A Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost. Peached at the 8:00am service, All Saints Anglican Church, King City, ON, Diocese of Toronto.
Readings for this Sunday: Deuteronomy 34.1-12, Psalm 90.1-6,13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2.1-8, Matthew 22.34-46
4 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’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” (Deut 34.4)
This week a friend told me how she had arrived at the nursing home where she had settled her father, after much heartache, and found out that her father had been placed into isolation because the staff feared he had the C-difficile bacteria and was infections. No one had bothered to tell her. As if the rigours of the coronavirus precautions weren’t restrictive enough, now my friend finds herself totally cut off from her father in what are likely the last months of his life.
There are countless such stories of isolation, disappointed, and unfinished stories in these days of pandemic. Many of us feel caught up in a long journey where we are aren’t sure where we’re going, when we’ll get there, if we’ll get there, and who will cross the finish line with us. The times feel indeterminate, and disappointment hangs in the air.
The beauty of the lectionary is that it has a way of speaking into the context of the day, if we listen. The story of Moses and his end, cut off from the people he’s lead and denied the reward of the promised land, seems especially apt for today.
Moses is told by God that he won’t share in the reward of this long march out of Egypt. After all that he’s done, dealing with the complaints and betrayals of his people, standing between them and God, he’s told that he won’t cross the river Jordan. All he gets is a vision of the promised land from a mountain top.
He passes away, and even though he’s praised for his “signs and wonders” and “mighty deeds “ (Deut 34.11-12), his grave in the wilderness is forgotten and unknown. His people take time to mourn him, and then they move on.
The Lutheran scholar Matt Skinner notes how this story and the way Moses is dropped from the great story of the Exodus feels right at a time when death is all around is, and when we are cut off from our loved ones. The incompleteness of Moses’ story and his being left by the wayside may remind us of the ones we are cut off from, of the ones who died and who will die without friends and family. Moses’ lonely and unknown grave may make us think of the funerals and memorial services we can’t attend in this time of plague. The seeming injustice of Moses’ death is thus mirrored in all sorts of small ways in our own life.
And yet, God is faithful. It is called the Promised Land for a reason. God is faithful to his promises, and it’s ok to trust in good. Dr. Martin Luther King knew that when he drew on the story of Moses for his I Have A Dream speech. Just days before his murder, King seemed to sense that he wouldn’t finish the civil rights journey with his people, but he had faith that God who freed African Americans from slavery would not abandon his people
God was indeed faithful. Another leader, Joshua, was appointed, and in the generations to follow, when Israel was settled, and then lost, and resettled, and lost again, God sent prophets and a Messiah. God’s people were never abandoned. God’s faithfulness remained active in their midst.
We have no guarantees of when this time will end, and when we can see loved ones, when we can see relatives in hospitals and care homes, when we can visit graves that we never had the chance to mourn at, when we can see children and grandchildren far from us. But we have faith that those days will come, because the Lord is with us.
The Promised Land is out there.
God will bring us to it.