Pentecost – Proper 25
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12; Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17; I Thessalonians 2: 1-8; Matthew 23: 34-46
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Our reading from Deuteronomy this morning tells the final moments of Moses’ life,where he dies just before the Hebrew people finally enter the land promised to them by God.
The fact that Moses dies before entering the Promised Land is very significant. Here is Moses, the most successful Hebrew leader up to that point – he followed God’s call to liberate the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt, he spent forty years of his life in the desert with the Hebrew people. That’s almost forty years of non-stop complaining he had to listen to.
Yet, Moses is not allowed to enter – he can only look at it from a distance atop a mountain. All that he has worked for - everything he has done – and it doesn’t seem that he gets to enjoy the fruit of his labor, by watching his people enter the land God promised them.
Many years ago I watched a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks slowly create intricate designs out of multi-colored sand on the floor of a museum. The patterns were beautiful in their detail. I learned that these circular designs are called mandalas. A week or so later I returned to the museum where I saw the monks working. I was excited to see the final and completed work of art. It would be a magnificent sight, I told myself. When I arrived, the monks, and the mandala they so tirelessly worked on, were gone.
A curator at the museum explained to me that mandalas were not created to be permanent. After the monks finished, after all those hours of detailed work, the sand thy arranged with such focus, dexterity, and effort, was swept away. “What do you mean they sweep it all away?” I asked. The curator patiently explained that what matters with the mandala is not its beauty, but rather its creation, and release.
We tend to see God’s prevention of Moses’ entering the Promised Land as unfortunate. I have learned to see it differently, as an act of God’s mercy. Moses’ God-given purpose was not to arrive there, it was the journey itself. That was his job.
Was it all for nothing? All those days in the wilderness, the building of the tabernacle, the great tent that contained the Ark of the Covenant within it, the establishment of the priesthood - - all of this Moses oversaw. Of course it wasn’t. Upon the top of that mountain, near his death, Moses released all he had worked for, all the people, their religion; he released it like the sand of the mandala, into the air. What an act of mercy! Moses wasn’t punished by God – he was freed.
Much of our life is spent in pursuits we will not likely be privileged to see the results of.
Our lives, even when we reach the end, will still be incomplete. This is not a tragedy. It is holy; indeed it is holy to not see the fruit of our labor. Because then we entrust our work to God in faith, as Moses did. And when we let go of what we do, when we release it, it becomes God’s work – and it is there that new life always begins. AMEN.