Sunday, October 25, 2020

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

"Living Our Legacy"

Pastor Scott Landis

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Finally! After liberating the Israelite captives from the imposed slavery of the Egyptians. After wandering in the wilderness for 40 LONG years. After all the life-sustaining provisions given by God of manna, quail, and water. And after receiving guidance on how best to build a beloved community based on the 10 Commandments, Moses reached the Promised Land. Finally!

Moving from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo to the top of Pisgah he looks over the beautiful vista that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was just about to reach his final destination – his life goal. [Pause] But here’s where it begins to get a little weird.

God shows Moses all that had been promised – a land flowing with milk and honey – a land filled with opportunity and hope – as far as the eyes could see, but then God said, “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” The story continues, “Then Moses, servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command.”

That’s it! No fanfare. No spectators. An uneventful death of God’s chosen leader.

The Israelites mourned Moses’ death for 30 days. But shortly after that – and all leaders should pay close attention to this – they shifted their allegiance to Joshua, son of Nun, whom Moses had laid hands upon thereby conferring authority of leadership. It doesn’t take long to move on does it?

It is Joshua who led God’s people into the Promised Land – a goal that Moses never achieved. [Pause]

And that is where I would like us to focus our attention today – on the difference between reaching or fulfilling the goals that we have set for ourselves as opposed to those which may go unfulfilled in our lives. [Pause]

I had the opportunity to spend a few days alone last week. It was my little get away as I reached a kind of milestone in my life. Now, I’m not saying that turning 65 is the biggest deal in one’s life, but between AARP and the Government – it kind of got my attention. I had planned on it being a time when family members would gather here in Maui to celebrate, but the pandemic changed all that. So, I decided this might be a good opportunity to spend some time alone in quiet reflection, reading, writing, and prayer. It was a real gift.

Among other things, when you spend some time in self-reflection, you begin to take stock of where you are in life. By looking back, I offered prayers of gratitude for all that I have been given and how I have lived. And then, by looking ahead, I offered prayers of hope as I thought through that which I would still love to do in my life.

But as I read this story of Moses, I am forced to confront a daunting reality. It can all end at a most unexpected time – so what WILL my legacy be? What have I achieved AND what will I have to let go for others to carry forward? [Pause]

You’ve heard me speak previously of “liminal space.” Just like the wilderness experience of Moses and the Israelites, liminal space is that “in-between” place – where we know what we know from the past – but we have no idea, really, about the future. Oh, we may have plans and designs on how we’d like things to go – but we really don’t know for certain. It’s where we find ourselves – to some degree – all the time, but, I think, even more so right now.

It’s in that liminal space – that wilderness – that I invite you to reflect today by asking the question – what have I accomplished in my living? What will my legacy be? And, can I live into my legacy?

I was fascinated to see a piece of my own legacy unfolding or evolving just a bit more this week as I learned of Pope Francis’ affirmation of gay and lesbian people in a recently released documentary. He took his affirmation a bit further by stating his belief that gay and lesbian folk are not only children of God, but ought to be given the same right to live in covenanted relationships as anyone else – though civil unions.

No matter how hard I worked on equal marriage rights initiatives, I never really believed we would achieve that goal. It was bitterly disappointing after working for months on the Proposition 8 campaign in California only to go down to defeat in 2008. But low and behold, Randy and I were able to celebrate 7 years of our marriage this past week, due in part, to that work and the work of countless others. And, now the Roman Catholic Church may follow suit? Amazing!

There are goals that we may see fulfilled in our lifetime, but there are others that may elude us. They may involve work that consumes much of our lives – that may bring us to the precipice where we can see the finished product – but we may not realize its completion in our lifetime.

I think of the work of naming and ending racism in all our relationships, or of violence – especially due to the proliferation of handguns which are completely unnecessary in our society, or of the increasingly damaging effects of climate change which, if left unabated, could be the end of our world as we know it. The issue of Hawaiian sovereignty or the call to respect the sacred grounds of places like Mauna Kea. There are many others you could name.

We can see the goal and we MUST do everything we can to reach it – but we may not cross over and realize the dream in our lifetime. [Pause]

You may remember, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used this very passage to reflect on his life and calling on the eve of his assassination. In words, now haunting, he understood the importance of living one’s legacy. Doing so may not conclude in fulfillment, but it does involve our full commitment.

As Moses understood, he had to work with both God and the people he was leading. Legacy is more than a personal endeavor. It involves being in covenant with God AND neighbor as we live what we are called to do. [Pause]

Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer captured this idea in a beautiful song she wrote a few years ago. In her song, If Not Now – When? We hear these words.

I may never see the Promised Land.

I may never see the Promised Land.

But it’s still worth taking the journey together – we’ll walk it hand and hand. [Pause]

I used to feel so sorry for Moses. I mean, how unfair. He did all that work but never reached the goal – but now I see it differently. When we live our lives in covenant – “walking hand in hand” with God and with our neighbor – we have already crossed over. We already live in the Promised Land.

There is work to be done – a whole lot of work for justice and peace throughout our land – and we are called to do our part – but we will more than likely not be able to do it all. Instead, we need to live our legacy – trusting in God’s plan.

Mahalo ke Akua – Thanks be to God.

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