Sermon preached October 26, 2014
Texts: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Matthew 22:34-40
Maroon 5, “Moves Like Jagger” (Note: This is not a Christian song, but it was popular and has a good beat) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEPTlhBmwRg
Maybe you would like to be able to move like Jagger. Maybe you would like to sing like Streisand, or Sinatra, or Pavarotti. Maybe you would like to play like Ellington, or Armstrong, or Yo Yo Ma. To want to emulate the talents of a well-known and successful person can be a good thing. Most of us will never achieve the kind of fame of a Jagger or Sinatra or Pavarotti. Most of us will never play in a World Series, or a Super Bowl or the Masters. Some from among us may play Carnegie Hall someday, but most of us will not. All of us, though, can develop the unique gifts that we have. Each of us can make the most of our experience, of being who we are in this time and place.
Perhaps we do that, however, by looking at others who made the most of their lives. We may not have the moves like Jagger, but we can have a faith like Moses. We need not strive to be a Moses. That may be impossible. Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He 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, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. (see also Numbers 12:3 – “Moses was very humble”) Yet these words come just a few verses after Moses is told by God, “I have let you see it [the land] with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Why? We may wonder. We are told just a chapter earlier. “You shall die there on the mountain that you ascend and shall be gathered with you kin, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his kin; because both of you broke faith with me among the Israelites” (32:50-51) Moses was not perfect.
We can move like Moses, have a faith like Moses. What is that like? I want to describe the faith of Moses in terms of four faces.
Moses faced himself – his fears, his shortcomings. Do you remember the story of Moses calling in the wilderness? (Exodus 3) Moses is in the wilderness, tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro. He is a long way from his upbringing in the household of Pharaoh. In fact, he left in disgrace. He had killed a man who was beating another man, and he had little respect among his people, the Hebrews. God calls to Moses out of a burning bush, calls him to be part of freeing the people from slavery in Egypt. Recall Moses’ response. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11) Moses objects for a number of reasons. He is not eloquent (4:10). Moses has fears.
Moses knew himself. He explored his inner depths. He did some inner work. There is something about the life of faith that invites us to know who we are deeply, to reflect on our gifts, to know our fears, to do the necessary inner work so we can grow, so we can serve. Moses knew himself, and trusted God. We can do that to.
Moses knew God face to face. He is one “whom the Lord knew face to face.” Last Sunday we read that beautiful and tender story of God walking past Moses, covering Moses’ face until he had passed by, then giving Moses a glimpse of God’s backside. There follows a short time later another lovely passage in Exodus that describes Moses and his on-going encounters with God. Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (34:29). Whenever Moses went it before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, an told the Israelites what had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining (34:34-35).
So the skin of our faces may not shine, but we, too, can know God intimately. We can spend time with God, “face to face” as it were. We do that in praying – praying in all its forms. We do that in reflecting on the stories of our faith. We do that in worship together. We do that as we see the grace and goodness of God in the world. We do that as we join God in creating grace and goodness. When we pay deeper attention to our relationship with God, something may just shine through us – something like love, something like compassion, something like joy, something like resilience, something like courage, something like peacefulness.
Moses faced his people and he led them. An important part of his leadership was hanging in there with his people – Moses knew how to hang with his peeps. Throughout Exodus there are a number of wonderful places where God and Moses discuss the people that have been liberated from slavery in Egypt. They are an interesting bunch. They complained quite a bit – about provisions for the journey: bread, meat, water. They wondered if it would not have been better to still be slaves in Egypt (ch. 16) They gave into their fears sometimes. When Moses was gone too long, they decided that they needed a new god, a golden calf (ch. 32). That last one caused a stir. The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once. Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely…. I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, who does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand.
One of the things God seems to be about is bringing people together. We grow as we live our faith together. We support each other. We question each other. We challenge each other. We walk with each other through difficult times. We share our joys together. Moses was willing to hang in there with these people, even when they were frustrating and exasperating. He understood God was up to something with people together. We can hang with our peeps in faith.
Finally, Moses faced the future with courage. At some point in the story, Moses is told that he will die before the people enter the land. He will not go with them. What does Moses do? He sings. He blesses. I cannot read this story of Moses, looking over the land to which he has led his people, knowing that he will not go with them without thinking about courage, and without thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr.
The night before he was killed King spoke. Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oehry1JC9Rk
With God, there is hope as we face the future, and because there is hope, there is courage, and because there is courage, there is the strength to love. Like Moses, we can have courage as we face the future, and we can love.
This Moses seemed to know something about love, and that’s what it’s all about. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He [Jesus] said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The Power of Love. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkAVfsw5xSQ
Our children are hearing that song, from “Back to the Future.” They are learning stories from our past, faith stories that bolster us for the future – stories about the power of love. In hearing these stories, God’s Spirit encourages our faith, our hope, our love.
And we can move like Moses with the power of love. Amen.