Sunday, October 18, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
It was April 3rd, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech in support of striking sanitation workers and he concluded by preaching on the very reading from Deuteronomy you just heard. Rev. King proclaimed:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
The next day, on April 4th, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered, assassinated. But his work lives on, in the hands and feet and voices and minds and hearts of any who work for justice. “God allowed me to go up the mountain! And I’ve looked over!” And I’ve looked over. Oh my Beloveds, Welcome! Welcome to the mountain top this morning! We have some looking around to do.
This passage at the close of Deuteronomy is all about vision. God causes Moses to see, but not just normal vision. God causes Moses to see the future fulfillment of the promise. God narrates for Moses the future of the people of Israel. “Look, Moses! Over there, can you see, it is Dan’s Clan! There they are all settled and prospering! And over here, here we have the tribe of the sons of Joseph—Ephriam and Manassah! And down there, oh down there are the people of Judah. Do you see?” Moses stands with God on a new mountain, and elderly Moses now with his work complete. But even in the last days, Moses’ eyes, his vision, is still keen, unimpaired. He takes in all that God seeks to show him. And when the vision has ended, and Moses has died, God’s very self buries Moses in the valley. That piece is lost in our English translation. God lays Moses to rest in the valley. Deuteronomy continues, testifying to all that God did through Moses IN THE EYES of the people. This passage is all about vision. Mine eyes have seen the glory!
Promised Land!! The Promised Land is a powerful symbol of God’s dream of Beloved Community, an embodied community, grounded—landed—here on this earth. The vision of the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey as we talked about in our children’s sermon, has sustained and empowered God’s people through countless struggles and horrors. It carried them through the exile in Babylon. It helped them endure the numerous occupations by foreign powers, often accompanied by oppression and persecution. It was the rock to which the people clung during the Holocaust. It was the vision of the Promised Land that gave hope to African slaves in our nation. It was the vision of the Promised Land that leant voice and energy to the Civil Rights Movement. The Promised Land! For the followers of Jesus, we use other terms for the same dream, such as Kingdom of God, Commonwealth of Heaven, Kin-dom, God’s realm, God’s way. Or to use some of the language of Rev. King—the Dream, Beloved Community.
What does living in the Promised Land look like? How do we live into this kin-dom of God? God had the people practicing Promised Land living all through their Exodus experience. Everyday the people would go out and gather the ‘bread from heaven,’ the Manna (literally, ‘what is it’), for their daily bread. They gathered only enough for that day, and no one had too much, and no one had to little. God, through Moses, taught the people in this Wilderness School:
- Every seventh day, EVERYONE gets to rest…EVERYONE! No one is excluded. All walks of life, and even the animals, find rest every seven days.
- When you harvest your fields, you will not harvest the very edges. This area you will leave for the poor and landless, that they may harvest and have food for themselves and their family.
- Along with the seventh day, you will mark every seventh year—a Sabbath year. Every seven years all debts are forgiven (woohoo!), all who have sold themselves into slavery are freed, ever the land rests. Life is restored.
- And then, oh then, after 7 cycles of 7th years, it is the year of Jubilee! Jubilee! In the Jubilee year, God hits the reset button and puts everything back to factory settings (‘push button, boop). All land is restored to the original owners—those tribes and boundaries God showed Moses in our reading today. All are free, all are released from debt, all receive rest, all return home!
Justice lived! The Promised Land! Jesus, the Word made Flesh, came among us embodying Jubilee for all to see, to emulate. As we will hear next week for All Saints Sunday, Jesus goes up a mountain. And on that mountain top, he delivers a mighty sermon. “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful…” Certainly Jesus loves all people, wishes blessings upon all people. But in his teachings, in this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lifts up as already blessed those whom the world hardly notices.
The Promised Land! The Beloved Community! It is a gift and a promise of God that is both our future hope—something we look toward as our future—AND it is something we seek to live right now, right here, today and each day. We seek to live in relationship with God, with one another, and with all of creation, as a partnership, in cooperation with one another. We ARE to be the hands and feet and voices and minds and hearts of God’s justice, right here, right now.
And here we are, right now, today, on the mountaintop with God, with Moses. If we are willing to open ourselves, we too can catch the vision—the vision of how we can live Promised Land here in this world, how we can be Beloved Community now. God will show us how we can be prophets like Moses, how we can embody Jubilee, as Jesus lived and taught. Certainly we give of our resources to the church, to programs, to social services, to non-profits, that are helping the homeless, low income individuals and families, refugees and immigrants, and so many more in need around us. This is ONE step in living the Promised Land way. Just as important, we speak up and we speak out and we act to dismantle the systems of oppression in our world, and we build anew structures that embody Beloved Community:
- Access to food for all people
- Healthcare and education for all
- Fair wages that sustain life
- Access to work and secure housing
- Protection for our Environment, working for clean water
- Equity for people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ people, those differently abled—all of whom are terrified right now about their rights and protections.
Paul Jennette pointed out in one of our Zoom meetings early in our reopening planning that we United Methodists have to stop being so ‘nice,’ so ‘polite.’ We need to find loving ways to speak out and speak up and to act to end white supremacy, to support scientists regarding climate change, to support medical professionals about safe practices during this pandemic. We need to speak out strongly when we see racism happening, when we hear white supremacy’s voice, when we see someone without a mask or wearing it improperly. We need to VOTE and to write our leaders in Congress and at the White House and in Albany about all of these Promised Land principles above!
Oh Beloveds! We have been to the mountaintop. We are on the mountaintop today. God calls us to look over once again and catch the vision—the Promised Land! The Beloved Community! Our future hope…our guide for living today.
What gift can we bring?
What present can we offer?
How can we be God’s hands and feet and voices and minds and hearts today?
Thanks be to God! Amen!