Our scripture this morning thrusts us to the end
of the story of Moses. And while it holds a powerful lesson for us
to discover that lesson we have to go back and remember
who Moses really was.
Moses’ story begins, as most stories of great people do,
with his mother: a Hebrew slave, a woman of faith,
who – when Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew baby boys to be killed –
chose instead to set her son adrift in a basket with nothing more
than a prayer that he would survive and be found and cared for.
Her prayer is answered as her son is found by
the daughter of Pharaoh and raised in the palace
as a prince of Egypt.
As a young man, despite his royal upbringing,
when he sees a guard mistreating one of the Hebrew slaves
he takes action but ends up killing the guard.
In fear he flees Egypt and takes up residence in Midian,
where he spends 40 years tending sheep
– until one day he spots a burning bush –
only it’s not your typical burning bush;
this bush is on fire but not being burnt up at all;
oh, and this bush… well it SPEAKS to him.
It turns out the bush is a representation of the God of Israel…
a God that Moses really doesn’t know at all except, perhaps,
through a few stories he heard the Hebrew slaves tell..
a God that has an important mission for him.
After some hemming and hawing and negotiation,
Moses does as God asks and heads for Egypt
to ask Pharaoh to release the Hebrew people
so they can go to the land that God has promised to them.
And this is where we really get to begin to see
what kind of person Moses is.
He could have stayed where he was.
He was happy in Midian.
He has a wife and is part of a prominent family.
Yet like Abraham before him, he pulls up stakes and
goes to do what God has called him to do,
to free a people that he doesn’t really know,
a people that, at first, have a hard time trusting him…
And then he leads them to a land that neither he nor they
have ever seen, all on the say so of a God whose voice
he has only just come to know.
Here we discover the tremendous faith of Moses and his
extraordinary love for the community into which he was born.
So he heads to Egypt to free his people.
You probably remember that Moses’ meeting with Pharaoh
doesn’t go too well. Pharaoh is not real happy with these
demands and tells Moses to take a hike.
That is when stuff gets really weird and fantastic.
Pharaoh says “no,” and God, through Moses,
unleashes 10 plagues in an effort to get Pharaoh to relent
and let the Israelites go.
Folks, it rained frogs. Frogs! Real hippity hopping frogs.
And locusts covered the land,
and all the waters turned to blood. It was a living nightmare.
After the final plague, of course, Pharaoh relents, in grief,
and allows Moses and the Hebrews to leave.
They make it to the Red Sea before Pharaoh has a change of heart
and sends the army after them.
Moses, with some power from on high,
parts the Red Sea like Charlton Heston,
and the Israelites walk on dry land to the other side.
When their pursuers try to cross after them,
the Red Sea snaps back together,
claiming the armies of Egypt for its own.
And that is where we yell cut and roll the credits
because there is nothing left to see here. Right?
Well, maybe there is a little more to the story.
Only about 40 years of wandering, complaining, warring,
complaining, powerful and diverse miracles,
oh, and did I mention, complaining?
Indeed, there are more than enough stories of
Moses and the Israelites after they cross the Red Sea,
but we just don’t have the time here today to name them all.
But I want to encourage you to read up on Moses.
You will not be disappointed.
In our reading from Deuteronomy this morning,
we hear the story of the death of Moses.
He doesn’t die on the battlefield.
He doesn’t die from a fall while climbing one
of the many mountains he climbed.
And he doesn’t die after leading the Israelites triumphantly
across the Jordan River and into the land of promise.
No; instead, Moses hikes up another mountain to meet with God.
The mountain overlooks the promised land,
and Moses is allowed to see it all,
to glimpse the promised land in its entirety.
Then God tells Moses that, after all he’s gone
through to get the people to that place
– he doesn’t get to enter into the promised land himself.
And then Moses dies, right there,
within sight of the land promised to his ancestors,
the land that the Israelites had dreamed about for 40 years.
Moses dies and is then buried somewhere unknown to everyone,
and Joshua takes over.
While this seems unfair we are,
at least, given a reason for it, sort of.
And to find that reason,
we are going to take a look at one of those many stories
from Israel’s years of wandering in the wilderness.
As I mentioned earlier the Israelites would often complain to Moses,
“Moses we’re hungry.
Moses we’re thirsty.
Thanks for the bread, Moses, but we want meat too.”
They would cap off most complaints with:
you know “we were better off as slaves in Egypt.”
So Moses would go and bring the complaints to God.
And God, in God’s awesomeness, would provide in miraculous ways.
In the book of Numbers chapter 20 a complaint comes to Moses.
This one is about fresh water.
Moses goes to God with the request,
and God is specific in his answer.
In Numbers 20:8 God told Moses
“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation…
and COMMAND the rock before their eyes to yield its water.”
And he does just that, sort of.
The rock gives the Israelites plenty of water to drink.
It is a great miracle.
Except Moses doesn’t follow the directions
exactly as he was supposed to.
Moses takes the staff and goes to the rock with the people assembled
and commands the rock to bring forth water,
all in accordance with what God had said,
but then Moses calls an audible,
he decides to add some showmanship,
and he hits the rock with the staff, twice.
To us this doesn’t seem like a big deal.
Moses adds a little razzle dazzle to the whole thing.
In fact this is not the first time that God
has brought water from a rock.
Earlier in their wanderings God commanded Moses
to call water from a rock and to hit it twice with the staff.
