The text from Deuteronomy 34 tells the story of Moses delivering the people of Israel to the edge of promise. Although he dies before entering the promise land, Moses guides them through 40 years in the desert and generations of maturation as a people of faith. They started with 600,000 people, now 2,000,000 are about to cross the Jordan River to Promise. God leads Moses up to Mt. Nebo's peak. From there Moses sees all the future territory. To the North, there is the Gilead range. Dan can be seen 100 miles away to the Northwest. 65 miles to the West is the Mediterranean Sea. To the South and southeast is the Negeb and the Plain of Jordan 50 miles away. Having seen it all, Moses dies there. He is buried in the Valley of Moab in a place no one knows, so that a shrine may not be constructed. Through all his soaring triumphs and bitter disappointments; public acclaim and private bitterness; Moses dies physically healthy and honored by all his people.
Of Moses, Eli Wiesel has written: "Moses, the most solitary and most powerful hero of Biblical history. The immensity of his task and the scope of his experience command our admiration, our reverence, our awe. His passion for social justice, his struggle for national liberation, his triumphs and his disappointments, his poetic inspiration, his gifts as a strategist and organizational genius, his complex relationship with God and with God's people, his condemnations and blessings, his bursts of anger, his silences, his efforts to reconcile the Law with compassion, authority and integrity - no individual ever, anywhere, accomplished so much, for so many people in so many different domains. Moshe Rabbeinum our Master Moses, incomparable and unequaled."
Today, we look over into promise. Your Long Range Plan was just ratified. We have needed similar gifts as those of Moses to reach this day. Poetic inspiration, a passion for social justice, triumphs and living through disappointments, reconciliation, anger, silence, compassion, balance of law and grace, strategy and organizational genius all find their way into this process and into the future vision called for in these goals. It will take our commitments of time, talent and treasure to reach these goals. To continue our prophetic ministry of justice, our educational excellence, our music and mission success stories are all a part of Goal #1. To achieve Goal #2 of "In Reach" will take the commitment of all of us. We need to grow in our relationships to one another and Jesus Christ. With over 1,200 people (men, women, children) on our rolls, we will need to organize effectively to touch each member's life well. We have members battling Alzheimer's Disease, childhood illnesses and conditions, cancers, mental and emotional health issues, life threatening issues, disabilities, and loneliness. We are spread over eight counties — some 20-25 miles (and more!) from the center of our life together. If we continue to lack effective organization to care for our membership, we will not reach this goal. Our other goals point to growth in stewardship, evangelism, organizational structures that work for us, youth ministry, and more space to do the ministry God is placing before us. It will take the spirit of Christ and effectiveness of Moses to cross over and reach these goals in the land of promise.
There is a Drumbeat in our region and in our nation against a theology of hope, tolerance and inclusion. The spirit we feel here is becoming an endangered theological species. Groups calling themselves Patriotic (which they are not), rather they have become idiotic — threaten the very democracy this congregation and this nation stand for and were founded upon. The extreme religious right is wrong. It is as simple as that. We are needed more now than ever before. That is why this plan and these goals are urgent, not merely important.
We are reminded in Matthew 6:19-21 that God has given us a gift in earthen vessels. We are the gift from God to one another and to others around us. We are asked by the passage where our treasures are. So, I ask you, what do you treasure? Where is your heart? What is precious to you? It is your spouse or life partner? Is it your significant other, your family — parents, siblings, children? This church? Her members? The values contained in our earthen vessels?
Today, wake up to the gift that God is giving you! Yesterday, Marie-Claire Alain, world renown organist, whose concert we will hear later today, said to me, "Rev. Ahrens, you have a beautiful church here, with two magnificent organs. Thank you for allowing me to play here." I was blown away by her gracious kindness. The truth she spoke resonates still. We do have a beautiful place here and we are the stewards of this place and this ministry. It is a gift to be here. I believe God has called each one of us here for a reason. We are here for a purpose. There is no mistake in our presence together at First Church. There are only "God Incidents," no coincidences.
This week discover the unseen gift of God within you — an earthen vessel of God's love. This week, do these five things once each day to express the gift of God within you. First, thank someone for doing a thankless job. Second, write a note or an email of thanks to someone for who they are or what they do. Third, each day, make a list of what you have received from others today (ie. I received a call from a friend, my child scraped the frost off the windows of my car this morning; my wife cooked a meal and we sat down to eat together, my husband took out the garbage). Fourth, practice thanksgiving. See how many times today you can say "thank you," or "how kind of you." Fifth, discover the unseen gift. What have I failed to see? What is happening right in front of me that is a gift and I have failed to acknowledge that gift or see it?
The Promise and the Gift. Today, we stand on the edge of God's Promise for our future. As we move forward in faith, remember that God has also given us a Gift in earthen vessels to fulfill the promise. How will we respond to God's Promise and Gift? I am eager to find out on the journey ahead. Amen.
Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church