound privilege and responsibility of leading you. And an exciting new chapter will start in the wonderful history of St. Luke. And so with all of that swirling in my mind and heart,
I have wrestled with what I wanted to say to you today. And I think the natural inclination at times like these is to look back. To reflect on and celebrate where we’ve been. We certainly would have a great deal to reflect on and celebrate. Wonderful things. So many wonderful worship experiences, led by all these wonderful musicians and all the talented liturgists that bless us each week. Bible Study experiences, all the times we’ve gathered around the Baptistery in the lobby and or held babies in my arms in the Sanctuary and Baptized and welcomed young and old into the family of God. Counting the one this afternoon there will have been nine Baptisms since Easter. And in these past years there have been many new persons who have come to be a part of this church family. As we were serving Communion last week, it struck me how many of you are new to the church in the last few years. In a profound way we are renewed each time someone comes to be a part of the church family. St. Luke has charted a wonderful path of making new Disciples since the moment of the churches birth in 1976. And nearly every year since then, St. Luke continues down that path of growth. It’s a truly amazing record. In fact, at the District Conference last week we received an award for the number of professions of faith that we received in 2018, and though I don’t get too excited about awards, I do get excited about welcoming new disciples into God’s family. And I am so thankful to finish my ministry at this wonderful church, where I have had the chance to do that – often. I pray that as a church you will never lose sight of the vision of introducing Jesus Christ into every life.
And then, of course, there have been some sad moments. We have certainly lost too many saints. And there have been some who have left the church for various reasons. They loom large in my heart today. So there is much that we could spend our time reflecting on this morning. If that was what God wanted us to do.
But, as I said a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think God is nearly as concerned about where we’ve been as He is with where we are going. So as I have thought about today, I couldn’t help but think of the last moments of Moses life and ministry. When after years of wandering in the wilderness, once again the people of God had come o to the edge of the promised land. And God took Moses up to the top of the mountain and showed him the land that was waiting for the faithful. And so as I have thought about today, and I have wondered what God allowed Moses to see. You see, I think God gave Moses glimpses of what the people were to become. And the first thing I think Moses saw was that the mantle of leadership was passing and that this would be as close as Moses was ever going to come to going the rest of the way with them. I think this morning I understand a little of how Moses must have felt standing there on that mountain. And then I think Moses saw a people who were finally ready to move forward into the land that God had promised them, who had overcome their ancestors propensity to look back. Who had learned in the wilderness that We may find some comfort in yesterday, but there is no future there. So, now as one about to be on the outside looking in, I want to share what I believe it will take to claim God’s complete promise for you, His church, His people.
First it is all about vision. What Moses saw from the mountain was God’s vision for the Hebrews. So the first thing I would say is that, you must make sure that what you are striving for is God’s vision and not your own. Look again what God says to Moses: you shall see the land before you . . which I am giving to the children of Israel. And the scripture says in response to that Moses shares God’s blessings for each of the tribes of Israel. Max Lucado comments:
These blessings pointed to a great and glorious future for the nation of Israel. Each blessing drew out the unique talents or characteristics of each tribe. All the blessings were necessary to fulfill God’s plan for the nation.
You see, the problem with the Israelites is that they had too often confused vision with memory. And so sometimes they tried to substitute their vision for Gods vision. And whenever that happened, they found themselves in trouble. Those are the times that Moses saw when the problems, the giants, threatened to overwhelm them, and they would lament: Remember how we were in the past. When the path ahead looked the most difficult, they tended to look behind them and talk about going back to the good old days that weren’t nearly as good as they remembered them being. You see, we often make the mistake of thinking that hindsight is 20/20, but the truth is that hindsight is rarely so clear. We often view the past with rose colored glasses – to see how we would have liked for it to have been, rather than how it was. Throughout their wilderness journey, there had been those, in every difficult moment who would look back and see their life in Egypt as one where they had plenty to eat and drink, when the truth was that they were slaves in Egypt, working under impossible conditions: beaten down, starving and without hope. But Moses always saw that the best for the people of Israel lay in front of them, not behind them. He didn’t always understand it, but he had constantly kept before them the vision of a promised land, where each person of all tribes would find great blessings in their faithfulness. Memory can never be a substitute for vision. No matter how rich our history might be, it cannot serve as our witness for today, nor our path for tomorrow. Sometimes that’s hard for us to accept, but we must always trust that God’s vision will constantly lead us forward, often into unknown territories.
