Moses, Canaan and the Meaning of Legacy
At first glance the reading from Deuteronomy seems like a story about Moses dying. God taking him up to the mountain and showing him the land of Canaan but not allowing him to go any further. Someone said the story seems rather cruel on God’s part. After all Moses shepherded the Israelites through the wilderness. He listened to their complaints and did his best to keep them safe. But, the reading also tells us that God is still irritated with Moses for earlier in the Book of Numbers the people were complaining they were thirsty. God told Moses to speak to the rock with the rod in his hand-the rod that had parted the Red Sea and was in the tabernacle. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses rapped on it twice and he lectured the people. He acted out of anger and frustration rather than as we hope our leaders will act out: of generosity and compassion. For his outburst and his lack of faith, God would not allow him to enter the promised land.
We find it a harsh punishment and one we don’t associate with an all-loving God. Another reason so many find the God pictured in the Old Testament as a harsh capricious God. I agree with those who think this way. It is difficult to understand a God who holds a grudge. For some of us, it is the God we grew up with, the idea of being good so we weren’t being punished. What are we supposed to think about God with this story?
God does not abandon Moses or banish him for his disbelief but rather stays in relationship with him. Moses stands overlooking all the land below with God telling him of his legacy. At one time or another don’t we all think of the life we have lead and what we leave behind? It really is at the heart of the human condition. Did I matter? Did my life matter? How will I be remembered? Moses must have had these thoughts as well.
As he stands on the bluff overlooking all that God is going to give to the Israelites he must have felt a bittersweet satisfaction. I did this he thinks. Aaron is dead and the leadership torch will pass to Joshua. It will be Joshua anointed by God who will lead the people across the Jordan to the promised land.
So what matters in the end? In an interview with Krista Tippett Atul Gawande, Dr. Gawande tells her for some it is being able to eat ice cream and watch football on television it is enough. For Peggy Batchelder who had a metastatic cancer and was laid up in the hospital for weeks on end. She just was miserable and angry and, ultimately, went home on hospice. And then the hospice nurse had that conversation: What does a good day look like? And then: Let’s have a goal, one good day.
And then they worked on that, and at first it was, OK, we’re gonna get you in a bed on the first floor, so you don’t climb the stairs. We’re gonna arrange for getting dressed and bathed. And after two or three days of that, she lifted her sights. And then she wanted to teach piano again.
And the idea that that was possible — it was extraordinary.
And my daughter had the most extraordinary piano lessons. And then there was a recital, and at the recital, they played Brahms and Chopin and Beethoven. And it reshaped my daughter’s life, and that was the legacy Peggy wanted to leave.
What is the legacy you want to leave? There are no wrong or right answers. The person who chooses ice cream and football may in the end share it with a family member. Who among us does not have a memory of time spent with another person who shaped his or her life. For others, like Peggy, it is carrying on with life and finding personal meaning out of helping others.
The legacy you leave behind is yours. In fact, most of us will not know what we have done for another how we touched someone else’s life. That is the pity. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Sometimes we aren’t very good at telling someone how much they mean to us or we are grateful to have them in our lives. It can be embarrassing. It doesn’t mean though we don’t or we stop. This is true for both people. So take a chance. Tell someone how much he or she means to you and how happy you are to have them in your life.
If you are the lucky recipient of such kind words, don’t shrug them off or say it was nothing. It is to the person telling you. It is to the world. For I am sure there are silent witnesses to how we treat others. Think about poor Moses. Listening to complaints from the people morning until night. Never a word of thanks. Never a thought to how he felt. Perhaps if one person had thanked him, he would not have lashed out in anger at the group. He would not have felt so unappreciated. His faith in God would not have caused him to question God’s request.
Moses’ whole life was affected because there were two words he didn’t hear-thank you. We can only hope as bittersweet as the story is at the end of Deuteronomy, he feels somehow he made a difference and he left a legacy for those who came after him. He certainly didn’t know if this wandering in the desert for 40 years was going to lead to anywhere or to the Israelites happiness. Looking over the vast misty plain he hopefully felt some satisfaction and came to the realization he did in the end follow God and God in his own faithful way as imperfect as it is to us showed Moses all he had accomplished.
What is your legacy? What is God waiting to show you? How will you choose to live your remaining days? What matters in the end is not the quantity which we all want of course but rather the quality of those days we have been given. A true gift from God.
It was such a joy to add to the Great Cloud of Witnesses this Sunday in a baptism. Baptism for many is the beginning of their spiritual walk with God. It is a not an individual walk but rather one we do together. The Church of England's "Book of Common Worship" states, Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God which continues for the rest of our lives, the first step in response to God's love. For all involved, particularly the candidates but also parents, godparents and sponsors, it is a joyful moment when we rejoice in what God has done for us in Christ, making serious promises and declaring the faith. The wider community of the local church and friends welcome the new Christian, promising support and prayer for the future. Hearing and doing these things provides an opportunity to remember our own baptism and reflect on the progress made on that journey, which is now to be shared with this new member of the Church.
