Friday, February 22, 2008

Two Endings

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo . . . there the Lord showed him the whole land . . . “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said (Deuteronomy 34: 1, 4-5).

The Moses series ends this Sunday, and I’ve got to be honest. I wish the whole thing ended better.

The sermon series itself has been a great ride. We’ve been included in the Exodus journey, feeling the heat of the walk, the fear of leaving the familiar, the gratitude for daily bread, the challenge to live well and whole in response to God who delivers us. The series will conclude on Sunday morning with robust worship, Dr. Vic Pentz and Rev. Marnie Crumpler preaching, and then at 4:00 that afternoon with children telling the Moses story in song as they present Moses and the Freedom Fanatics.

The Moses series will end well. The Moses story ends on a less celebratory note.

There’s something tortuous, almost cruel, about what happens on Mount Nebo (Deut. 34). Moses climbs the mountain alone, a solitary figure ascending with God, ascending to God, as he has done before. Only this time he will not be returning. He will not make the climb back down to speak God’s words to the people. From the top of this mountain God allows Moses to see what the past forty years have aimed at. Moses is shown what his heart has yearned for, what his mind has dreamed of. Moses is shown what he will not be allowed to have. His eyes see the Promised Land, but he will not enter it. One impulsive act of disobedience and this is his sentence.

Except for the death part, some of you know exactly what it’s like to be on Mount Nebo. You know what it’s like to want something, to plan and dream and work and pray for it – and oh how you’ve prayed - only to have it denied you. A promotion, a family of your own, plans for retirement, a winning season, children who call you occasionally. Sometimes we stand on Mount Nebo and see what will not be. As we say, “It ain’t happnin’.”

I’m reading a book on prayer that has just gone out of print. This morning I found the author’s blog site and read a post he had written about the dismal sales of his book. He used the word “heartbroken.” He had poured himself into that work, rejoiced at its publication, only to see it crater badly. That’s a Mount Nebo moment.

But the ending of the Moses story reveals a tragedy far greater than what happens on Mount Nebo. The greater tragedy is what happens down below and in the land that people eventually enter. God had told Moses, “Once you’ve died and these people enter the land, they’ll start chasing other gods. They’ll keep repeating their same stubborn faithless mistakes” (Deut. 31:16).

That Moses dies on Mount Nebo without entering the land is a major disappointment, but it isn’t as tragic as it seems. Moses ends his days in God’s tender presence, buried by God. Not bad. The real tragedy is the other ending. Tragedy is getting what you’ve always wanted and then forgetting the God who gave it to you.

These weeks of keeping company with Moses have really been about keeping company with God. To keep company with God means we’ll participate in what God is doing in this world. In the end, that’s what living is all about. In the end, that’s all that matters.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us.” Amen (Psalm 90:1-2, 12, 17).

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