The View from the Mountain Top
| Deuteronomy 34
||Sun, October 27, 1996
Rev. Ed Searcy
|It is the final chapter.
The end of the five books called 'Pentateuch',
the order still memorized from long ago
"Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy".
It is the final chapter of the Torah,
and the final chapter of Moses' life.
Standing there in Moab,
on the border of the Promised Land
Moses has spoken his last will and testament ...
all thirty three chapters worth!
Thirty three chapters in Deuteronomy
of law meant for their new life
settled in the land of milk and honey.
And when the speech comes to an end
Moses leaves the people down on the plains
and climbs up to the top of Mount Nebo
to catch his only glimpse of the land
he has dreamed of all these years.
Imagine that ...
one hundred and twenty year old Moses
climbing to the top of Mount Nebo.
It was said of him that even at a hundred and twenty
"his sight was unimpaired
and his vigour had not abated."
That's an understatement if there ever was one!
I wonder what that climb was like ... really.
I wonder what Moses thinks about
as he puts one foot in front of the other
working his way to the top.
if like most centenarians
he spends time looking back over the years
that have brought him here.
Moab is pretty dry country
tumble weed country.
and down near the foot of Mount Nebo
Moses passes flocks of sheep
looking for grass among the tumble weeds.
How long has it been since he was minding his business
among the sheep
when he caught sight of a tumble weed on fire.
He wasn't a young man even then.
Who could have predicted the direction his life would take?
And it all turned on the bush that caught his eye
and on the voice that would not let him go.
No matter how hard he tried to turn aside
God kept insisting.
Even now Moses shakes his head in astonishment
at the craziness of it all.
He who was afraid to speak in public ...
he would take on Pharoah?
It had all seemed so impossible then ...
turning his head and glancing at the encampment below him,
catching sight of the children playing
Moses can still hardly believe it half a century later.
As the trail gets steeper
Moses knows it is half a century later
by the pain in his legs and his lungs.
Others may have said that Moses
has not lost any vigour
but Moses tells a different story.
At the end of Moses' great speech
he put it this way:
"I am now one hundred and twenty years old.
I am no longer able to get about" (Deut. 31:2).
So now Moses complains ...
like all hikers who set out for the top ...
surely Moses complains.
Perhaps it is an unspoken word of frustration with his body,
maybe he blurts it out loud ...
"I will never make it ...
why did I ever even begin this climb.
To think that I believed
that God would let me see the land!"
But when he hears his own words of complaint
He laughs because he recognizes that sound.
For forty years he has been listening to the sound of complaint
"There's not enough food.
not enough water
not enough stability or security
like we had back in slavery.
And no sight of the Promised Land ...
maybe it doesn't even exist"
If he had heard it once
he had heard it a thousand times.
Now in his own words
he hears it again ... and he laughs.
He laughs ... and he leans on his cane.
Well, in fact,
it is his staff.
The staff that he has carried with him all these years.
And he remembers.
He remembers how God had responded
everytime the complaining threatened the journey.
It was always the rod in Moses' hands that brought the miracle.
Striking the water at the Red Sea.
Striking the rock in the wilderness.
Stiriking down the poisonous serpents, too.
It was always a surprise to Moses
to discover again
just how close at hand
lay the power of God.
It was not his
he could not draw water from a rock if he had tried.
But the presence of God was close by.
He had come to trust
that God hears the cries of the people.
"Maybe that is the Wisdom of the elders"
he thinks to himself
and then suddenly realizes what he is telling himself.
The staff is still close at hand ...
surely God hears even old man Moses' cry for strength.
he finds his second wind
and looks up ahead to the peak of Mount Nebo.
he can't look at the peak of this mountain
without recalling another climb
on another mountain
almost four decades earlier.
Mount Sinai provided a different view.
A view of wilderness
as far as the eye could see.
And a view of the company of slaves
in disarray down on the plains.
They had been liberated ...
freed from the tyranny of Pharoah's oppressive law.
But now they had no law
only every man and woman and child
If this was freedom
then no wonder so many of them cried out
for the good old days
back in Cairo.
Climbing up Mount Nebo
Moses recalls the excitement in his bones
as he had climbed down Mount Sinai.
The law he brought with him
was such good news, such gospel,
that he could hardly contain himself.
