For the last six weeks, we’ve been learning about Moses, the Reluctant Prophet. Now, Moses didn’t stay reluctant. He may have started off unsure, a world away from where God wanted him to go, but Moses’ life has shown that he didn’t stay reluctant.
Eventually, when God spoke to Moses, Moses started saying yes. And saying yes to God has led Moses and his people, the Israelites, to places they could hardly have imagined. Throughout this time, Moses is far from perfect. In fact, it’s written that God told Moses that Moses wasn’t going to the Promised Land with everybody else because of Moses’ own hard-headedness and hard-heartedness. He had taken credit for the work God had done in sustaining this wandering people, and according to the telling, Moses’ pride kept him from the Promised Land.
But God didn’t let Moses live a whole life without a vision of the Promised Land.
Today, we’re talking about the end of this part of the story – not the whole story, because the whole story involves thousands of years into the present day. But the end of this part of the story that involves Moses and the Promised Land that he envisioned.
And after we talk about the Promised Land for a bit, we’re going to spend some time in what’s called a guided visioning process, where we’re going to do some of the holy imagining that will prepare us to enter the Promised Land, ourselves.
We’re going to the book of Deuteronomy, which is basically Moses’ final instructions to his people. He had led the Israelites out of Egypt, out to the Jordan River, and then just east of the Promised Land – a place where God said the Israelites would dwell. But Moses, God said, would not be able to enter the Promised Land with the rest of his people. This was the same Promised Land that God foretold to Abraham and Jacob – patriarchs of the Israelites before Moses’ time.
So Moses inherits the same promise. The same Promised Land.
After God asked Moses to lead the Israelite people out of Egypt – to bring a formerly enslaved people out of harm’s way, out of bondage, and into freedom… God then asks Moses to bring them to a place where they can worship – where they can be in right relationship with each other and with God.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God[b] that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. – Deut. 30:15-20
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there. – Deut. 34:1-4
Moses saw the Promised Land – not in person, and not because he arrived with the rest of the Israelites, but in a vision given by God. In this vision, Moses could see where his people were heading, even if it had to be without him.
The Promised Land, Moses knew, isn’t just a home – a set of coordinates – though for a people who’d been enslaved for generations and who were then without a permanent home for generations more, maybe that would’ve seemed like enough.
And we can’t talk today about Promised Lands without acknowledging and holding in prayer the refugees and asylum seekers around the world that this nation continually demonizes, casts out, and turns away. Or the immigrants who live here uncertain that the homes they built are truly safe. Theirs is a Promised Land deferred and withheld. And ours is no Promised Land either until they – our neighbors, our siblings, are safe.
Our lives are paved with the dreams – the visions of those who didn’t live to see the Promised Land but who had received a vision nonetheless and led their people to that place where the vision begins.
I had a pastor once – her name was Nancy – and she was given a vision of the Promised Land. She had a dream for a radically inclusive church in Hartford, Connecticut. I come from the conservative evangelical world, where “radically inclusive” sometimes gets misconstrued as “not Christian.”
But Nancy had been given a vision of the Promised Land. A place where those from evangelical expressions of faith can feel at home and can also be a part of a faith movement that’s larger than themselves.
And so, in 2008, she built it. To this day, Riverfront Family Church is the only LGBTQ-inclusive evangelical church in New England that we know of and that Nancy knew of. My wife Hayli and I found our way to Nancy’s church in 2014, and we belonged to that church until we moved here to Portland.
Although she had a comfortable career in the business world, Nancy received a call to ministry. Like Moses, she inclined her ear to the voice of God. And God told her of a beautiful Promised Land: a beloved community where all of us, rich and poor, of all races and sexual orientations and genders and faith backgrounds, could worship Jesus together and enjoy equal dignity.
Nancy planned for the church that God had called her to lead. She grew it, tended to it, and loved it. It became a spiritual home to those of us who were there, and it was a place where many of us healed from past evangelical church experiences where we had been cast out or told that we were too little or too much.
At Riverfront, I began to catch the vision, too, of the Promised Land that Nancy envisioned. I started to see the possibility of a spiritual home for those who sought one. I started wanting to build this thing for which God had given Nancy a vision.
Nancy got to watch this vision of the Promised Land unfold for 8 years. She worked to grow her church deep and wide. In her last year of life, which could have been just the midpoint of her ministry because she was still young – only 58, she lost more and more mobility to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This is a fatal and rare illness, and most folks don’t get more than 3 years to live with this diagnosis.
In that last year, Nancy got to pass on this vision to three co-pastors who would carry on the vision God first gave to her. One of them is her daughter. The other two have been deeply involved in that church from its infancy.