But apparently, this time, God was not amused with the rock hitting.
In verse 12 God says to Moses;
“Because you did not trust in me…
therefore you shall not bring this assembly
into the land that I have given them.”
Now we could discuss until we are blue in the face
why it is that Moses hitting the rock with the staff this time
would exclude him from entering the promised land
when it didn’t the first time.
Honestly though, scholars and teachers and preachers still debate
and try to make sense of what exactly made this
such a terrible sin but for the sake of time,
let’s take it on faith that God had a good reason.
So now this is the part I want us to really pay attention to
concerning the type of person Moses is.
Moses knows that he will not enter the land.
All the way back in the wilderness, while they were still on their way,
while he was still dealing with the daily whining
and complaining of the Hebrew people.
Moses already knows he isn’t going all the way.
He knows that he will not live in the land
that is flowing with milk and honey.
He knows that his life of obedience and hardship
will not end in a triumphal crossing of the Jordan River.
He knows all of that, but he doesn’t get bitter.
He doesn’t run off to herd sheep with his father-in-law again.
He doesn’t waver at all in his commitment to lead his people.
He continues on, because he knows that the promised land
was not promised to him alone, but to the people of Israel.
Moses knows that the community is what is important.
He knows that Abraham was promised that his children
would number as the sands on the sea shore,
but Abraham did not live to see it.
He knows that Isaac and Jacob were inheritors
of both the promise of the land that flows with milk and honey
and the promise of being fathers of a great nation.
Yet they did not live to see it.
Moses knows what they knew.
All of their life, all of their toil and their struggle was not
so they could see the fulfillment of the promise,
but so that those who would come after them,
their descendants, would receive the promise.
They were a part of a much bigger story,
one that had started before they were born,
one that would continue long after they were gone.
It wasn’t ever about Moses entering the promised land
and leading the nation of Israel.
It was about Israel reaching the promised land.
It’s a story, not about a few chosen people
whose names we remember, but it’s a much bigger story,
a story about the faithfulness of God to a whole people,
and the few instruments that God used along the way.
The patriarchs and Moses were tremendous people
that God used to better the lives of those around them,
to help to nurture and push and teach the generations
that would come after them,
so that those future generations would one day
be able to claim God’s promise for their own and enter the land.
Have you ever had people like that in your life?
The kind of people who take the time to help you
get better at being you?
The kind of people who knew their lives were about more
than themselves and so were willing to invest in other’s lives,
in your life, to plant seeds and dream
of a future they themselves might not get to see?
When I look back over my nearly 35 years of life,
I come across a lot of those people.
I remember the husband of my first boss at a McDonald’s I worked at,
who spent time teaching my angry teenage self
how to work on cars while processing life and
why it was that I was so angry at it.
Instead of writing me off as another bitter teenager,
he chose to invest in me as a person
and made me better because of it.
And the kind man who I barely knew who GAVE me my first guitar when he saw that I was struggling to learn on my roommate’s old
That kind soul could never have imagined how,
from those first chords,
music would become such a huge part of my life:
as I led worship, made friends,
started a band that would help me meet my future wife,
and even played guitar for my future children in living rooms
and hospital rooms alike finding comfort and power in music,
in the best times and the worst.
I remember the husband and wife who
ran the teen center in my home town,
who walked with me through the deaths of my grandfathers
and helped me to find true faith and to keep it in difficult times.
They could never have imagined that the road
would have led me here – to a pulpit – but everything I do in my
ministry is at least in part thanks to everything
they were willing to do in theirs.
We all, with a little bit of reflection,
can think of those people who influenced and motivated
and helped us throughout our lives.
Where would we be without them? Who would we be?
How much longer would I have hung on to my anger?
Would I have given up on playing guitar?
Would I even be a pastor or love God today
if it were not for the energy and time and love
that these people poured into my life?
I never asked them to.
I didn’t seek them out or pay them for their gifts.
No one did. They didn’t know who I would grow up to be.
They just knew, as did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses,
that it was their job to help motivate and guide those around them
to help them grow closer to God, to grow closer to each other,
to try and help those who follow after them
to engage and enjoy faith and life more.
We United Methodists have a mission statement.
Do any of you know what it is?
Our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the
transformation of the world.”
And how do we accomplish that mission?
By pouring our time and talents and energy into those around us,
into those who are coming up after us.
If we want to transform the world then it has to start here:
by investing in each others’ lives,
by encouraging and teaching each other,
by seeking those who need our love and encouragement
and giving it to them generously.
Even if we don’t see the end game,
even if we don’t know if or how or when those seeds we plant,
those gifts we offer, might take root and bear fruit
still we keep reaching out, investing,
generously, hopefully, faithfully, trusting God to do the rest.
There are people that we work with or
go to church or school with or
that we see in the coffee shop that need to hear from you,
that need to learn from you or simply to know
that you care about them.
That’s where it starts: that’s how we bear witness to God’s love
by loving just as freely, just as generously,
just as extravagantly as God in Christ has loved us.
If we want to transform the world, to make it a better place,
well, then we have to start doing it.
Start investing time in each other and in those that we meet.
And then we will start to see disciples being made and
even if we ourselves don’t get to see it all the way through
we can know that God is still in the process
of making this world a better place,
that God still has the power to bring people
to a tomorrow that is better and brighter than today.