Loving God with all one's heart, mind, soul and strength;
loving one's neighbour as oneself ...
this was the law of love
for which they had been desperate.
It was as if he could taste it ...
as if it were the sweetest honey one could imagine.
A law whose limits brought freedom.
It was like finding the Promised Land
in the middle of the wilderness.
Suddenly Moses realizes
that by keeping his mind on other things
he has tricked his old body
into climbing farther than he could havec believed.
There, just ahead is the summit.
one final rise
to a lone rock
and a magnificent view.
Moses catches his breath
and looks westward.
The view is, literally,
He sees the Promised Land, yes.
But not just some of the Promised Land ...
not just the neighbouring regions
of Jericho and the Dead Sea.
He sees all of it ...
he sees beyond the mountain of Jerusalem
all the way to the Meditteranean Sea ...
he sees beyond the Jordan River
all the way to the Sea of Galilee
and the Golan Heights.
He sees it all.
Mount Nebo might be high
but it is not that high.
Moses' climbing has brought him part way
but God has brought him the rest of the way
so that Moses can see it all.
Now Moses is not looking back
now he is looking ahead.
What does he see, I wonder?
he sees land.
It seems so obvious
but it is key.
The people have been promised land
Their spirituality is rooted
in the earthly realities
of food and water,
soil and shelter.
They have been landless for a long time.
For as long as they can remember.
Now God has provided land.
Is it any wonder that years later
the child of yet another company of slaves
challenges Pharoah once again
and leads his people
on a march through the wilderness
towards the promised land of freedom?
Remember Martin Luther King's sermon
on the night before his death.
Oh, he didn't make one hundred and twenty ...
but he knew what it was like
to share the view from Mount Nebo.
Remember how he put it:
"God'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."
Moses and Martin
are gifted by God with a view that few of us can see.
A view of the world we only dream about
on the horizon.
All that is required is for us to set out across the Jordan.
And yet, Moses sees something else.
Moses sees danger
mingled with promise.
He knows that
in the wilderness
it was easy to stay focussed
on one another
But the Promised Land
will be another story.
There it will be tempting
To forget the law of love.
To forget the journey from slavery.
To forget God.
The entire book of Deuteronomy
warns of these dangers.
Moses says it over and over:
Do not forget the Lord your God,
love the Lord your God,
teach it to your children
and say it in the marketplaces
and when you sleep
and when you wake.
In a land of wealth
you must remember
not to forget.
Especially not to forget
the law of neighbour love ...
and so he gives law
which require the people to give special care
to the widow,
and the refugee.
In other words,
to anyone in their midst who is without land,
without a safety net.
As Moses looks at the land
he sees great promise
and great danger.
Then he dies.
He dies ...
and when all the weeping is over
no one knows where he has been buried.
It is a mystery.
There is no eternal flame.
No great tomb to visit.
Just the memory
and the mystery.
all these years later,
we can vouch for Moses' keen sight.
in this New World
this Promised Land
to which our ancestors crossed their own
Atlantic sized Jordan
we have tasted the milk and honey
and know how sweet it is.
But we have also shared the bitter taste
that comes with wealth.
We know the danger that Moses could only imagine.
We have forgotten the law of love.
We have begun to think that it is
every man and woman and child to themselves.
We have forgotten that with God
religion is about the gift of land,
So we live
with the original inhabitants of this Promised Land
reduced to refugees,
And not them alone.
So we pray for another Moses,
for another Saviour
to show us the way home.
God hears our cry.
We see him for who he is
on another mountain ...
this time in the Promised Land.
It is Jesus
the capenter's son
as unlikely a Messiah
whose mighty deeds
and law of love
bear the stamp of Moses.
whose law of suffering love
offends his own disciples at first
but not Moses.
when Peter and James and John
stare at Jesus in disbelief
because he points the way to the Promised Land
through a Cross of suffering ...
he takes them up a mountain
and they see him a very different light.
No longer is there any question ...
for they see him talking with the greatest prophets ...
Elijah ... and Moses.
finally in the Promised Land
talking with the Promised One
about the way ahead.
And, this time,
sharing the view from the mountaintop
with Peter and James and John
and with me
and with you.
We can see the Promised Land ...
it is right here ...
for those with eyes to see the vision
and ears to hear the pain
and lips to speak with courage
and feet to move with boldness
and hands to heal with love.