Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 1, 2020
“We’ll Get There”
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12 – The Message
Moses climbed from the Plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah facing Jericho. God showed him all the land from Gilead to Dan, all Naphtali, Ephraim, and Manasseh; all Judah reaching to the Mediterranean Sea; the Negev and the plains which encircle Jericho, City of Palms, as far south as Zoar.
4 Then and there God said to him, “This is the land I promised to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the words ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I’ve let you see it with your own eyes. There it is. But you’re not going to go in.”
5-6 Moses died there in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of God, just as God said. God buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth Peor. No one knows his burial site to this very day.
7-8 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eyesight was sharp; he still walked with a spring in his step. The People of Israel wept for Moses in the Plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.
9 Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. The People of Israel listened obediently to him and did the same as when God had commanded Moses.
10-12 No prophet has risen since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face. Never since has there been anything like the signs and miracle-wonders that God sent him to do in Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to all his land—nothing to compare with that all-powerful hand of his and all the great and terrible things Moses did as every eye in Israel watched.
On the night before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to the hopes and dreams of striking sanitation workers in Memphis – mistreated and underpaid, working for 65 cents an hour with malfunctioning equipment that had just killed two fellow garbage collectors. The city treated these men like they were expendable. They responded by marching with signs that read “I Am a Man.” By marching with them, King was accused of muddying the waters, diluting the cause. Why are you standing with striking workers when racial justice is still such a pressing issue? He responded: what good is the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford the cost of lunch.
On that April night in 1968 before he was killed, Dr. King ended his speech by invoking the vivid imagery of Moses standing on the mountaintop. Moses was 120 years old, looking over the land that he and the wandering Israelites had been seeking for 40 years. In Memphis that night, Dr. King wasn’t even 40 years old when he spoke these haunting words:
VIDEO – Watch clip of MLK’s Mountaintop speech on YouTube.
(Here are the words if you prefer: "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen 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. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.")
“I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will” get there. It is, of course, eerie, knowing Dr. King said those words on the eve of his murder. And so fundamentally unfair. Unfair that Dr. King wouldn’t live to see more progress toward his dream. Or maybe he wouldn’t have wanted to see how much has not changed. In some ways, the issue he addressed that night, economic inequality, and the racial wealth gap, is even worse.
I could quote all kinds of statistics, but one line stuck out from 2014: The average employee "needs to work more than one month to earn what the average CEO makes in one hour." Legend has it that Jeff Bezos makes $150,000 a minute. Whether that’s true or not, we have certainly heard billionaires complain that unemployment benefits for minimum wage workers are too generous.
Most people only know the last two minutes of the Mountaintop speech, as it’s known. Lost in the eloquence of its ending, King’s speech was about economic justice, personified in striking workers, part of the lead up to the Poor People’s Campaign a month later – a broad coalition across races. A movement that faltered without him. Why couldn’t he have lived to keep leading the people, pursuing the dream?
The same with Moses. Why was Moses, of all people, not allowed to enter the Promised Land? This has been argued for millennia, debated by scholars for centuries. He deserved that and much, much more. A gold watch, a parade, a cake for his retirement from 40 years as a chauffeur for a complaining, rebellious people. It’s such a bewildering end to the Great Liberation Narrative.
As we heard Karla read from the Book of Deuteronomy, God told Moses, “I’ve let you see it with your own eyes. There it is. But you’re not going in.” And then, Moses died there, a place where no one knows, “just as God said.” That’s how the Message translates verse 5. Other translations say, Moses died there, “at God’s command.” Like a takedown ordered by a mob boss, Soprano’s style? Which makes it sound like just more of God’s erratic, irrational behavior as of late, to which Moses had recently told God to calm down. But, on behalf of Moses, may I just say: That’s not fair.
Many sermons have been preached about Moses’ miraculous birth and rescue from the Nile, his call from a burning bush, his demand to Pharaoh to “let my people go,” his hand causing the sea to part and water to come from a rock… Many sermons have been preached about Moses carrying the Ten Commandments down from the mountain and how he had to put up with the constant bickering and complaining of the Israelites. But then, just as he peered into the Promised Land, the end? At God’s command?
So, is it possible that we think it’s unfair because we think this is a story about Moses? The Great Liberation Narrative really started when God heard the cries of the Hebrews from their slavery. Moses was called as an instrument of their freedom, but Moses didn’t free them. It wasn’t Moses’ power that scared Pharaoh. It wasn’t Moses’ arm that caused the sea to part. It wasn’t Moses who turned bitter water sweet.
It’s easy for leaders to think their accomplishments are about them, but the best leaders know it’s not about them. It’s about participating in a dream bigger than themselves. Dreamers like Dr. King and Moses are instruments of the dream but not the dream itself.
It’s God’s dream for the people. Like the prophet Jeremiah said, The Lord declares, “I know the plans I have in mind for you; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.” Plans for peace. A future filled with hope. Sit with that a minute…
God’s hopes and dreams are for a world that is more generous, loving, and kind. Or as we describe it – a world that is open, inclusive, just, and compassionate. I want to participate in that! I don’t want to be consumed with anger, frightened, filled with a desire to retaliate with bad behavior for bad behavior. I want a future filled with hope.
Dr. King said, “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.” The liberative dreams of Dr. King and Moses did not die with them. That’s part of what we celebrate when we remember our loved ones on All Saints Day. So long as we live, they too shall live. For their deeds continue in us.
Many explanations suggest that Moses died in an unknown place so that no one could set up a shrine to him, to honor his life instead of giving thanks to the giver of his life and the liberator of theirs. It still doesn’t seem fair to Moses. But the Great Liberation Narrative, which began before Moses, lives beyond Moses. And continues today. Pharaoh wasn’t a once and then. Pharaohs still try to rise and must still be confronted.
Dr. King had a lot of Pharaohs to confront. So, how could he have said, “I’m happy tonight? I’m not worried about anything.”
Not worried? Well, I know many of us are feeling a little worried this morning, worried about the outcome of Tuesday’s final day of voting. But not only the outcome. The potential for chaos and conflict. A protracted period of uncertainty and civil unrest. People taking up arms. And God forbid, violence.
Unfortunately, whether or not we can breathe a sigh of relief or we find ourselves unable to breathe, so overwhelmed by grief and terror, choking back tears… Regardless of the outcome and the aftermath, we know the forces of greed and hatred will not lay down defeated. White supremacy will not say, OK, the country voted. We concede.
No, no matter who wins, we must remain equally determined instruments of liberation, participants in the ongoing Great Liberation Narrative. We must be equally determined instruments for a future filled with hope, whether we celebrate the results or despair because of them. We must be equally determined instruments of light, no matter how dark the days get – whether it’s for the next few days or weeks or for years to come.
Just remember, however, the God who provided manna and quail and water from a rock while the people stumbled in the wilderness, that God of liberation and hope and light will stay with us as we journey onward too.
Watch VIDEO clip again
 Full text: https://www.afscme.org/about/history/mlk/mountaintop
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