I have a bone to pick with this congregation.
I leave for two short weeks and you go ahead and finish the book of Exodus without me? What am I, chopped liver?
I guess I can’t expect the lectionary to stop when I take a Sunday off, but I will tell you that I did not expect the lectionary to whip through Exodus so quickly. I think somewhere the Israelites are irritated, too. “We wandered 40 years in the wilderness so you people could cover it for nine measly weeks??? Sheesh.”
We have learned how the Israelites ended up in Egypt. We have seen Moses’ ascendancy as reluctant leader. We have quaked with the Israelites as God appears to them on the mountain and gives Moses’ the Ten Commandments. While I was gone, you learned about the fickleness of the Israelites when the formed to Golden Calf, and then last week you read about the breathtaking story where God reveals himself to Moses in a moment of unrivaled intimacy.
For nine weeks we’ve been journeying with the Israelites as they escape from the Egyptians and flee towards the Promised Land, so the culmination of that story must be when Moses, Aaron and Miriam cross triumphantly into Canaan singing songs of victory, right?
Unfortunately, for them, no.
Today we find ourselves in the book of Deuteronomy at Moses’ very dramatic death scene. The book of Deuteronomy is framed as a farewell address Moses makes to the Israelites. The language in Deuteronomy is extremely dramatic and verbose. If Exodus is the travel journal someone kept, Deuteronomy is Moses’ campaign stump speech. The final scene in Deuteronomy is the death scene of Moses. God takes Moses up on a mountain, and has him look over all the land he promised to Abraham and Moses’ other ancestors. God shows Moses “Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain” Then God says, “I have let you see it, but I will not let you cross over there.” Moses dies and is buried on that mountain.
Moses has invested decades of his life in following God and leading the Israelites and he doesn’t even get to triumphantly enter the Promised Land? That doesn’t seem very fair.
And even more annoying than Moses not getting to go into the Promised Land is that this young upstart, Joshua, is going to get to go. Joshua was a military scout that Moses used to scope out this land and now military leadership of Israel will pass to THIS fresh faced newbie? Where was Joshua when the bush burned? Where was Joshua when Moses was confronting Pharaoh? Where was Joshua when the Red Sea parted? He probably wasn’t even BORN yet.
I can’t help but think of this passage when I look at our election. I think about all the work Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton put into women’s rights. They spent their adult lives dedicated to educating the country about the importance of giving the vote to women. Yet both died more than a decade before women got the right to vote.
I think of Frederick Douglass, Robert Purvis, and James Forten who also used the power of education and rhetoric to persuade Americans that slavery needed to be abolished. They showed 19th century Americans that those of African descent were just as bright and articulate as those of European descent. And while Douglass and Purvis were able to vote, Forten died before the 15th Amendment was passed.
As we all know, though, their stories are not tragic. In fact, these are the American heroes our children study in school. They are heroic, not tragic, because the work they invested in this country was not meaningless-it had a powerful impact on millions of women and African Americans that would come years later. Their work made it possible for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin to run for the highest offices in our government. The hard work of the suffragists and abolitionists laid the foundation for years of progress and change.
And the work Moses did was also heroic-he enabled the Israelites to go from being slaves in Egypt to being a nation of their own right. When he was told he would not enter the Promised Land he did not whine or fuss. He just looked out over the view and let go.
We have the chance to be heroic, too!
Whether we are aware of it or not, we enjoy the hard work of generations before us every Sunday. Our beautiful organ was purchased after we received a generous gift from the estate of a woman named Patricia Stuart. We were able to renovate the nursery and pre-K classroom because of generous pledges and their careful stewardship by our vestry. Molly, who we baptize today [at the 11:00 service] is here because of that investment and the families it attracted. We have a church full of incredible leadership and energy because when you were children someone invested in you and taught you what it meant to be a contributing member of a church. We are a hospitable church because ten years ago the leaders of Emmanuel made a decision to be a welcoming place for those who moved into the many new developments being built in Crozet. I am lucky enough to be employed here because of your generosity and your commitment to giving the children of this place a priest focused on their education and development.
Stewardship season is not my favorite time of the church year. Talking about money automatically makes us all feel a little uncomfortable, especially when many of us have recently lost twenty-five percent of our savings! But stewardship is a time for us to tap into our inner hero! We choose to invest in this place even if we don’t see immediate benefits. We choose to invest in this place because when we do, we prepare a way for our children and their children. We invest in Emmanuel because we know that God will take our investment and transform it into doing His work in our community. Your investment will help us preach the Gospel, feed the poor, heal the wounded and nourish the faithful for years to come.
If you’re lucky, you may even live long enough to see some of the results of your investment. But just remember, even if you’re stuck with Moses on the mountaintop, looking over all that which might have been, God is still at work and will be at work in this place for years to come, thanks to heroes like you.