Last chapter of Deuteronomy:
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.
Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.
Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
Joshua Installed as Leader
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them —to the Israelites.
The king is dead, long live the king. – that is the cry from the royal court when a monarch dies and the heir to the throne takes over his or her mantle. It is a cry which speaks of continuity, of stability, of “no change” here – life will go on as it is – no upset, no crisis. To give assurance to the people that they will not be disturbed by this change.
But…That is not what is being presented in this reading here. We are going to look at how the death of Moses heralds a tumultuous sea change for the people of Israel. It marks a profound alteration in their lifestyle, in their working, in their worship and in their relationship with God.
The church here and across Scotland is being urged, encouraged, coaxed and cajoled into assessing how to change, how to recapture our Mission – how to demonstrate the Kingdom of God, to make disciples of Jesus Christ, to seek out what is the Church of Christ in 2021, and how does it connect with our society and community.
As in the time of Moses death – this is not a time for continuity, for stability, for “no change” here.
So how does this transition from Moses to Joshua guide us at this time we are in now?
Moses is the hero of the Jews, he led them out of slavery and through the desert. They were rebellious, they wanted to go back to the “comfort” and security of slavery, they complained about food, about water, about travelling, about God’s guidance, about God’s laws. They sloped off to find other gods, they were frightened, confused, and they moaned a lot – and Moses held them together as they circled around the Desert
But Moses was the right man to keep them going – and God looked after them – he really spoilt them in the desert. He led them clearly where to go and when to stop. Cloud and fire went before them. Moses could go and talk to Him – They didn’t have any doubts about the direction they were going. He fed them with Manna- every day, he gave them a treat like the flock of Quaill when they moaned about the Manna. They were looked after, they knew what was expected of them, they were in a routine which did not challenge them to change – merely to keep going as they were. Moses’ task was to keep them moving along with God until he had a people who were ready and able to change – to actually go into their promised land.
Moses took them to the start of a new stage in the life of their community – to the edge of a new adventure, a new way of living. Moses looked after them in the continuity of the desert – but Joshua would take them into uncertainty, conflict, danger and yet ultimately into triumph. Joshua led them into battles, into strife and discomfort, but ultimately into the land promised by God.
The pillar of fire and cloud were gone – they had to look to find what God wanted, they had to plan and think, they had to trust that God was with them – that was no longer obvious. The manna was gone, they had to hunt and forage and barter and steal food from the countryside – they had to work at living as God’s people.
They had to learn to listen to God, to be alert to His guidance. And when they did – they had tremendous successes and blessings – think of the walls of Jericho, of the amazing victories against much bigger armies – but when they tried to do things without God, they had disasters and defeats, setbacks and confusions.
God was teaching them a new type of dependence on Him. God was still with them but He wanted them to listen out for His guidance, to be trusting that He was there, even when they couldn’t see Him, and he wanted them to live and move forward in His way – not in their in own strength, but in His power, not with their own agendas, but with His.
The Israelites were learning a new, stronger relationship with God, built on trust and understanding, on seeking and action, not on the cloud and fire presence of God in the desert, showing them exactly what to do, and where to go, but on living out plans and actions – seeking out and then trusting in His will.
I think that the church in Scotland, in Mid Argyll, is being moved by God into a new phase – a new way of trusting God. As the Israelites were taken out of the comfort and routine of the desert into the uncertainty and challenges of a campaign of invasion, so our churches are being moved by God out of the routine and tradition of Sunday worship for the few, out of the certainty of regular meetings, out of depending on a parish minister to look after all our spiritual needs, out of waiting for people to choose to come and join us – into a new way of being church – a way which has uncertainty at its core, a way that requires us to seek and to search out God’s guidance, – a way that drives us to trust Him as he asks us to take on novel or uncomfortable projects, or coaxes us to welcome new and unexpected neighbours.
The people under Joshua grew into a new relationship with God – a relationship based on Trust during uncertainty, based on assurance during adversity, and based on seeking His guidance when they were at a loss what to do. All this drew them closer to God as they sought out the promised land.
The church in Scotland has the same challenge and the same opportunity – to grow into a new relationship with God, as we seek to trust Him as we try to plan for the future of the Gospel in our communities, as we get to know the assurance of His presence when we struggle for ways of introducing Jesus to the next generations, as we pray and ask for guidance as to how to connect into our communities, to share the Gospel with people who have no idea what the church is about. The time in the desert is passed – we are being led into new territories, a new landscape and we need to be going into this unknown landscape seeking out God’s plans and seeking the ways forward for His Kingdom.