Moses: What is your Promise Land?
Deuteronomy 6:6-7, 20-25
Rev. Sandy Johnson
October 15, 2017
Today we finish our series on the reluctant prophet, Moses. Having escaped from Egypt the Israelites returned to Mt. Sinai for almost a year before they traveled as far as Kadesh Barnea. Had they taken a direct route it would have meant maybe one month on the road. Instead they took the long way home as it were, taking six months to arrive. Once they got settled near their final destination, they sent out scouts to investigate this land that God had promised them.
They weren’t exactly having a great time following Moses. They had little to eat, drink and were camping out, for goodness sakes. They complained that they would have been better off had they stayed back in Egypt, at least they had been well fed and had a roof over their head, never mind the long hours working in-between. Their complaining resulted in God providing manna and quail and it didn’t take long before they grew tired of their predictable diet and began complaining again. You can’t really blame them, can you? Imagine if your entire diet for 40 years was quail and some imitation bread! It probably wasn’t even gluten free!
The Israelites failed to realize that God had a plan. God always has a plan. Sometimes though we have to wait on the Lord, wait for His perfect timing for the Promised Land to be realized. So, they got close, and sent out some scouts, a few from each tribe to go and investigate. They wanted to know exactly what the Promised Land had in store for them before they ventured any further. I mean, you really can’t “trust” God, can you?
When the scouts returned their worst fears were realized. They were petrified because the land was full of powerful people. Even though God had promised them this land, God’s promise was quickly forgotten and replaced with a fierce fear that kept them frozen in place. Unable or unwilling to move. God saw their lack of faith and made the decision for them. Under no circumstances were they to proceed until this generation of unbelievers died off. So, they sat…for 38 more years, waiting…waiting…waiting! No, they weren’t wandering aimlessly for 40 years, they were waiting. I know that’s a shock for some of you!
Finally, when the older generation all passed away, the younger generation was left. But they didn’t have the collective history of their parents. They had never been slaves in Egypt and although they knew their parent’s stories, Moses was afraid that they would move into the Promised Land and quickly forget what had been sacrificed, to be delivered by God and to be freed from slavery. Moses was worried that they would slowly forget and drift away.
Our scripture this morning is a part of Moses farewell discourse, the final words he shared with the Israelites before he died, never stepping foot into the Promised Land. He spoke the words with an urgency and a pleading that they would never forget. He begged those listening to share the stories with their children. If the children don’t learn the stories, if they don’t claim the story as their own, he was afraid that their religion would die. They must not forget who they are or whose they are. Passing their faith onto future generations became Moses’ highest priority.
It’s funny because that story is repeated today, isn’t it? As parents we do our best to pass our faith onto our children but often they just don’t follow suit. Look around. How many of you here today are worshiping with your adult children? Or with your parents?
I was raised in a Christian household. I was taught about our Christian values, taught the history and doctrine of the United Methodist Church. I was a “church kid.” I was “bought in” until I graduated high school. I’m not sure what happens at 18-19 but it seems almost expected that we fall away. Maybe it’s the whole “sowing wild oats” thing?
Many young adults fall away. We see it here in our own church. Our young people graduate high school then we see them at Christmas and maybe at Easter, if we’re lucky. Why does it happen that way? This was Moses greatest fear, that the children would fall away, never to return. Many of our young people return to the church when the get married and begin having families. Somehow the faith they were indoctrinated into as a child comes back and they find it important to do the same to their children. Is it only my story? Can any of you relate?
“I believe that Moses’ words in Deuteronomy continue to be the key to the future of faith. In teaching faith to our children, we don’t want to be guilty of “cramming it down their throats.” But I fear that, for most of us, that’s not the problem. We may take our kids to church, and even Sunday school, but we sometimes fail to have meaningful, authentic conversations with them concerning what we really believe about God, how we’ve seen God work in our lives, and what we have experienced of God in prayer and worship – conversations that are not forced but come out of our daily attempt to walk with God.” Perhaps if we are a bit more authentic and transparent, they will see from our experience what it is we are trying to teach them.
My parents never spoke about their faith, that was the church’s job. We came to church each Sunday and were sent off to Sunday School where we learned bible stories, sang songs and were reunited with the grown-ups after they finished their worship. What if we were participants with our children? Or with our grandchildren? What if we intentionally shared our faith stories with them? Perhaps we can demonstrate God’s love by our actions without having to preach at all?
