A Sermon for Sunday, October 26, 2014
(Deuteronomy 34: 1–12; Psalm 90: 1–6, 13–17; 1 Thessalonians 2: 1–13;
Matthew 22: 34–46)
Moses was a legend.
The passage we have just heard from Deuteronomy is, obviously, a record of the way this prophet-beyond-all-prophet’s life ended.
If there is truth in the saying that the way a person dies speaks volumes about the way they lived, then ours is a precious passage indeed. Here we have a glimpse into a ‘good and noble death’. Given that we all shall pass this way, we do well to listen with care.
Moses lived with a God-given vision. Since the burning bush and his reluctant response to YHWH’s call, Moses has grown in faith. This trust began with excuses and progressed through numerous bold confrontations with Pharaoh. From there Moses’ trust continued to build until we have before us the legacy of a lifetime. It is summed up in the last verses of Deuteronomy
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 or 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 Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10-12, NRSV)
It is quite a eulogy.
But such glowing praise just may mask the extra-ordinary humility that characterised the death of Moses.
I wonder if there is any reluctance in this hundred-and-twenty year old saint as he mkes his way to the top of Pisgah. From here scans the vision that transformed his life: the ‘land of promise’. Moses carried this God-initiated dream even when others could not. Indeed he outlived a whole generation who refused to believe.
But if Moses is obedient in turning to death from his life’s work, it does not imply that there was never a desire to climb the hills Lebanon. Moses wanted to enter the promised land. At one stage he prayed:
O Lord God, you have begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon. (Deuteronomy 3:24-25, NRSV)
Given this deep desire the Lord’s apparently final word on the subject could have been heartbreaking. As he soaks in the view of the land God said:
This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes but you shall not cross over there. (Deuteronomy 34:4, NRSV).
But Moses then dies in what seems to be a state of humble and satisfied obedience.
But God’s mind will change. At the Transfiguration Moses is assigned to encourage Jesus before he faces the cross. Significantly they meet in the land of promise. God listens to our prayers and responds.
By the end of Deuteronomy Moses epitomises trust. All Moses does in this passage is listen to YHWH. Moses says nothing. He only listens. Is this something of the pinnacle of a life lived learning to trust and obey God?
There are times to allow dreams to die. And sometimes God gives them back in ways far beyond our ability to imagine.
The obedience and trust that slowly came to characterise his life has permeated his spirit and now marks his death. Indeed, he died, as he lived, ‘at the LORD’s command’
Moses died well.
Is it any wonder the Israelites wept for the next thirty days and still treasure, sing, and hand on to their children the ‘Psalm of Moses’ we just read? The perspective on life and death that permeates this song credits God with spanning generations. People, however, are ‘flourish’ and ‘fade’.
It is the perspective of one with a deep and abiding trust in God.
This same trust in God ‘levens’ the mission of Paul. A safe life is not the Apostle’s first priority. In God he found courage to move from the treatment he received in the city of Philippi to declare the same ‘Gospel of God’ in the Thessalonica.
And he insists: this ‘coming…was not in vain’.
Paul seems to consciously tap into the corporate memory of this little church. Three times he uses the revealing phrase ‘as you know’. He also says ‘You remember…’ and again ‘You are witnesses…’.
Clearly Paul believes he is adding very little to what the Thessalonians already know. His presence, his action, his sharing of the gospel in a sacrificial, love-saturated way have made their mark. His grace-filled mission changed lives.
And so Paul only needs to remind.
Paul’s gentleness, care, and love, his refusal to dilute the gospel, flatter, or allow greed or praise to motivate, have combined to nurture open hearts to the gospel. Our passage culminates with the outcome:
…when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
When Jesus was asked for the greatest of all the commandments he answered with two. We think Jesus was the first to hold these love-laws together. Somehow he could not separate them. We would be fools to think we could pull them apart without profoundly marring the message of God’s abundant grace that we gather to celebrate each week with this water and wine.
Moses in his conversations with God and his leading of the stubborn Israelites; Paul’s sacrificial obedience that generously shared God’s gospel with the Thessalonians, and; Jesus in God-obedience accepting the darkness of death on our behalf. Each of these in their very different roles lived the dual command to love God and to love others.
And it all leaves us with a question: What is our role in this salvation story of God-and-neighbour love?
Indeed ‘all the law and the prophets’ (and we might add the gospels and letters), are held together by the overarching call to love God and neighbour with all we have.
And how could we not? After all God loved us – undeservingly – well before we ever loved back.
May the love of Christ and others characterise the legacy you and I leave.