Reflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 on October 25, 2020 for Reformation and Confirmation Sunday at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas
It is all so disappointing. Moses standing there looking over at the Promised Land, but not being able to enter it. He had done so much to bring the people of Israel there—challenging Pharaoh, calling down the plagues, fleeing Egypt on the night of the Passover, crossing the Red Sea, and then 40 years in the wilderness, no less—and all the while the Israelites whining and complaining!
He received the Ten Commandments, guided the people, helped repair their relationship with God when they strayed – Moses did it all. Certainly, he made his mistakes, but he proved faithful to God and to Israel when it mattered most. Now here he is, ready to cross the finish the line—and God says, “you’re going to sit this one out, you can look, but you can’t touch.” Such a disappointing ending for Moses, whose grave no one can even find.
We are living through our own time of disappointment during this global pandemic, when memorial services are put off or done outside. When familiar worship and family gatherings cannot be experienced, and we are bereft and disappointed. We have to re-imagine how to plan Thanksgiving and Christmas. Who can gather together, should we try to eat outside? Do we quarantine the college kid for two weeks so grandpa can come to dinner? Do we put the computer at the head of table so we can eat with family on Zoom?
When Natalie and Sam Sherrod started Confirmation two years ago, we never imagined their Confirmation service would be anywhere but, in the Sanctuary, kneeling at the Communion railing with a full church celebrating their Affirmation of Baptism as adult members of this congregation. Instead, they will be kneeling on pillows on the curb. Natalie and Sam and all of us join Moses looking out at a Promised land, imagining how things could have been and should have been.
Was Moses himself disappointed as he stood on the brow of Mt. Pisgah and beheld a future that was not open to him? Our story does not tell us, but rather, it focuses on the work that Moses had done, rather than the reward we feel he should have received. Our passage highlights Moses’ role in God’s larger story of salvation. There are four patterns of Moses’ life and ministry that are instructive for us today as we celebrate the Reformation and Confirmation for Sam and Natalie.
First, Moses did his job. God had a specific role for Moses, and he fulfilled his calling in a way that only he could do. Moses argued, challenged and negotiated with God along the way, he made mistakes, and he bore the brunt of Israel’s sin—but he remained faithful to God and stayed in relationship with God, doing all that God asked of him as best he could. All of us have a unique way to serve God whether in or out of pandemic. How we serve may have changed, but that we are called to love and serve our neighbor as ourselves has not. Some do it through prayer, through card ministry, through phone calls, through giving, through caring for neighbors. Some serve on ministry teams or in leadership roles, others through the care they offer at work. Martin Luther taught in the Reformation that we are the priesthood of all believers and each one of us is called to serve Christ where we are with the what we have; and St. Luke’s, we are a church that models this for our new confirmands, Sam and Natalie.
Second, Moses trusted God’s promises and spent time with God regularly. Moses modeled spiritual practices for us, spending time apart with God alone, and engaging in conversation with God. As God shows Moses the promised land, God says, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, "I will give it to your descendants.’ Because Moses spent so much time with God—the only one who saw God face to face, or in the burning bush, he never doubted God would keep this promise, so Moses could die in peace. We too, can trust God to fulfill God’s promises.
Martin Luther taught that prayer was crucial to human life and that we respond to God by praying regularly, forthrightly, honestly, and frequently. We can engage in our deepening relationship with God, spending time apart, and with Sam and Natalie today, re-affirming our commitment to engaging in this relationship with God, so that no matter what goes on around us, our faith remains a stable source of peace.
Third, Moses empowered the next generation of leaders in Joshua and Caleb. Moses anointed them with the spirit and power to become the new leaders of Israel, taking over for him as they enter the Promised Land. Sometimes we forget that everything is not up to us. God always calls us to be raising up the next generation of leaders with new skills, new faith, new perspectives, and new energy to lead the upcoming step into the future. The folks who started this congregation in 1957 did not know who would serve on Council in 2020, but they trusted every generation of leaders to raise up the next generation. That is what Confirmation is today—raising the next generation in the faith, learning from them, listening to them, allowing our ministry to be shaped by them so we can grow into the future. Do you remember eight months ago none of us considered worshiping with screens, and now we cannot imagine being without them? How will Sam and Natalie’s generation help us expand sharing the Gospel with digital ministry?
Martin Luther wrote the Catechism to equip every household to teach the basics of the faith to the next generation. Natalie and Sam are our Joshua and Caleb today, helping lead us and see our way into a new future.
Finally, Moses held onto a vision of the future. As he stood on the mountaintop, Moses could see that future stretched out before him. To be sure, Christians need to be informed and know what is going on in the world. But there comes a time when we turn off the news and social media and instead, envision what God’s kingdom of love and justice really looks like, so we always have a clear picture of what we move toward. In our worship, at the Lord’s Table, through our study of scripture, God endows us with a divine imagination that empowers us to glimpse God’s future for us and the world– a future that is more peaceful, more just, more connected, more hopeful for more people.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was named for our reformer, Martin Luther) had a gift for turning present day conflicts into a clear vision for the future. The night before he was assassinated, he spoke on this very Bible passage with these words:
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it 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.1
We trust this vision, we hope for this vision, we work for this vision, and we confirm Sam and Natalie into this vision today. And so with Moses, we do the kingdom work that God calls us to do. We train and raise up a new generation of leaders. We commit ourselves body and soul to God, praying regularly, forthrightly, honestly, and frequently. And We hold onto God’s vision that we as a people will get to the promised land.
1A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperCollins, 1986), 286.
• Have there been times when you have done the right thing, what God desires, but no reward is forthcoming? As you look back on those situations, can you see yourself in God’s larger purpose and story of salvation?
• How does God call you to love and serve others today, right now? Has this changed given our pandemic circumstances? Are there new ways God has called you to serve?
• Have you thought of yourself as “priest” by nature of your Baptism, as part of the “priesthood of all believers” as Luther taught? Does thinking this way increase the urgency of your service and gifts offered in the world?
• How is your prayer life? Does having more time at home give you an opportunity to pray “regularly, forthrightly, honestly, and frequently?”
• What do you think St. Luke’s can do to connect more with teens, and with Millennials in their 20’s and 30’s? What relationships do you have with people in these age groups?
• What is your vision of the promised land and the kingdom of God here on earth?