Perhaps it isn’t that we aren’t doing a good job sharing our faith with our children or grandchildren. Perhaps they are not listening! Fifteen times in Deuteronomy Moses tells the Israelites to remember or not to forget. Perhaps they weren’t paying attention! He must have known something about humanity!
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, points out that Israel cycled regularly through three seasons he identified as, orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Sound familiar? “Orientation is when things are going well – so well, in fact, that over time it’s easy to forget God. In these seasons we experience the words to the old hymn: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
Disorientation then comes when we wander from God and we find ourselves alone, in the wilderness. That’s when the fear, anxiety and pain take over. “When Israel wandered from God she made poor choices, uninformed by her faith. God’s hand of protection was no longer with her. The nation would find itself in trouble, and enemies would gain the upper hand. In these seasons Israel would cry out to God, asking for help and forgiveness. (God, if you get me out of this mess, I’ll never do it again! OR, I’ll go to church!)
“And God, who is rich in mercy, would rescue Israel, healing, forgiving, and restoring her. These seasons Brueggemann referred to as reorientation. In these moments after receiving forgiveness and restoration we experience ecstatic joy and feelings of gratitude and hope. Overtime, however, reorientation gives way to orientation, which can lead to straying and disorientation all over again. In a sense Israel’s story and our story, can be told in light of this ever-repeating cycle.” Orientation – disorientation – reorientation! The story of the Exodus is a prime example of this cycle.
Moses shares with us throughout Deuteronomy, the Law that he was passing onto us, reminding us to tell these stories to our children. These words from Deuteronomy are a perfect example of what we are to do. Recite the lessons to our children, remind them who they are and whose they are. Remind them that we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” This was one law that stood above the rest. It is so important to the Jews that they hang it on their doorpost of their homes. They recite it when the arise each morning and before the go to sleep at night. It is their hope that it will be the last words they speak as they leave this life.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” “This command is repeated multiple times in Deuteronomy as the essence of what God seeks from his people. Jesus described this as the first and most important commandment, then added Leviticus 19:18, as a corollary to it: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” These two, Jesus summarized all the Law and the Prophets. The words are simple, but they reflect a deep sense of God’s purpose in creating humankind.”
And then, Moses closing words to the Israelites, that are as powerful today as when he shared them just before his death: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you.”
Life is just what we seek, a life of blessings and loving; a life lived in accordance with God’s commandment to love God and neighbor. A life filled with our own Promised Land, the result of years of dreaming, planning, complaining some, searching and struggling. We all seek a Promised Land that is the vision of the ideal “place where God’s will is done, a taste of heaven on earth. If the people live according to God’s commands, it would mean a return to paradise where humans didn’t kill or hurt one another, where people loved their neighbors, where justice and mercy reigned. Jesus, too, knew that the Promised Land wasn’t a plot of ground. He spoke of it as the Kingdom of God.
“All of us need a compelling vision of the Promised Land. The task of leaders is to help us see what we cannot see and move us to give ourselves in pursuit of a vision bigger than ourselves. That vision is meant to drive us, shape us, and move us to accept sacrifice and hardship along the way in pursuit of a better “there.”
“Let me ask you: What is your Promised Land? What is the vision that drives you, the end to which your whole life is progressing? What is, for you, the pearl of great price? Is it a certain income level? A house? A kind of car? The corner office at work? Maybe it’s travel and trips? But none of these rises to the level of being a compelling vision for your life. ”
Are you working and striving to hear the words from God one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Are you driven to seek ways to demonstrate God’s love to others? Each of us must ask and answer that question and once answered do what we can to bring the vision of our Promised Land into fruition.
“Moses’ vision of the Promised Land was ultimately not about a parcel of ground, but about a people who would love the Lord, hold fast to him, and obey his commands, and who would love their neighbors as they loved themselves.” What is our church’s Promised Land? I envision a vital, growing congregation of people who love one another, who seek justice and mercy in everything they do and who make a real difference in the community and beyond. We are a people who are listening to God, who are following his leading through our own wilderness times.
Sisters and brothers, the promised land is coming up. It is near. We must guard against being discouraged and bravely move forward to where God is calling us. We must not be worried about the details or challenges that may lie before us, those things that will attempt to distract us from the journey. Wherever God calls us, he will be out in front of us, paving the way. Our response must be to follow, boldly, courageously into God’s Promised Land!
 Hamilton, Adam. Moses. In the Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN. 2017. Page 164
 Deuteronomy 6:5
 Hamilton, Page 165
 Deuteronomy 30:19-20
 Hamilton, 172
 Hamilton, 172