Deuteronomy 34: 1-12
October 29, 2014
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Would you call Moses a failure? According to the popular understanding of success: meeting your goals and making it to the finish line Moses was a failure. And according to the current understanding of how the universe treats a person Moses’ God was a failure, too.
you would think that a guy who had seen God face to face, that had led a troubled-and-troubling people through the wilderness for forty years, who had talked with God, experienced God’s radiance in his own face, who argued with God and won, who bested a great Pharaoh in order to lead God’s people out of slavery…who did all of this and more would be brought by God into the promised land with bells on.
you would think that anyone who went to all that trouble, had that much faith, and patience and hope would be the first one over the finish line.
you would think….At least in the way we typically interpret discipleship and following God in America. Give to God and you will prosper. Do what is right and your will prosper. If you do great things you can expect God to do great things. If you say thanks enough it will all come out good in the end. I call this the Gospel according the Oprah.
It all sounds nice and like the sort of God most of us would like to have. But it is not the God of the bible or of Jesus. or of Moses.
There is a line in the passage this morning that is very important. It is verse 7: Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eyesight wasn’t impaired and his vigor hadn’t diminished a bit.
This was not a man who was over the hill, washed up, ready to retire…
This was not a put ‘him out to pasture and let someone younger with more vitality do the new thing’ event.
I have heard this argument in the past. I was speaking to a retired clergy at annual conference last year who said that he wasn’t going to vote on the floor because he wanted to let the young ones lead. I chided him. I said no one had given him permission to step away from his responsibility. I told him that we needed his wisdom. That the young people needed his wisdom. That he absolutely had no right to declare himself obsolete until God removed him from life.
Moses wasn’t being called obsolete or in need of retirement. He had hiked up Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab, to the peak of the slope. With his own eyes he looked out over the land that God had promised to Abraham. Moses was full of life, wisdom and his eyesight was excellent.
And further more the scripture testifies: No prophet like Moses has yet emerged in Israel.
This was God saying to a faithful follower: your time is up. You will not go into the promised land. This is the end.
ALANIS MORISSETTE wrote and sang a popular song called Ironic: do you remember it? An old man turned ninety-eight He won the lottery and died the next day A traffic jam when you're already late. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn't it ironic... don't you think
It's like rain on your wedding day It's a free ride when you've already paid It's the good advice that you just didn't take Who would've thought... it figures
Ironic is what we have here with Moses. After all this he doesn’t get into the promised land. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?
Whenever we are tempted to be upset by the irony of our lives. Wondering where did we go wrong.. What did we do to deserve the flat tire, the life threatening illness, the over looked promotion, the
Whenever we think that we are out of God’s favor because we are not being rewarded for our good behavior.
We need to sit down with Moses on Mount Nebo.
Not everything turns out the way we hoped or planned. Not every thing is rewarded. But that doesn’t mean we are no longer chosen of God. Or great disciples of Jesus Christ. Or God’s beloved ones.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
Stories of ironies that make 'rain on your wedding day' seem silly...
A story from Nicaragua, A worship service during the time the Contras were massacring people in villages. During the time of prayer, one woman tearfully addressed God. Her husband and three of her four children had been brutally murdered. This was her prayer: “Thank you God, for sparing my daughter.”
In South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was still alive. He went to a squatters’ camp to pray with the residents. Their tin and corrugated-iron shacks were to be bulldozed the next day, which often happened under apartheid. As the community gathered together, an elderly man offered this prayer: “Thank you God, for loving us.”
In Washington DC, a tenement burned because of landlord negligence. Naomi was caught in the fire, severely burned, She had to have several fingers amputated, and for a while hovered near death. When her Bible study group asked her about her horrible experience she said only, “I just thank God that I can still play the piano.”
When facing the horrible ironies of life it is easy and expected of us to be less than grateful. To question God’s love for us. To question whether or not we are somehow responsible for the terrible situations and circumstances that overwhelm us.
It would be expected of us that we would try harder to be better. That we would try to find those responsible for our troubles and blame them.
But I would suggest that we instead sit quietly beside Moses. Gazing out at the promised land.
I would suggest that like Moses, we lay down our lives into God’s arms. Trusting that God will do with us what is best.
I would suggest that we sit quietly beside Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane. For is there any greater irony than the irony of the cross?
We could point to a few times when Moses did fail. When he did lose his patience with the people of God. When he murdered that Egyptian and took his wrath out on the people in the dessert.
But Jesus? No, never. Never did Jesus fail. Neither God nor us. Yet, he faced the irony of the cross. Death for sins he never committed.
He too laid his life into the arms of God. Not my will but thine be done.
And he became our savior. Our resurrected death, defeating Savior.
So that when we are confronted with our own ironies. Petty or life altering, we can say: into your arms I commit my life God. You hold the promise of life. You defeat death. You are my Savior. Thank you.