The service paints many vivid pictures of what happens on the Christian way. There is the sign of the cross, the badge of faith in the Christian journey, which reminds us of Christ's death for us. Our 'drowning' in the water of baptism, where we believe we die to sin and are raised to new life, unites us to Christ's dying and rising, a picture that can be brought home vividly by the way the baptism is administered. Water is also a sign of new life, as we are born again by water and the Spirit. This reminds us of Jesus' baptism. And as a sign of that new life, there may be a lighted candle, a picture of the light of Christ conquering the darkness of evil. Everyone who is baptized walks in that light for the rest of their lives.
As you pray for the candidates, picture them with yourself and the whole Church throughout the ages, journeying into the fullness of God's love.
What a wonderful picture this paints for all the newly baptized and those of us who are renewing our baptismal covenant. It is a moment when we communally focus on who we are and to whom we belong. We are anointed with oil and marked as Christ's own forever. Certainly we may wax and wane in our personal relationship with God but there is great comfort in knowing we always have a safe place to fall. God never stops loving us or wanting to be near to us. It is the only thing he really expects is that we will just show up, just as we are.
In the reading from I Thessalonians, Paul's love for the risen Christ is palpable in his letter to them. The great persecutor of Christ has an experience of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and in an instant his heart and mind are changed forever. His zeal for the Lord makes him an advocate for us all. Paul wants each and everyone of us to that the same experience. In baptism we are given the opportunity to declare we too want to know and love God deeply. It is a journey which never ends and one we share in together. Thanks be to God!
What about the cross?
What does the cross mean to you? I ask this in all sincerity. In many ways, we have taken the cross and trivialized it. For some it is a fashion statement-a bit of bling at an awards ceremony. For others it is a tattoo on their arm. It is strange to think about an instrument of death as a fashion statement. I mean would someone wear around their neck a sub machine gun as a fashion statement? Unless you are a rap star or a drug dealer I highly doubt you would. But we have come to see the cross as a shiny object to hang around the neck.
We have this week Peter admonishing Jesus for telling them he is going to suffer and die. Jesus in turn says get behind me Satan. In the Greek it is get behind me adversary. Adversary makes more sense in the reading. Once again Peter is trying to keep Jesus for himself or for the disciples. He did it at the Transfiguration and now in this passage he is trying to keep Jesus from doing what he was meant to do here on earth.
Now think back to last week when Jesus said Peter would be the rock on which the church would be built. Now Peter the Rock is Peter the Stumbling Block. He wants to trip Jesus up, get in his way, keep him from fulfilling his mission on earth. Even though just a few short verses ago Peter had great insight into who Jesus is, it is gone in a puff of smoke. Which of course shows Peter’s humanity-a messiah is a great thing in principle but brought face to face with the idea, not so much. Who here wants to think about someone they love and care for to suffer before she dies?
But in Peter’s defense, he lives and breathes the cross on a daily basis. In the book “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” there is a scene where Joseph is crucified. As far as the eye can see are people who are hanging there. Some dead and rotting on the cross, others actively dying. Rome used crucifixion as a way to restore order when the people became unruly. The religious leaders for their part saw the cross as a way to remove those who posed a threat to their comfortable way of life. The horror of what awaits Jesus has to be in the forefront of Peter’s mind. For us crucifixion is only something we can try and imagine for Peter it is real and very frightening. So let us not be too harsh.
Jesus though takes this instrument of terror and shame to align himself with the despised and the powerless. His willful obedience to God demonstrates there is something more to live for than ourselves. Which brings us to the term salvation. Like the cross we toss that word around quite a bit. We speak of Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour which is all good-but what does it really mean for us?
Salvation means to us when we die we are forgiven of all our sins and enter into heaven. But Jesus also came to shatter our notion of what salvation is. It is not security, self-fulfillment or pleasure but rather it is to be willing if need be to die as Jesus died. It is also to die to those notions of what makes a person successful-money, status. Salvation in terms of what Jesus sets out is for us to be willing to die for what we believe. Salvation is not some easy road to walk, it requires us to think about who we are and what we want our lives to stand for.
When Jesus tells the disciples those who lose their life will save it. He is telling them they will be mocked and despised just like he will be but they are not to lose hope. His words also put the authorities on notice that the pablum they are running around spouting are empty promises. Real redemption is when a person is able to walk away from what the world deems successful to embrace what God tells us is successful.
This past week we have been inundated with images of people clinging to cars, trees and rooftops. Hanging on for dear life as Harvey pummels them with water, wind, fatigue and cold. What are they waiting for but a savior. And all week long we have been inundated with images of those saviors coming in boats, jet skis, dinghies. The people who have walked away from a warm home and a soft bed to care for others have truly walked the way of the cross. As water streams down their collective faces, they bear witness to what Jesus is telling his disciples the empty promises given by the world are nothing. They are nothing in what we do for another.
I doubt any of the people who are rescuing others think of themselves as martyrs. What they see and know is walking the way of Jesus is not easy. It is cold, it is wet and it is frightening. In those moments, the rescuers don’t care how much money a person has or what color their skin is. They may not even be able to articulate why they are doing what they are doing other than they want to help. They are putting into the action the words of Paul, “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
This is the way of the cross, not martyrdom but following the our Lord without thought of yourself. Of caring for another enough to be willing to stay out in the cold and the rain so no one is left behind. That is losing your life to save it. This is the Jesus walk.