And so what Moses saw from the mountain was the next generation of Hebrew leaders, informed and inspired by their ancestors, but unencumbered by their past, crossing the Jordan and moving into the unknown future that God has for them. And I have seen that happening here. The next generation is stepping up, ready to lead, and rather than resist that, we need to embrace it, and rejoice in it, if the church is going to go where God wants it to go. Because whether we know it or not, that is an incredible gift and it is what separates St. Luke from the hundreds of churches that are dying each week. As a District Superintendent, I worked with too many churches that had no younger generations. No young leaders. Everyone in the church looked like me. No children. No youth. No young adults. No generation to lead them into the promised land. One of the reasons that I decided to retire was that God made it clear to me, as He did to Moses, that my generation has had it’s day, and that if the church (St. Luke as well as the United Methodist Church) is going to move forward, I was no longer the one to be in leadership. That I needed to step aside and let the next generation have their day.
And then we need to understand that vision is not always 20/20. In fact vision is rarely that clear. I have found God’s vision is usually far sighted, when mine has been too often nearsighted. God is focused on the journey, but I am more focused on where I am today. That has been a hard lesson for me to learn through these years. I can recall so many times praying that God would give me a complete vision for ministry and the church, and then I would wait for a clear revelation and when it did not come, I would wonder why God was silent. You see, I like to see the whole picture, have the entire plan, know the final destination before I set out on a journey. But the truth is that God’s vision often calls us to just take one step at a time. Israel’s conquest of the promised land did not happen all at once, but began with that first tentative step into the Jordan river before they could enter into the land of Canaan. That’s what Moses saw. First they had to get their feet wet. God led them one step at a time. And then there were battles to be fought nearly each step along the way. And with each battle came an opportunity to continue to move forward but also the temptation, to turn back. So it is with God’s vision for his church today. We must not think that because we can’t see the whole picture, that God is not directing us. Because you see, I think God knows that the more He reveals, the more likely we are to become anxious and afraid and turn back. That’s usually the way it happens in life. We become so consumed with worry and anxiety about what lies ahead, that we miss the joy that God provides along the way. Remember when God first called Moses, he was so reluctant to take the first step. But if God had shown him the whole picture I doubt if he would have ever returned to Egypt I wonder if he would have followed then. I don’t think it was until the mountain top that Moses finally got to glimpse the whole picture.
And then, one more thing I’ve discovered about God’s vision. It almost always challenges our human understanding of how things are. What we think should happen. It calls us to go places and do things that are beyond our imaginings. I have discovered in my life that the most common reaction I have when I gain a sense of God’s vision is “I can’t do that.” Remember that’s what Moses said. “I have trouble speaking,” he said. “How can I convince the Pharaoh to let the people go.” But here’s the key. We must remember that this is God’s vision and as such is not dependent on what we have or what we can do, but rather what God provides and what He can do through us. We can not place our human limitations and weaknesses into God’s vision. Rather we must place God’s vision into our limitations and weaknesses, and in doing so God will expand our abilities and give us the strength to accomplish what he wills for us. I believe that God’s vision always calls us to be greater than we are, greater than we could ever imagine we could be. And that’s true for individuals, and it’s true for churches. Before the Hebrews could move into the promised land they had to learn that even though the giants still loomed before them, they were not alone. This was God’s plan and so He would take care of the giants. As wonderful as St. Luke’s journey has been up to this point, as long as we continue to place ourselves in God’s hands, then the church’s best day, our best day, will always be tomorrow. That’s what it’s going to take to go where God is leading. Not our vision, but God’s vision for us. And if we try to control the journey, to impose our vision, then the giants will overwhelm us and we will turn back.
