St. Luke's Episcopal Church – Homily
Heidi Edson/25 Oct., 2020
This Sunday is our final Reading from the first five books of the Hebrew Bible known as the Pentateuch ascribed to Moses. Our Reading today from Deuteronomy gives us the account of Moses' death on top of Mount Pisgah where Moses can see the long-awaited Promised Land below.
The Church recognizes Moses as the greatest Old Testament leader of the Israelites. In our liturgy, a Canticle bears his name, "The Song of Moses" (See BCP 85, Canticle #8 in MP II). Gospel songs and Hymns sing of how Moses confronted the pharaoh in Egypt and then faithfully guided God's people through the rough and dangerous wilderness land (See LEVAS #228 "Go Down, Moses").
God tells Moses atop Mount Pisgah that, the land Moses sees below will be given to Moses' descendants. God says: "I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there." As God says these words, I picture Moses thinking in his mind: "So close and yet so far!" Yet, looking back on these forty long years, I suspect Moses wanted to just call it quits at times. After all the Israelites were by-and-large a cantankerous and complaining lot.
There was the one incident that did put Moses "over the edge" when it came to the Israelites' complaint about lack of water. In an earlier chapter in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32), we read of how an angry Moses struck the rock at Meribah-kadesh. That was when Moses "broke the faith" with God by taking credit for the miracle of water when it was God who had provided them this miracle.
Moses' own outburst (temper tantrum!) points to our own human tendencies for being less-than-perfect beings. In our faith, we tend to idolize our saints and great leaders and people of great faith overlooking their shortcomings and flaws. Like we all, even the greatest person makes mistakes. Coming to grips with this truth for our own lives especially should give us great comfort and assurance in a God who loves us and who promises never ever to leave or abandon us. We all are experiencing our own "wildernesses" of many sorts but we have the assurance that our loving Parent will always be present with us in and through our trials.
But our Reading this morning about Moses still causes us to wonder why God did not allow Moses to achieve his goal of leading the Israelites all the way in to the Promised Land. Perhaps Moses, himself, had some mixed feelings about this new land his descendants would inherit. What dangers and threats would await them in this new land? Would the people stay true to God in this new land?
Of one thing we can be sure is that Moses did not fail as a leader. Indeed, God continued to be well-pleased with Moses. We read that Moses did not suffer the ravages of old age (though he was old). Moses was healthy. Moses' death came by the hand of God which was a gift God had given to his obedient servant. Indeed it was God who offered the final and intimate act towards Moses by burying him.
The lesson to be had in looking back on Moses' life as a leader is that, when it comes to us as flawed human beings, the journey we are on is what matters. We must always be asking ourselves, "Where am I (or we) on the path of life? What is the trajectory of our lives? Are we headed in the right direction as the Church, as individuals, and as members of our community and world? Are we where we want to be or have we somehow strayed from the path God is leading us on?"
Now it is Joshua's turn to lead the people as Moses' successor. Interesting to note that Joshua's name in the Hebrew is "Yeshua" which translates to "Jesus." As with all of us who will not complete the journey this side of life, Moses, the bearer of the Tablets of the Law could only lead the people so far. It takes the giver of Grace, Jesus, to carry us the rest of the way into God's Kingdom- our Promised Land.
In our Gospel passage from Matthew, we read about the final question the religious leaders ask Jesus. The setting is Jerusalem and about three days away from Jesus' Crucifixion. One of the lawyers asks Jesus: "Teacher, which of the commandment in the Law is the greatest?" And Jesus answers: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." The lawyer thinks, "Okay. So far so good" because these are the words from the Jewish S'hma that begins with "Hear of Israel, the LORD thy God is One God...".
But then Jesus adds to these words: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." That second part raises the bar of expectation for us, today. In these dark days of COVID-19 that is spawning all sorts of concerns and questions about the direction we are headed these days and where divisions seem more pronounced. We are wondering, "Who is my neighbor?" We ask this question from both a pure and impure motive. Let us search our hearts to discover why we even wonder who the "neighbor" might be.
These commandments Jesus gives about loving God and loving neighbor have a symbiotic relationship one to the other. To love God is to love the neighbor, for the neighbor made in the image of God as is all of humanity. Conversely, when we love our neighbor, we are loving God for God is Love!
Let's be honest. It is one thing to say we love our neighbor (contingent upon whom we mean) but is altogether another thing to actually love that neighbor! Again we must ask: "Are we on the journey with Christ? Are we headed in the same direction Christ is leading us by His Love?"
God knows no stranger! However, sometimes we become a stranger to God and each other when we fail to love who and what God loves. To love as God wants us to love takes courage of heart; a courage that comes only by God's Grace. Moses, the Lawgiver, led us faithfully so far; but Jesus ("Yeshua") will lead us by His grace the rest of our journey. Will we follow Christ? Will we walk His path? Will we bring others with us on this path? Where are we headed today?