So there was Moses, just east of the Jordan River, with his people on the plains in the land of Moab. Moab was an OK place, but just not the place of their own that God had promised them. THAT land, the Promised Land, was just west of the river.
For 40 years the people had sought the Promised Land. As slaves in Egypt they had re-Visioned their future, had identified and considered all 21 of their options, and had chosen the boldest new vision: They would LEAVE Egypt for a new place, the Promised Land that God would provide them.
“Surely if we remain here in THIS place,” they had reasoned, “we will die. Surely if we discern a bold new vision, in faith, God will help us make that vision a reality. And SURELY if we do this thing that God must want us to do, we will be saved; we will not die.
So they had prayed. They had discerned. They had come together as a people and had stepped out in faith to put their bold new vision into action: They would leave Egypt and go to the land of their own that God had promised them.
Oh, there had been trials along the way. Pharaoh had objected to their leaving, but God had intervened to provide incentives and answers and leaders, and even had provided a road of their own to get them to the other side of the Red Sea when Pharaoh’s plan was to thwart them. And that was just God’s intervention and miraculous help for the people to escape domination by the Egyptians.
There had been other God-help given to the people between Egypt and where they stood today. They had been in the wilderness for 40 years. 40 years! If you look at a map of the Middle East, you’ll understand at once that no people, even those on foot, should have taken 40 years to get from Egypt to the Promised Land. Especially because THESE people had God’s direct guidance. They followed a God-cloud by day and they camped under a god-pillar of fire at night. Why would God have marched his people all over the wilderness for 40 years?
God had a purpose, a reason, a plan. And God’s purpose apparently wasn’t to deliver his people from point A (Egypt) to point B (the Promised Land) in the shortest possible time. So what might God have been up to?
In Egypt, these people had been SLAVES. Their identity as a people of God had been eroded. Oh, they remembered that their ancestors had long ago made a covenant with God. And they remembered that long ago God had saved them from famine by delivering them into Egypt, where their ancestor Joseph had been warned by God and had convinced Pharaoh to stockpile grain. But over time these aliens had become slaves in Egypt. Their fortunes had definitely waned. Had God forgotten about them and their covenant?
So God must have thought his people needed concentrated alone time with him in the wilderness. Isn’t the wilderness where we are tested, yes, but also honed through hardship to turn and return to God? Isn’t the wilderness where we renew our gratitude to God? Isn’t the wilderness where—stripped of distractions—we decide whether the Promised Land is for us?
Maybe, tiring of a constant diet of mana and quail, we drop out of the convoy of people following the God-cloud. Moses’ people didn’t drop out because alone they would surely die in the wilderness, but they sometimes longed for the “Good Old Days” when they were slaves in Egypt.
Maybe we long for HGTV or ESPN or whatever worldly entertainments enthrall us, and we disconnect from the community of God’s people. Or maybe—and this is much worse—while we are away from the God-fire we let the tempter convince us that the Promised Land is no special place, no better a place than our everyday abode, let the tempter convince us that we are better off choosing death!
Listen to what Moses has to say at the end of his 26-chapter sermon to his people. Moses says, in essence, “Don’t forget what God has done for you. Love God with your whole heart by following God’s commandments. This choice leads to life, not only for you, but for your descendants.”
These words sound like today’s “prosperity gospel,” don’t they? But scholars tell us that Moses’ words follow the form of a special kind of treaty in use at the time, a treaty between an all-powerful ruler and a nation of people with no power. In this case, Moses is asking the people who are wholly dependent upon God, our all-powerful creator, to renew their covenant with gun as they enter the Promised Land.
In this context, Moses is telling the people, “Yes, you are entering the Promised Land today. But you have before you a choice. Just because you finally get what you’ve long been promised by God, don’t forget to continue to choose God, to love God, and to live by God’s commandments. THIS is the way of life, the way to the TRUE Promised Land: “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One…. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus would add (DID add), “This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
So I ask you: Do you choose life? This isn’t a one-time choice. Rather, we are faced each day with the decision of choosing life. This isn’t a difficult choice to make. Moses says we simply must follow God’s commandments; Jesus reinforces Moses’ teaching with the Law of Love.
So I ask us: What about our Church of the Resurrection community? Haven’t we been in the wilderness lo these past 4 years (seems like 40, which is really just biblical for “a good long time”). And can’t we see some parallels between our first lesson today and our own church community’s story? There is a Promised Land ahead of us, we trust and pray. If our journey there takes an absurd amount of time, what God-lessons are we learning along the way? And when the day comes when we as a community are poised to enter the place that God has promised us, will we renew our covenant with God and continue to choose life? And will you be here for the blessing?