Proper 25: October 25, 2020



About eight months ago, I stepped behind this pulpit for the first time to talk about the Hebrews around Mt. Sinai, watching as Moses climbed the mountain and stepped into a cloud to meet with God. We talked about not knowing the path, not being able to see the destination, but trusting that God would show us each next step by the moment we needed it.

I expected my first year here would be filled, for the most part with, to borrow a phrase from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, known-unknowns, that is to say, I expected that I would be surprised, that we would be surprised, that we would learn and face things together, but that they would, for the most part, be the familiar surprises, things like how different members of this church work together, which aspects of worship, education, and community here people do out of habit, but don’t really care about, and the things that people care deeply about, and resent even the implication that they even could just be things done out of habit. I thought I would make unintentional mistakes—like not making the Psalm a responsive reading. I have changed it back now, but I honestly did not know I had made a change at all. I assumed I would, for the most part, be surprised by things I expected to be surprised by, if that makes any sense at all. It may help to look at the contrast that these past few months have been.

This has been a year of unknown-unknowns. We have all been confronted and surprised by things we did not even know to look for, confronted by events we had not considered possible. The amount of time I have spent these past few months just trying to wrap my head around copyright law, not to mention trying to learn public health best practices and keep up with the research on the disease itself…but for the most part, we, at least, those of us listening to me now, have risen to that task and done well. We adapted to remote worship, we reached out through the internet and the phone lines, not just on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week. We adjusted programs, converting the senior food box program into a drive-through, first at the elementary school and now here just outside the church on Marsham Street. We prepared gift bags to provide needed supplies and also to raise the spirits of our neighbors in the nursing home and woman’s shelter. And yes, we learned how to use Zoom, a tool only a few of us had so much as heard of, for worship, for meetings, and in at least a few cases, to spend time with family.

And now we come to another mountain top. According to the traditional timeline, by the time Moses stood atop Mt. Nebo, some thirty years had passed since he stepped into that cloud on Sinai. It has only been seven months since I preached on that text, but I will forgive anyone who says it has felt like thirty years.

And now, thirty years after that cloud, forty years after setting out from Egypt, generations after Joseph brought his father and brothers out of the land and down into Egypt, Moses stands on the mountaintop. Our text begins:  “Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’…”

Finally, Moses can see it all clearly. The Hebrews have lost people along the way, they have not all arrived, but they have arrived. Moses has led them through the desert, through the wilderness. Moses stands, ready to complete the journey, but God continues, “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there” and Moses dies.

Moses dies before crossing the river because Moses had previously failed to give trust and honor to God in Meribah Kadesh, but I think there was more happening. Moses task was complete—his job was to get the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness. More importantly, his job was to use that time to teach the people about God, to unite the people from the quarreling, in-fighting mess they had been into a single people with a single purpose.

Moses dies before crossing the Jordan river because he has completed his task and it is time for new ideas. In this next phase of God’s plan for the Hebrews, they need new leadership, and so God calls Moses home so Joshua can take up the task of meeting this new set of unknowns, both known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns. Under Joshua, they will conquer the land, waging a war that is often horrifying in its scope. They will change themselves, transforming from a nomadic to settled culture. They will build cities, and yes, the Temple. And they will still face enemies. This journey is over for Moses. Moses has reached his destination, but for the people, for the Hebrews as a whole, this is not an end, nor is it a beginning. It is a transition.

I must be careful here. Perhaps there is a Moses out there somewhere, seeing this moment with perfect clarity, seeing the whole path forward laid out before her. That is not me. I do not have that sight. I do not want any of our current leaders to step down, much less die. I am not moving on. I hope to be here with you for a good long time still. No, we are not Moses looking out into the Promised Land. We are the people down below, still waiting to know what is coming.

This week, we sent out stewardship packets, both through the US mail and by email. You can find the letter and form on our website, at Our leadership has been working hard behind the scenes, even as you may not see them every week because of the realities of online worship. In a few weeks, we will be back in this space and facing new challenges.

We are, however, beginning to come out of this pandemic. I hope we are beginning to look further than our immediate needs, beyond what will we do next week. We are coming into a new moment and a new opportunity to decide how we will be the church together.

I hope that each of you will spend some time with our stewardship packet, reading it and praying over it. I ask that you pray for boldness as you consider how you might become involved, what gifts of time, talent, vision, and energy you might be able to share with us. We have made many suggestions, but if I know anything, it is that this community has gifts and ideas I have not yet considered or even conceived of. I hope to stand at the mountain top with you. I hope that we can look forward together to the future of our church and community. I want us all to imagine, to dream of what our church could be and then work together to see what we can make it.

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