In that last year, newcomers came to Riverfront. Babies were born. Children were adopted. The Spirit kept showing up where we were gathered. And Nancy finished her ministry in November 2016, when she passed away.
We said this Common Purpose statement together at the end of each worship service: Now let us go forth into the world full of faith in a God who loves us all, following Jesus our Lord, striving towards good, loving one another, rejoicing in God’s Presence, and using our gifts to make earth more like heaven.
Nancy’s vision of the Promised Land is one that she passed on to us – to those who were a part of Riverfront. Like Moses, Nancy trusted in the holy imagination that bore the vision of a Promised Land never before seen.
For Moses, the Promised Land was similarly within reach, yes, and God gave Moses a vision of it. It was a place – a valley just beyond where the Israelites were, and if Moses could just get to the mountaintop, God would give him the vision. But the Promised Land is also the kin-dom of God. It is earth as it is in heaven.
The Promised Land was, on one hand, a home, a place where the Israelites could exercise basic freedoms, where they could care for themselves and provide a safe, sufficient home for their children…
And the Promised Land is also the community of faith that Moses and the Israelites belonged to – a state of community.
Moses knows about this Promised Land – and it isn’t new to him – because it was promised the same to his ancestors. “Choose life,” God had said to Moses, “so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
And we know that the Promised Land to which we belong, the state of beloved community, the paradise of right relationship with each other and with God, is not new to us, because it was promised the same to our spiritual ancestors.
Now, we are on the mountaintop. Here, God invites us to see what comes next. We are invited to unleash our imagination, our holy imagination, to envision for the context of our communities, our church, our setting, what the Promised Land could be.
The church is often described as the body of Christ. People say that Jesus now has no hands but ours, no feet but ours, no mouth but ours. And that means that the work Jesus did in his lifetime – the work of representing who God is, the work of healing and challenging and being in community with each other, we do that work now.
The Promised Land, then, is the place where all the parts of the body of Christ are healed, are recognized for their worth, and are in right relationship with each other. In the context of our communities, our church, our setting, what does that Promised Land look like?
We are now going to transition into what’s called a guided visioning process to help us harness that holy imagination. I’ve adapted this process from a pastor and scholar named Dory Baker from the Forum for Theological Exploration.
As many of you may know, HopeGateWay will soon be undertaking a process of gathering and evaluating the dreams of each of us for what this community can be. What we’re doing is mapping where our community needs to go to get to the Promised Land of our own context: the best HopeGateWay that we can be – the best community where all the pieces of the body are in right relationship with God and with each other. What we’re going to do now is designed to kick-start that process.
This visioning process should take about ten minutes. It’s a kind of meditation. Every part of it is totally voluntary. Please modify it for what your body wants. We’re going to encounter a vision of the future. But it’s okay if you see nothing. This is one way, only, and not the only way.
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Feel the top of your head, the space between your eyes, your cheekbones, your lungs, your belly, your hips, your legs, your feet. Hear your breath. Notice how it lengthens as you relax. You are in today.
Now, imagine before you a door. On the other side of that door is the Promised Land. You can choose to imagine that you are going through the doors of HopeGateWay or of any other place. Or you may be going through a door outdoors. Notice what this door looks like.
Plant your feet in front of you. Keep your eyes closed. Now, we’re going to leave our current-day self behind. Carefully, if you want to, with your body, stand up. Carefully, you’re going to open the door. Extend one arm to the doorknob of the door. Slowly turn the doorknob. Push the door open.
Now, carefully again, take one step forward from today through that door and into the future, where the Promised Land is. Now, you are standing in the Promised Land, where it is on earth as it is in heaven.
Stay where you are, with your eyes closed, with both feet planted, and turn your head to the left and then to the right as many times as you’d like. What do you see? What do you hear? Who is there? What are they doing? What do you smell?
Stay where you are, and with your eyes still closed, turn your head to look backward at your current self sitting in the seat behind you. That’s you from today.
Now, with eyes still closed, look at yourself. I want you to think about all you experienced in the future – in the Promised Land. And think about what your current self needs to know about how to get to the Promised Land and what you’ll find there.
Now, either quietly or silently, tell your current self what they need to know.
Now, we have to go back. Take one more look. One more deep breath of the air of the Promised Land.
When you’re ready, step back through that door with your body, reach out and close the door, return to the present, and sit back down. When you’re ready, open your eyes.
Now, take that piece of paper under your seat and write down what you, your current self, heard from your future self in the Promised Land. What was their advice, and what did they think you needed to know to get to the Promised Land?
Write this down, and when you’re ready or during Communion, please take your piece of paper and fasten it to one of the clips at the mirrors. We’ll take another minute to write, and then we’ll sing.