April 18, 2021 – “Seeing the Promised Land”
Grace and peace to you!
Today is Native American Ministries Sunday in the United Methodist Church.
Did you know that the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, which is affiliated with the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church, has 81 churches in Oklahoma, three in Kansas, one in Missouri, and one in Dallas, Texas?
That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?
Today, we’ll have the opportunity to help develop and strengthen Native American ministries in Oklahoma and across the country through a special offering.
The offering also provides scholarships for Native Americans attending United Methodist schools of theology.
Thank you for considering this to be worthy of your financial suport
Our Call to Worship:
Like the blood which unites one family,
all things are connected.
Our God is the same God for all people,
Our God’s compassion is equal for all.
We did not weave the web of life,
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web,
we do to ourselves.
Let us give thanks and praise for the
web and the circle that connects us.
Thanks be to God, the God of all.
We are here to worship the Lord!
Let’s dedicate ourselves, and our worship to God through prayer before we sing our first praise song, “Shout to the Lord” The lyrics will be on the screens.
There are many different kinds of beautiful landscapes in our country. Beaches, canyons, and river valleys are striking in their own way. But mountains? Mountains seem to draw us to themselves like no other part of nature.
The snow capped mountaintops of Colorado can be seen rising out of the plains for miles. Their imposing vastness and mystery serves as a distant beacon calling us onward as we drive toward them from the Oklahoma Panhandle or the flat farmland of Kansas.
Climbing mountains lifts our spirits and offers magnificent panoramic views. Even in Tulsa, from Turkey Mountain, or the top of Chandler Park, a person can witness a view that includes all the way north as far as Osage County and downtown, west to Sand Springs, and then follows the Arkansas River as it winds far to the south.
In the Bible, mountains are more than just breathtaking scenery. For the biblical writers, mountains held special significance. Rising up from the arid landscape, they invaded heavenly territory, providing a place between the human realm and the divine realm.
When Noah’s ark first touched dry land, it was at the top of Mount Ararat. When Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, he was on top of Mount Sinai. In Matthew and Mark’s Gospel’s, Jesus’ transfiguration takes place on a “high mountain.”
Holy things tended to happen on mountains in the Bible.
The trip Moses took to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that we read about this morning in the 34th Chapter of Genesis; is actually the second time God gives him a view of the land of Canaan.
In the 3rd Chapter of Genesis, God tells Moses to go to the top of Pisgah and to look all around at the land.
God firmly tells Moses that he will not enter the land, but that Joshua will lead the people into the land….Moses protests, but God is adamant.
On this second trip to the mountaintop, Moses sees a view like no other. The narrator tells us that Moses saw all the way to the north as far as Dan, west as far as the Mediterranean Sea, southwest to the Negev, and down to the southern tip of the Dead Sea.
The view that the biblical narrator describes isn’t physically possible. The thing is, Moses saw more than geography. He saw destiny. Moses saw more than real estate; he saw the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Way back in Exodus 3, during Moses’ encounter at the burning bush, God promised Moses:
“I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey”
That’s the view God showed Moses from the mountaintop…He is being shown a perfect panoramic picture of God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel.
Moses saw the payoff for all the years of hard work and sacrifice. His stand-off with Pharaoh had been trying. Leading God’s people across the Red Sea, and then 40 years of wandering in the desert had not been easy.
He has been Moses the Liberator, Moses the Lawgiver, Moses the Teacher, Moses the Patriarch, Moses the Mediator, and Moses the Servant Leader.
He has led a nation of people who have had plenty of doubts and questions as the years stretched into decades. He has had to plead with God to provide, protect and be patient with them.
God has brought them through whatever trials they have faced…And it is almost unbelievable that after all that…Moses doesn’t get to reach the goal that he has been walking toward for so many years.
When you get right down to it…that seems more than a little unfair.
How could God be so inflexible?
You have to wonder why God could not show mercy, forgive Moses, and let him enter the land. And now, all that Moses can do is look out on the land of promise, the land of milk and honey from a distance…
He will never set foot in the Promised Land.
He will never drink the refreshing water of the streams, never taste the succulent olives or the juicy figs. He will never watch the wheat and barley ripen or smell the fresh bread made from them.
For Moses himself, the years of drudgery do not pay off. Moses does the hard work; someone else will enjoy the bounty of the Promised Land.
When it comes to the Lord’s ways, there are things we cannot know or understand.
But, from God’s perspective, perhaps it was simply time for a leadership change.
In Moses, God had hand-picked one of the most unlikely people on earth to be His hands, feet, and voice.
Moses had lots of excuses to offer when he received his God-given call at the burning bush. After killing an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave, Moses became a fugitive from justice. Now, he’s on Egypt’s Top Ten Most Wanted List.
He once lived in the luxury of Pharaoh’s palace, now he sleeps under the stars as a shepherd in the barren north forty of Midian.
He’s shy, he has a speech impediment, he’s too old…But somehow, God worked it all out, and worked though the imperfections of Moses the man…
That’s usually how God works best anyway…Through people who feel so unworthy and ill-equipped that all they can do is trust the Lord to work through them.
Moses did the best he could with the tools he had. God had been with him every step of his life’s journey.
Moses will not cross over himself, but God assures him that his descendants will possess the land. By chapter 34, Moses appears to have accepted God’s decision not to let him enter the land.
But, you have to wonder what Moses was thinking as he took in the view from the mountain.
