Year A, Pentecost 20
In a sermon Martin Luther King said that “Life is a continual story of shattered dreams.” This was not the “I have a dream” speech that he gave on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. This line came from a sermon that he gave 5 years later, 15 years after he had taken a leadership role in the civil rights movement. The Biblical text he was preaching on was about King David and his dream of building a great temple. God did not want King David to build a temple and so it did not happen. While King David had many accomplishments in his life, this was one thing that remained unfinished, a dream that was never realized, at least not in his lifetime.
Our Old Testament reading for today is not about King David. This story comes before David. It is another great leader of the Jewish faith and the Christian faith as well, Moses. We have been hearing about Moses for several weeks now in our lectionary readings but we have only touched briefly on his life. We’ve had glimpses of it in our readings. We heard about the time when Moses was first called by God with a blaze of fire…a burning bush. From the bush God called to Moses and asked him to lead his people out of Egypt. He promised that the people would be led to a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that had been promised to them for generations.
Moses was not particularly excited about this assignment, but God promised that he would be with him the whole way, that he would lead him. So Moses did as he was asked…he led the people out of Egypt. It was not an easy escape. There were plagues. There were armies. There was a wall of water that they had to pass through. Yet even with all of that accomplished, there was no immediate entrance into land of milk and honey. Instead, the Israelites found themselves wandering in the desert. They faced starvation and insurrection. Moses dealt with their complaints. In the midst of the trials, he also had moments of joy and fulfillment. He witnessed God’s glory and received the Ten Commandments. But he was challenged again and again by very strong willed and frustrated people. He complained to God and was bitter at times. His sister died. His brother died. An entire generation passed as he led the people on a journey that felt more like a maze. But finally the end was near. They could see the Promised Land. Yet for Moses, it would remain slightly out of reach.
God told him as he stood on the mountain top, “I will give it to your descendants; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” This was not the first time God has told Moses that he would not reach the Promised Land. God had warned him and even gave him a reason. Yet the reason was murky…so murky that people have been debating it ever since. It was a small thing, perhaps an act of disobedience or even a brief moment where he lacked faith.
It is strange that one small act would outweigh all of the wonderful things that Moses had done; the sacrifices he made, the close relationship that he had with God. It has been a mystery for centuries why God would lead him to this place, show him this dream, but not even give him a moment in that land that he had been searching for—for over 40 years.
“Life is a continual story of shattered dreams.” There have been many people, great people—Godly people who have accomplished amazing things but died before they could see the fruits of their labor: Abraham Lincoln, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Gandhi…just to name a few. Their deaths are tragic and heart breaking. But their lives are inspiring stories. What makes these stories inspiring is that while their lives were cut short, their vision lived on. Those dreams that seemed shattered were resurrected by people who followed them…perhaps not completely resurrected, but new life was breathed into them.
Most of us might struggle to identify with these great saints. Our dreams might be on a smaller scale. Yet each person here has seen a dream that was shattered in some way. And we could let those shattered hopes and dreams break us, leaving us battered and beaten. Or we could take these pieces… pieces of our shattered dreams or even those dreams of people who came before and we can build something new.
When Martin Luther King spoke of shattered dreams, he was talking about King David and his own experience as well. While today’s reading is not the story of King David, Moses did pave the way for King David. He brought the people to the Promised Land, the land that King David would one day rule. Without his sacrifice and his obedience to God’s word, there would never have even been a dream of a temple. It would not have even been in the realm of possibility. One person’s shattered dream provided the pieces for another person’s temple…for God’s temple.
During the celebration of communion, there is a point where the priest holds up the host and says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Then the priest breaks the host. That breaking of the host is meant to remind us of Christ broken on the cross. It also reminds us of the way that we are broken. After these words the priest breaks up the host even further so it is 24 pieces, pieces that are then distributed to you, the body of Christ. We share in the brokenness of Christ and in some ways that makes Christ whole again because we have all shared in that as the body of Christ. In those same ways, we can share the broken pieces of our lives with one another and with God. That is one of the ways that we can find wholeness.
Moses might have never reached the Promised Land. He did not feel the land under his feet, but he saw it with his own eyes, with God right beside him. Not only that, but he knew that the people who he had led would experience that Promised Land. Sometimes that is what faith is about. It is about working with broken pieces—either our broken pieces or ones that other people have given up on. It is about placing our hopes in things that we may never see. But the important thing is that we never stop trying. Moses was told that he would never reach the Promised Land, but he never stopped walking and frankly, I don’t think he ever stopped hoping.
When he died, God buried him. The English just says that he was buried, but there was only one person (one being) with him on the mountain. God. While it might seem as though God punished him, the truth is that he was with him to the very end…even at death. Just try to picture that in your head, the Almighty God digging in the dirt and then with great care placing the body of Moses in the ground. That is how God cares for each of us. In turn he asks us to never give up…to take those broken pieces and build them into something new, something beautiful.