Sermon 2 of Mountains of the Bible Series
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Scripture: Deuteronomy 34
In the Moab wilderness – in modern day Jordan – Moses stands on the edge of destiny. He can smell the salt air of the Mediterranean. The freshness of grass and tress drifts over the Great Jordan River Rift from the Promised Land. The long journey from Egypt to Palestine has ended. The land to which God called Abraham so many generations ago – before Joseph and slavery in Egypt – sits ready for the people of Israel.
These former slaves have been formed in the wilderness into the People of God. Their identity and covenant, their law and their rituals have matured them into a people ready to serve as God’s light for the nations.
|Moab Wilderness. Modern day Jordan|
At 120 years young – Moses still possesses he same power and charisma that he displayed growing up in the courts of the pharaoh. “His eyesight was sharp; he still walked with a spring in his step,” the scripture tells us. Like an ancient version of Blanche Bowen who died last year at 96, I bet Moses could still be planting his own garden and mowing his own grass.
At the heart of Moses 120 years of unparalleled life stands his relationship with Yahweh God. Yahweh saved Moses as a child and delivered him to the promised land of Pharaoh’s court in the same way God would save the People of Israel and deliver them to their own promised land. God called Moses out of exile in the wilderness and declared his name for all the world – I am who I am, I was who I was, I will be who I will be – simply – YHWH – Yahweh.
Then, when the plagues were done and the People of Israel stood free at last at the base of Mount Sinai, God summed Moses into the Presence of God – a terrifying experience of smoke, thunder and noise to the top of Mt. Sinai. The Scriptures say, Moses was the one prophet, to whom the Lord knew face to face. Moses had experienced God and lived. He confounded all things as they were in order for God to create something new in the world.
Now, Moses stands in the place that has only existed in his dreams – the Promised Land is so near he feels it calling him. Yet, he knows the rest of the story will be left for someone else. Once, years before, recorded in Deuteronomy 34, Moses begged God to allow him to complete the task before him – to lead the people into the Promised Land. Like all great leaders, Moses didn’t want to leave a task unfinished.
“GOD, my Master,” Moses begged, “you let me in on the beginnings, you let me see your greatness, you let me see your might—what god in Heaven or Earth can do anything like what you’ve done! Please, let me in also on the endings, let me cross the river and see the good land over the Jordan, the lush hills, the Lebanon Mountains.”
God would have none of it, though. The Lord wouldn’t listen to Moses. Instead, God said, “Enough of that. Not another word from you on this. Climb to the top of Mount Nebo and look around: look west, north, south, east. Take in the land with your own eyes. Take a good look because you’re not going to cross this Jordan River.”
Since this moment, Moses has spent his waning moments in an eloquent filibuster – he keeps talking, hoping to wait God out. Yet, death will wait no longer.
Now - Moses withdraws from the Hebrew camp on the plains of Moab to a high place for a climactic moment alone with the God he first met eighty years earlier on another mountain. In the ancient worldview, if you went up topographically, you were just a bit closer to God. Mountaintops represented closeness to God.
Mount Nebo as a mountain is not much to write home about. Today, it is located in the country of Jordan, just to the East of the Dead Sea. Rather than a mountain like Yonah or Curahee – standing high and regal for all to see – Mt. Nebo sits more like high ridge line. Even its elevation doesn’t sound impressive – it’s only 2,680 feet high. Today, a modern road winds up and over it and you pass the summit without even realizing where you are. Moses’ walk to the top of Nebo carried none of the courage and stamina needed in those days of climbing up and down Mt. Sinai.
|Looking West over Dead Sea to Israel|
Yet, first impressions of Mt. Nebo will fool us. The top of Mount Nebo offers a breathtaking panorama of the Promised Land of Palestine. Unlike any other mountain in the world, Mount Nebo offers the best view of the Promised Land in the world. While only standing at 2,680 feet above sea level, it soars over four thousand feet above the Dead Sea – the lowest point on earth at 1,401 feet below sea level. The northern tip of the Dead Sea washes against the mountain's southwestern foot. A spot just across a small dip to the northwest of Mt. Nebo, is usually identified as Pisgah. This location affords the best view of the Jordan valley and the land beyond.
Moses ascends Mt. Nebo driven by the desire to see things differently. The topography and promise of the land in front of this mountain has been carried in the conscious memory of Moses’ people for over 400 years. Generation after generation from Joseph through history have told their children and grandchildren stories about this fertile place. The land of our ancestor Abraham overflows with green mountains and trees, fresh water and produce. This is the exact opposite of the wilderness with its dry, barren landscape. Moses ascends Mt. Nebo to see the truth for himself – does the land live up to the promises?
Moses has been living day by day for 40 years – now, he ascends to see the vision of what started him on this odyssey.
The desires that drive Moses to ascend Mt. Nebo – I would imagine – drives many of us to the mountain as well. Caught in the daily crisis’ of life – the next doctor’s visit, remembering which medication to take at what time, where the kids need to be today, keeping the bills paid and the house clean – we also yearn to see life and faith differently too.
Like Moses, we can forget the motivations and visions which started us on our life journeys. We forget the love story that bought our spouse into our lives. We forget the joy of holding that new born baby when temper tantrums or adolescent indifference claim all of our waking moments. We forget the claim of Jesus on our lives when friends or co-workers invite us into compromising positions. We forget the joy of serving Jesus when we are exhausted from long days and nights at VBS and Camp Agape.
