The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – October 29, 2017
Scripture: Deuteronomy 34:1-8
Poised Before the Promise
The journey continues. Pray with me, please …
Right around this time, the fourth Sunday of what we very unashamedly call our Season of Stewardship every year, I begin to wonder and more than a few of you, I’m sure, begin to think, “Alright, we get it!” (And that thought combined with the realization that we have two Sundays left in our “season.”) But I haven’t yet been deterred by that sentiment. We’re very, very intentional about this time of year. From Advent all through the Reign of Christ Sunday, our church year is marked by celebrations, reminders, challenges, calls to deeper involvement, and comfort and confrontation on deeper levels than our lives otherwise allow. Stewardship Season is one of the last celebrations of our church year together, one of our last challenges, one of our last opportunities.
So the journey continues …
Two weeks ago we arrived at the base of Mount Sinai and made a pledge: We will do. Last week, Ashia took us “beyond the pledge.” In her message, she notes tht after pledging, the Israelites prepared, planned and then waited. They stayed over eleven months at Sinai. They didn’t travel, but they weren’t idle, either. They got busy building a Tabernacle, the portable earthly dwelling place of God among them. When all was complete, a cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Whenever the cloud lifted, the Israelites would set out on the next stage of their journey. And so with all prepared, planned, and pledged, they headed back out into the wilderness following God.
So, we have all been moving this week, closer to the land of promise that is our inheritance. We live out our faith, like the ancient Israelites, on our journey: worshipping, praying, listening, fasting, sacrificing, studying, putting into practice all the laws and instructions given by God through prophets and priests. This past week, whether you knew it or not, we moved out of the book of Exodus and have journeyed through all that has been recorded in Leviticus, Numbers and the book of Deuteronomy. We have come to the end of the so-called “Books of Moses,” the first five books of our Bible, the Pentateuch.
And so, we gather this morning, not at the base of a mountain, but at the top of one. Overlooking a promise, our promise, a land of milk and honey. Listen for the Word of God:
Read Deuteronomy 34:1-3 …
We, like the Israelites of old, are close to the end of our journey, and the beginning of something new. The Book of Deuteronomy, indeed the whole Torah, comes to a close with a look into the promise. We have been led out of slavery (decide in your own lives what enslaves you), guided through the wilderness (decide in your own lives what the wilderness is for you), and we have come to this place overlooking the future. We now decide what that future may look like. In fact, we must decide if we’ll walk into it at all.
Moses didn’t. It wasn’t his choice not to, but he didn’t cross over. Our reading continues … Read Deuteronomy 34:4-8 … There are several, conflicting, reasons given for why he doesn’t get to cross over, but finally, Moses’ death outside the land is inexplicable. If anybody went into the land, it should have been Moses. Instead, his life ends short of the goal toward which it has been directed since the burning bush so long ago.
We have been trying to parallel the Exodus story of Israel, their journey through the wilderness to the land of their promise with our own travel during this Season of Stewardship, October 8 through November 12. However strained these parallels may be, we have remained convinced that our promise, all we need for a successful stewardship season – time, talents, and money – and for another year of faithful worship, fellowship and service, is already here in our midst. Our promise from God is among us.
It’s here. We are “poised before it.” We “look at it” every time we gather together, two or more. Everything we need for a successful Stewardship season is already here: the dollars, the talents of each and every one of you who participate and enhance the mission and ministries we engage, and the time that it takes out of all our lives. It is all here, already. I believe that. I am convinced of that. It’s here, not just because it is our pledge: “We will do!” Exodus 19:8 But because it is our promise: This is the land of which I swore to you. Dt. 34:4a It is here … right before our eyes.
But … will we cross over? We find ourselves a little over midway through our formal campaign, standing on the mountain, glimpsing now for the first time the promise that is ours. Will we cross over? That is what remains “to be seen” in the weeks ahead.
And so the first stage of our story as the people of the Lord this year, this season, comes to an end. We have been delivered from slavery and we have been led and directed by the Lord to this point. We are now Poised before the Promise. It is real and it is here, but it is not guaranteed. We cannot take possession of the land by following our Commandments or through any rituals we have created, alone. These things don’t guarantee security and blessing, they only describe and offer a way to them. Only our faith will procure the promise: our fidelity to the open-ended pledge we make to God and one another and our radical trust in the promise that God places in our sight.
So, next week we will continue our journey and we will “cross over into Jordan” on All Saints Sunday with all those who have gone before. I have anticipated our deep faith, even as I continue pray for it. We are “poised before the promise.” May we cross over together this year so that our pledge may be fulfilled and our promise may be embraced. May we proclaim with the confidence of our faith that “We have done!” Because God has provided!
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 29, 2017