Lenten Sermon Series 6 of 6 ~ “Letting Go…Letting God: What Can Be Achieved in One’s Life?”
Deuteronomy 34: 5-8 & Mark 11: 1-11 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~
Northwood United ~ March 28, 2020
We have been following Moses’ journey over the past six weeks. This amazing man called from the sheep fields of Midian to return to Egypt and liberate the Israelites from slavery. And God was with him as he went to Pharoah demanding ‘let my people go’. God was with him as the waters parted and they walked through the Red Sea. God was with him as he found food and water in the wilderness. God was with him at Mt. Sinai as the 10 commandments taught a new way to live in harmony with the holy. And God continued with Moses as they bravely wound their path up, through the land of giants, to Mt. Nebo as they overlooked the Promised Land.
Where was God at Moses’ death?
Yet, as we read the hear the story of Moses’ death, do you wonder if God is still with him? This faithful man who had led the people, who had protected them, who had provided for them, who had suffered and endured so much for over those 40 years...now at Mt. Nebo overlooking the banks of the Jordan and onto the Promised Land. Was God still with him? How cruel is it that Moses will never enter the final destination? Does something seem wrong here? As we come to the end of this series, and the end of Moses’ life, I’m wondering how this ending touched you? Did it seem wrong that Moses did not get to walk into the promised land? Shouldn’t he have been the first to taste the fruits of the land...To drink the milk and eat honey...Did something seem horribly wrong as you heard Barb read the story of Moses’ premature death? Listen with me again... “Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord's command he was buried in a Valley in the land of Moab, but no one knows of his burial place to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died, his sight was unimpaired, and his vigor had not abated.” It almost seems a cruel joke. So painful, how he could be teased, only to see the promised land, that he would never visit. He had the strength, he had the energy, yet he never had the chance to visit the promised land that he had led the people towards!
nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wisely wrote: “nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope”. Moses’ death teaches us how his legacy forms a basis for faith and hope to live on. The text reminds us that they do not know the burial place of Moses. They will not be stuck at Mount Nebo to honor one of the to the saints of the past. Instead, they will allow Moses’ legacy of leadership to provide a basis of faith and hope for all who continue the journey to the Promised Land. “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope”. Moses’ story has taught us so much about faith; however, its conclusion provides a deep basis for a living hope as Joshua and all those who follow in his legacy become a living part of the story continuing past Mt. Nebo and into the Promised Land.
Jesus’ vision on Palm Sunday
I wonder if this was the kind of vision that Jesus held as he entered into the Holy Land for the celebration of Passover. We like to dress this day up as Palm Sunday features adorable children parading around the sanctuary waving palm branches. We all imagine the original event: children hoisted on parents’ shoulders to get a view of their peasant-savior entering Jerusalem. Crowds waved their palm branches, people threw their cloaks on the ground, everyone shouted “hosanna, hosanna, hosanna!!!” Yet...Jesus knew the fate that would come to him. He knew that he was entering into the week that would lead to his death, he would anger the religious officials by smashing the tables of the money-changers at the temple and throwing everyone out; he would further anger the Roman officials who would plot his death, even his own people would shout “crucify him…crucify him”, even his own followers would deny him. Yet Jesus rides into the Holy City and allows the drama to unfold for he knows that his legacy will allow his followers to, one day, become the living Body of Christ. Jesus and Moses, had both done their job, fulfilled their destiny, and lived faithfully…lived faithfully with hope. They both teach us how “nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope”.
Our story is part of the larger story
I am so excited at how people have been ‘going deep’ with this Lenten sermon series because this is a very difficult topic we have explored. Your comments and thoughts that you have shared with me are witness to your faith! And that is a real challenge to us all these days when we live in a culture that preaches ‘it’s all about me!’ or ‘what’s in it for me?’ What we uncover in this text is that the promise God made was not just to A person, but the promise was to a people, the journey was about a people, and the whole story of scripture is about how God is using this chosen people to change the world. While our culture might tempt us to ask questions like: ‘what is God doing for me?’ or ‘what is God doing in my life?’ Today, we highlight how that is not the primary question in the Bible. Instead, the focus is on what is God doing for all God's people as a whole. These stories remind us how our story is part of the larger story of what God is doing. We get to be a part of it, and that is incredible! Yet, it does not begin with us. And it does not end with us. However, that does not minimize our essential role in it. “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope”.
Martin Luther King’s view of the Promised Land
Martin Luther King’s legacy continues to be a very powerful one, even today. On the night before King died, he invoked today’s image of Moses on Mount Nebo looking out upon the Promised Land. Doctor King's dream was of a time when all people would not be judged, by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. And on that fateful night before his death in Memphis, Doctor King told the crowd that had gathered in a church that he might not live long enough to reach their goal with them. He went on to preach that their goal was in sight. He preached that they would get there…if they kept walking together in faith. He preached in his sermon: “I have been to the mountaintop, and I have seen the Promised Land.” Moses could have died an old man tending to his sheep in Midian but because he trusted, because he listened to the call, because he had the courage to leave home, to step out, to risk, and to wander, he got to play a role in God's story. And God’s story continued through him. “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope”.
Your story is part of God’s story
We have all been to more funerals than we care to remember, and I have officiated at too many over the years. One common element that I always hear in the eulogizing of a loved one is the naming of a legacy and a call to continue that legacy forward. People share what mattered about that person’s life and how it will continue to matter to them, even more, in the days ahead. One poem I sometimes read in a service before the eulogies are spoken is “The Dash.” It contains that profound line: “what matter is not the money, the cars or the cash, what matters is how we lived, and loved and how we spent our dash”. I wonder if these stories of Moses and Jesus might further liberate us to join our stories as part of the great legacy of liberation, the legacy of love, the legacy of peace? These are lofty, mountainous goals; however, when we consider joining all the little, but essential, things that we each do in our lives, we become a part of God’s larger story unfolding in the world.
A legacy of liberation
We have learned about a God whose way is liberation from all that enslaves. Our very nature is to live that way of release from all that binds. This is our call to be liberation people…liberated and liberating. Do we allow ourselves to be held back? Do we support systems that allow this in the world? Do we live liberation?
A legacy of faith
We have also learned about a God whose way is provision. The wilderness was a learning laboratory for the Israelites where they learned about this God who provides, who does not let them down. This is our call to be a trusting people! This is our call to be a people of faith that is grounded in a trust in a God who does provide! Do we live by faith?
A legacy of Kingdom building
And finally, we learned of a God who yearns for us to be a part of the unfolding of the Kingdom. Do we ‘gloss over’ the Lord’s Prayer when we pray: ‘Thy Kingdom come?’ Or do we truly pray it…live it…allow it to unfold in our faith-filled living? Thy kingdom will not come without you or without me living our faith. Conversely, thy kingdom will not come entirely through any of our actions either. Thy kingdom will come through the legacy of the faithful that live in hope. Remembering that “nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.”
Eventually, the 12 tribes did enter the Promised Land. The book of Joshua records the legacy that continued to unfold. I will conclude with the first five verses of the first chapter. “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, 2‘My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. 3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. 5No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous...”