Proper 25 A Deuteronomy
Theme: God shows us the way of love
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, your love is all around us; we read and hear of your love for those who went before us and then you sent your son to be the embodiment of love, help us we pray to reflect your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
What does the word Love mean today? How do we define it? In answer to this question, here the results of a question-and-answer session held by a group of professional people with a bunch of 4 to 8-year olds, where they asked them, “What does love mean?”
Karl, age 5, says: “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving lotion and they go out and smell each other.”
Elaine, age 5, says: “Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer then Robert Redford.” (Or at least a younger Robert Redford)
Mary Ann, age 4, says: “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”
Tommy, age 6, says: “Love is like a little old man and a little old woman who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”
Bobby, age 5, says: “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Jenny, age 7, says: “There are two kinds of love. God's love. Our love. But God makes both kinds.”
That last answer is worthy of a philosopher. Maybe we should listen to children more than we do. They see the world around them with clear, fresh eyes, and interpret it with clear, fresh minds.
Our lessons today are about love and God’s command to love. Love leads to grieving when a loved one dies as the Israelites did for Moses for thirty days.
This is the end of the Moses story. We last left Moses praying that God will be with the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land. Because of the Israelite’s fear, a whole generation wanders in the wilderness never to see the Promised Land. They didn’t want to go to a land where God wants them to be, because the land was already occupied. They feared that the current residents wouldn’t just let them settle in their land. This is a really good assumption.
But their fear kept them from trusting God. This is true of all relationships. Fear causes people to act, at times, against their own self-interest. The prehistoric fight or flight impulse is triggered by fear. What we can do is allow the higher functions of our brains control our prehistoric reactions. Jealousy is a form of fear. If one partner in a relationship is jealous, then there is a lack of trust. Trust is the foundation of all relationships.
The Israelites failed to trust in God. We might say that God punished the people for not trusting God. But God is really giving them what they want. They don’t want to go into the Promised Land. God is granting them their wish. It will be the next generation who will be the beneficiaries of God’s promise. The recalcitrant generation has passed away. Moses belongs to the generation who refused to go to the Promised Land. He will be the last to die of that generation before the Israelites enter the Holy Land. But Moses will be able see the Promised Land before he dies.
Moses has gone through more trials than almost any human being. Yet he fulfills his God-given mission by bringing God’s people to their home. His job being done, he may now let go of this life.
From the top of Mount Nebo, Moses is able to see all the land promised by God. (Technically, that is not possible, but this is a theological statement not a geographic statement. Moses can see all the Promised Land. He can die knowing he reached his goal. He is seeing God’s special land.) God reminds Moses that God has fulfilled through Moses the promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Moses dies. Then what is stated is curious. The text says that God buries Moses in an undisclosed location. I say that this is curious because it strikes me as odd that God would personally bury someone. I believe this indicates the deep, personal relationship God has with Moses. God loves Moses. We are then told that Moses was in pretty good shape for his old age.
The people mourned Moses’ death for thirty days. Before Moses died, Moses appointed Joshua to be his successor. God was with Joshua. And in yet another odd comment, the hard-headed, recalcitrant, fearful, faithless Israelites pay attention to Joshua and follow all the commandments God gave Moses. What changed? Maybe this says something about how charismatic Joshua was.
The Israelites follow all God’s commands including, the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”, and another command from Leviticus to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We are next given a eulogy for Moses. No one has ever existed was as great as Moses. Moses’ greatness is unsurpassed in history. Moses has a remarkable birth story and Moses has a remarkable death story. These emphasize Moses’ greatness. The hope of this story is that the people of Israel will honor Moses’ memory by following Joshua into the Promised Land.
As Patrick Miller suggests, “Israel henceforth will not be led by a great authority figure but by the living word of the torah that Moses taught and that goes always with the people in the ark, God’s word in the midst of the people.”
It is appropriate that the torah closes with this story at the end of Deuteronomy, the end of the torah. The people will now follow the torah, the law. We, too, have God’s law. God’s word shapes us in our journey. We are lead by God’s word. We are reminded by Jesus of the two greatest commands: love God and love our neighbor.
Frederick Buechner in “The Magnificent Defeat” said, “The love for equals is a human thing – of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.
“The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing – the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.
“The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing – to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints.
“And then there is the love for the enemy – love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world.”
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we thank for your gift of love; though we are often imperfect practitioners of love, strengthen this gift of gifts in us for your sake and for the sake of the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 (NRSV)
34 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. 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.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.
10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.