So – like Moses – God invites us up to the mountain as well. God invites us up to gain a new perspective on our life and faith and ministry and job and family. What drives you up the mountain today?
When Moses gets to the top of Mt. Nebo – the whole Promised Land spreads out before him in a glorious panorama. On a crystal blue sky day – with no smog or pollution or cataracts to hinder him – Moses sees all that God promised.
In the scripture passage that summarizes this moment – the writer records all that can been seen. In a zig zag manner – he follows Moses gave from one landmark to another. If you have a map in your Bible let me invite to turn over to it to get an idea of all Moses saw that day.
Immediately across the valley on the Western slope of the Jordan rift valley stood the city of Jericho, one of the oldest human settlements in the world. It is still known as a city of Palm trees. God then showed Moses all the land from Gilead in the south to Dan – all the way in the North near today’s Lebonan border. Dan was the first place Abraham had entered into the Promised Land. Then God showed him all of Naphtali – the Northern Galilee, Ephraim and Manasseh – the central highlands with their rolling hills and valleys; all Judah reaching to the Mediterranean Sea – including the mountains that would one day hold Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives and Bethlehem; the Negev – the southern desert wilderness and the plains which encircle Jericho, City of Palms, as far south as Zoar.
Moses came up to see the Promised Land – and it was even grander than he could ever have imagined. It was more spectacular than any family myth had remembered. From the perspective of Mt. Nebo – Moses regained God’s vision for the people of Israel. The Promised Land was no long a myth or a promise – it was here in front of Moses, ready to be received.
Mountaintop experiences help us to re-orient our lives around God’s vision for us as well. The mountaintop is the place we can go to get perspective on what we are doing. On the mountaintop, we can transcend ourselves to ask the important questions about ourselves and others. It’s a place we can see the patterns of the life.
Like Moses, our mountaintop experiences allow us to get a panoramic view of our lives – we can see better what we are doing, where we are going, and what stands in our way.
When we stand on the mountaintop, we see our family more completely. We see the joy that lies at the foundation of the daily chores and challenges – we remember the laughter we share and the love that bonds us.
When we stand on the mountaintop – we get a glimpse of our vocation – the passion and experiences that brought us to where we are. We rekindle the joy that started us on this journey.
When we stand on the mountaintop, we see the daily medical challenges that confront us differently. We see God molding us into the image of his son, as we walk each new day. We see more clearly our ultimate destination and the fear of death and dying slowly slip away.
Mountaintops reorient our lives and force us to look up off the sidewalk and catch God’s vision for our lives.
Like Moses, we must intentionally seek these mountaintop experiences. They begin in prayer as we meditate on scripture. They become intentional retreats at home or away from home. Our mountaintop experience may be a mission trip or Camp Agape, a spiritual get away or a morning at home with the Bible.
We must be willing to allow the presence of God to meet us in these moments for this re-orientation to take place. We can all climb a mountain of some fashion – but we have to be willing to see with the vision of God for that re-orientation to occur.
Finally, Moses doesn’t stay on top of Mt. Nebo. At some point, he has seen all that he can see and it’s time to return to the valley. If Mountaintops give us vision, the valleys give us life.
When the Cherokee and the old time pioneers first settled these Georgia Mountains, they didn’t build mountaintop cabins like we see today. They settled in the lowlands, the valleys and the river bottoms were the places that produced crops and offered constant water. Mountaintops offer vision, but we can never live there.
Moses returned to his tribe and his people and then died. He was full of vigor and vision till the very end.
I love the Oswald Chambers quote on the front of our Order of Worship.
“The mountaintop is an exceptional type of experience; we have to live down in the valley. After every time of exaltation we are brought down with a sudden rush into things as they are, where things are neither beautiful nor poetic nor spiritual nor thrilling. The height of the mountaintop is measured by the drab drudgery of the valley. We never live for the glory of God on the mount; we see His glory there, but we do not live for his glory there; it is in the valley that we live for the glory of God.” We descend the mountain to live for Jesus with a new vision
This is the Gospel for us today: From the mountaintop, God reorients our vision for our life in the valleys.
God has a path for you and your life. Roadblocks and barriers block our paths. On the mountain top, we begin to see with God’s eyes the direction and purpose of this path before us – with God’s vision these the barriers no longer seem as big, the path no longer feels as long, and joy suddenly descends into our lives again.
What part of your life does God need to re-orient today to help you begin walking God’s path and faith purpose again?
Over the past year, I have hike Mt. Yonah through every season. I love the Mount Yonah hike because it is a high reward hike. From the mountaintop, the whole Georgia Blue Ridge opens up before you – like a panorama of God’s handiwork. From the backside of Yonah I can look across the valleys and fields of white and Habersham Counties to see Chenocetah rise up on the horizon. All of the struggles and challenges of my life live in those valleys – but from the mountaintop, they no longer look imposing or impossible. Instead, they look small, feeble and doable. God meets me every time I struggle up that steep road on Yonah and re-orients again with a vision for life in the valley. He wants to do the same in your life today. Will you let him? Thanks be the God. Amen.
|Early Spring from Mt. Yonah|