And then secondly, I believe that Moses saw a people of great courage. And so do I. Faith must always be accompanied by courage. We have no indication that in the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, that the promised land had changed one bit, or that those giants that had turned their ancestors back from the promised land before, had disappeared. They still loomed before them. Moses probably had a pretty good view of them from his mountain vantage point. But what had changed was their hearts. I see some giants looming before you. You have got to overcome the debt, and to do that it will take courage and sacrifice on everyone’s part. In these nearly seven years we have reduced it by nearly a million dollars, but it still is placing an enormous strain on all the ministries of the church. I pray that God will give you the resources and the courage to slay this giant. And to get where God wants you to go, you also need to defeat some giants within the church. Overcome any dissension among you and move forward as one people who trust and love one another, into God’s vision. Not our individual visions. You must all embrace the diversity of St. Luke as the increasingly rare gift in the church that it is and learn from one another and love one another. You are God’s people and this is God’s church. St. Luke has become a church made up of many just as the Hebrew people were as Moses watched. Each of you brings different gifts to the body. And to keep moving forward we must embrace everyone and their giftedness and move forward as one people. Unity among God’s people must start with you and me. To get to the promised land will take courage and unity. The courage of leadership – leaders who are ready to make the hard decisions, even when there are always those who don’t want them to. And it takes courage to follow, sometimes where we don’t want to go. Again, consider Moses. Moses first had to have the courage to face God, and to believe the unbelievable, if he was going to do what God wanted him to do. . To go where God wants us to go, and to do what God wants us to do often requires the courage to put our wants and needs aside and do and believe the unbelievable. I’m sure as Moses watched the people cross the Jordan into the promised land, he wondered if they were up to the challenges that lay before them, but he had the assurance of experience that all things are possible with God. As Moses watched he saw a people from many tribes, coming together around God’s vision. But by themselves, no individual or tribe was capable of accomplishing what God was calling them to do, but together there was nothing that could not be accomplished by God’s people. I have seen God raise up some incredible leaders at St. Luke. I could name them for you. But I don’t have to. You know who they are. And if you want the church to go where God is calling you to go, all of you need to trust them, pray for them, encourage them, support them. Unite around them. That’s what Moses saw as he watched the Hebrews finally moving into the promised land.
As he watched from the mountain, Moses saw people who had the courage to follow God’s vision together and no matter what, even when they did not understand it and move into the promised land. And that’s what it will take to reach the promised land, the land that God has planned for St. Luke? Vision. Courage.
And then finally. Moses saw an obedient people before him. It was their rebellion that had condemned them to the wilderness, and now it was their obedience that was leading them out. And Moses could only watch, and not go with them. Because like the others of his generation, he had failed to be obedient. He had started to think that these were his people and took credit for that which God had done. Following God always comes down to obedience. You either obey or you don’t. As Moses watched he must have known that as the Israelites moved into the promised land, there would be times when they wouldn’t be able to see very clearly the path forward, and their courage would wane, and at times they would even turn on one another, but for those who remained obedient God’s abundant blessings would rain down. There can be no doubt that God has blessed this church. With great people and great leaders. You are known in this community by your love, for others and for one another. And He has given this church tremendous resources for ministry. His blessings are amazing beyond our belief, but He does not give them without expectations – without a cost. He expects that we will continue to use our blessings to bless our community in His name. He has placed in your hands all the tools you need to glorify Him and build His Kingdom. And he has always given this church the vision and courage to share those blessings with others. God has truly blessed St. Luke so that you can be a blessing to others. Don’t ever let go of that vision.
As I now look at St. Luke from the outside in, like Moses did, I see a great people and a great church. I believe that God is continuing to call you to new things, new ministries, that do not reject the ministries of the past, but rather which build on them. He has planted a vision in your hearts of ministries that reach out in dynamic ways to win disciples for Jesus Christ. I have seen them in you and I have heard you speak of them, dream of them, but more than that I have seen the courage of your convictions. Ministry is often hard, but you have been up to the challenge. And I know that you are headed for the promised land. And though I will not get to go there with you, you are a great church and a great people, and I know that together you will summon your courage, unite in Vision and respond in obedience, and go to that place where you will find great blessings, and even more than that God will continue to bless so many others through you. It has been my joy to be a part of that and to now retire knowing that no matter what challenges lay before you, when God calls, you will respond here we are, send us. I can’t wait to see where God will lead you in the days ahead. I will watch you with great interest and love and pride. And I will pray for you always.