For forty years the wilderness wandering had continued. Now it was done. Soon the people would make a new home for themselves. As Moses looked back, it must have struck him how unlikely this all had been, and the only explanation could be that it was all in God’s hands all along.
Perhaps Yahweh might even be called The God of the Unlikely:
• It was unlikely that Moses should have survived infancy, but God protected him…the God of the unlikely;
• It was unlikely that a Hebrew child would be made a member of the Egyptian royal family, but God arranged it…the God of the unlikely;
• It was unlikely that a prince would become a shepherd, learning what it took to care for an unruly flock (whether it be sheep or people), but God provided…the God of the unlikely;
• It was unlikely that a tongue-tied, stammering 80-year-old would to overwhelm a reluctant ruler, or inspire a nation of slaves, but God was behind it…the God of the unlikely;
• It was unlikely that a people could survive as witless wilderness wanderers for forty years, but God protected…the God of the unlikely.
All the way through the scriptures that guide us, the message is hammered home again and again.
“Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Doesn’t that seem UNLIKELY?.
“The greatest among you must become like the youngest,
and the leader like one who serves.”
The Savior of the world comes as a humble infant….Again, UNLIKELY.
The message in all this is very simple: God chooses, and God uses people and events that are often utterly beyond human comprehension.
The story of Moses teaches us something important about ministry. Moses was part of something bigger than himself.
Moses led the people of Israel through the wilderness so that others could experience a blessing. As I mentioned, Moses learns as early as chapter 3 of Deuteronomy that he will not enter the promised land himself.
Regardless of that disappointment, Moses preaches his sermons to the people, exhorting them to continue to obey God. He knew he would not go into the land himself, but he wanted the mission to continue.
And now, at the end of Moses’ career, God has hand-picked Joshua to take over the leadership reins.
Moses teaches us that ministry is something we give to others.
Ministry is bigger than our own needs, our own blessings…That is because the message is far bigger and more important…than the messenger is.
That is why the Lord our God, in His divine wisdom, works best through the most unlikely people in the Bible, and throughout history.
UNLIKELY is a black preacher’s son who becomes a preacher himself a changes the racial face of this nation – not a military leader or powerful politician, a preacher. Unlikely.
It is interesting that just before his murder, Martin Luther King, Jr. harked back to the story of Moses. In the spring of 1968, and Dr. King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to lead a demonstration in support of higher wages for the garbage collectors of that city. At a rally on April 3rd, the day before he was gunned down on that motel balcony, he said,
“I don’t know what will happen now. We have got difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. Like anyone else, I want to live a long life. But I’m not concerned with that. I just want to do God’s will and He has allowed me to go up the mountain. I see 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. I am happy tonight that I am not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
No, Dr. King did not make it. He died outside the Promised Land of racial justice.
He could see the land, but he never got there himself. It was the same with Moses.
UNLIKELY is a man who is about to turn 50 and feels a stirring in his soul. It’s more than a mid-life crisis, he’s been through that before, and he knows this is different.
Through a series of God-ordained events and encouragers, the man hears God’s voice calling his name, almost as if from a burning bush.
The man goes through a year-long discernment process with a mentor that leads to candidacy and then…answers the voice from the bush, “You’ve got to be kidding, Lord! I don’t know how to do that! I’m not able. I’m not worthy…”
“But, Lord, if that is your will; “Here I am! Send me!…Let it be with me, just as you say.”
Then out of the blue, without any ministry experience whatsoever…the man is sent to be the pastor of a small Methodist church on Tulsa’s Westside.
And over the course of fifteen years he learns that the most fulfilling thing we’ll ever do on this earth…is to be fully engaged in something that is bigger than ourselves!
The Hollywood ending to Moses’ life would have him marching triumphantly ahead of his grateful people as they enter Canaan, accompanied by a full-throated score played by soaring strings, crashing cymbals, and the rumble of drums.
But no…Moses would not cross over. In his one hundred and twentieth year, Moses died there on the mountaintop, and was buried in some secret place known only to God. One more unlikely twist to the story.
Theresa and I have gone through a considerable amount of conversation over the last couple of years about how and when to retire from full-time ministry.
We want you to know that we just want to do God’s will.
She and I are convinced that it was all the Lord’s doing that led us here. God had a plan, and it has been magnificent!
But God has an even better plan for the future of this church.
If Theresa and I REALLY believe that it was the Lord’s plan for us to serve here, then we MUST ALSO believe that God has hand-picked a Joshua who is waiting in the wings…To lead you across the Jordan, and into the Land of Promise.
I have seen it, and I will not get there with you, but I want you to know today…that this church will most certainly get there!
The mission MUST continue!
Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Mount Pisgah east of Jericho, and there the LORD showed him the whole land: the territory of Gilead as far north as the town of Dan; the entire territory of Naphtali; the territories of Ephraim and Manasseh; the territory of Judah as far west as the Mediterranean Sea; the southern part of Judah; and the plain that reaches from Zoar to Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then the LORD said to Moses, “This is the land that I promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob I would give to their descendants. I have let you see it, but I will not let you go there.” So Moses, the LORD ‘s servant, died there in the land of Moab, as the LORD had said he would. The LORD buried him in a valley in Moab, opposite the town of Bethpeor, but to this day no one knows the exact place of his burial. Moses was 120 years old when he died; he was as strong as ever, and his eyesight was still good. The people of Israel mourned for him for thirty days in the plains of Moab. Joshua son of Nun was filled with wisdom, because Moses had appointed him to be his successor. The people of Israel obeyed Joshua and kept the commands that the LORD had given them through Moses.