"On Jordan's stormy banks I stand, and cast a wishful eye, to Canaan's fair and happy land, where my possessions lie....I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land, O who will come and go with me, I am bound for the promised land." (African-American Spiritual)
This week's lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures is located in the last chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. Moses is standing on Mount Pisgah which is also connected to Mount Nebo. God is allowing him to look into the Promised Land, across the River Jordan to all of the land that has been promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He sees the land that will be given to the people of the Twelve Tribes. It is the land of milk and honey, the land of many waters, a land of goodness that was described to him by the God who has led him to this point, a God that Moses has conversed with as "one friend talks to another". Moses is 120 years old and is about to die but he is not going into the Promised Land. He will die before getting there.
What must Moses have been thinking as he looked across the vast plains before him? What must the view have been like for him? What feelings must he have had as he sees the place that he will never explore? Perhaps he was feeling a bit melancholy or sad, having led the people called Israel from slavery in Egypt across the desert until they finally arrived at the place where they would find their home. Perhaps he was feeling tired, having walked so many miles and climbed many mountains and now needing rest. Perhaps he just sat down on a rock and rested and let out a sigh of relief that his own journey was almost finished.
Moses was lauded by the writers of Deuteronomy as being a prophet like no other. There would never be another one such as Moses. Even today Moses is held in great honor by followers of Judaism. The great acts of God in freeing the people of Israel from slavery and Moses' part in bringing this about is held up as the ultimate against which other acts are measured. It was God's mighty act of freedom of redemption that formed Israel into who they would become throughout their history.
I love to be on a high place and see the surrouding countryside below me. I have been to the Rocky Mountains and the Ozark Mountains and even the Alps in Europe. In all those places, when I have come upon a place where I could stop and look out over the countryside below me, I have been in awe of the great beauty that I have seen as my eyes have scanned all I could see. I remember one lookout in Germany when my wife and I were there two years ago. We were staying in the Black Forest in southwestern Germany and had taken an all day drive to explore the countryside. Suddenly, we came upon a scenic overlook. We parked the car and got out and began to look at the area below us. Little farms dotted the countryside. Small roads ran through the area and among the many trees. Cattle and goats and sheep were grazing here and there. We stood there for several minutes just admiring what we saw and wishing that we could look at the scene forever. How peaceful and tranquil it seemed!
Moses looked at a place that those who had followed him for those years would soon inhabit but he would not be going with them. He was looking into the future that they would possess. We do that all the time in our churches if we attempt to plan for the future. We try to visualize what it may be like in the future, perhaps by a certain year, and then do long range planning to try to have goals to aim for as we attempt to do ministry into the future. Sometimes the goals are easily attained but there are other ones for which we must carefully plan and perhaps even save money or raise funds for so that they can be accomplished. It is necessary, though, to have goals for the future or we will be like the children of Israel wandering in the desert for those forty years, not making much progress and going in circles.
"Without a vision, the people perish" so says the proverb. That is true in our personal lives as well as in the organizations to which we belong. Where will you be in ten years? in twenty years? What will you be doing? What are your hopes for the future? How will you bring them about? Churches and individuals must answer those questions if they want to have direction for their lives and groups. We are always on the edge, on the cusp of the future. We must learn to have eyes of faith that will look into the years to come and see what we can only see by visualizing what can be and planning to achieve it.