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Deuteronomy 30.15-20; 34.1-8

A Drone’s-Eye View

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Our neighbor across the street got a new toy last Christmas, and we have been – well, not playing with it, but enjoying it periodically ever since.  Late last January I received a message from Christina Bloch Goldberg, and it contained a stunning set of photographs of our church building from a rare vantage point – it was a bird’s-eye view, or more accurately, it was a drone’s-eye view of our church.  We’ve shared many of Christina’s photos with you since then, as she has been kind enough to send them along to me when she has the occasion.  The one on our bulletin cover this morning is one of the latest, although my favorite is one that Mari sent you while I was away last month; it showed the church, the rising full moon to the east with Venus looking over her shoulder, and the long fading shadows created by the setting sun in the west.   Christina has a good eye, and I’m so grateful that she shared with us a view of the church that we would not otherwise have the chance to see.

The passage from Deuteronomy that Peg read this morning is the conclusion of Moses’ farewell speech to the Hebrew people.  The long forty-year journey through the wilderness was nearly over, and the people stood poised at the cusp of the promised land – Canaan, soon to become Israel.  But Moses knew he would not be crossing over with them; he was near death, and he was about to pass the torch to Joshua.  But it was important to him that this one final time he fix Israel’s gaze on the God who sustained them through the long journey.  Ronald Clements, Professor of Old Testament at King’s College London calls this farewell speech “a brilliant example of the rhetorician’s art… studied from the perspective of its rhetorical techniques and stylistic devices it stands out as among the finest dramatic compositions of the Old Testament.”  I have to agree with Dr. Clements; Moses’ farewell address soars with majesty:

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in God’s ways and observing the 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 or possess… I call heaven and earth to witness… today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying and holding fast; for that means life to you and length of days.”

And with these words, Moses work was done.

Our second reading this morning reveals the scope of Moses’ final vision: like our bulletin cover this morning, Deuteronomy 34 might also be considered a drone’s-eye view of Israel’s inheritance, of her future, even though God somehow neglected to provide Moses with a drone.  From Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, “the Lord showed [Moses] 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 [desert], and the Plain – that is, the valley of Jericho… as far as Zoar.”  (Parenthetically, Dan, Naphtali and Mt Nebo all have a central part in Mormon history and faith, as I learned on my study break last month, which I’ll share with you in the early part of the next year.)  Of all that land, of all that territory, as far as the eye could see,  God said to Moses, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob,  saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’”  In his final moments just before death, Moses beheld the long-promised land.

I chose these two passages from the end of Deuteronomy this morning because of the power of Moses’ words, and the expanse of his vision.  This is the third and last of our Stewardship sermons this fall, and I wondered what it might be for us to expand our vision as well.  The church’s habit at stewardship season is to focus on the budget, which we’ll do at next Sunday’s Congregational meeting, to consider things like paying our bills and providing salaries, building maintenance and our local and global outreach.  And these are important.  As a congregation, we alone are responsible for funding those things we say are important to us.  We don’t have a diocese or a denomination that will cover any shortfall for us.  But good stewardship is about more than fund-raising, it is about more than paying the bills, and maintaining our programs, it is even about more than the ways we help support our church and our community.  So I’d like to use the metaphor our neighbor Christina kindly provided for us, and take a drone’s-eye view of stewardship at the United Church of Chester.

In a word, good stewardship is about good ministry.  I’m calling it a drone’s-eye view, because it really isn’t a balcony view.  The balcony is part of the building and is probably too close to show us what we need to see.  Nor is it a 35,000 foot view, which is far too distant to make out very much on the ground.  But I think looking from a couple hundred feet is a helpful  metaphor.  One of the reasons I like this photo in the bulletin is that it shows us the very top of the church – and it does look a little like a beacon, doesn’t it? – it encompasses two other town stalwarts, the Hose company and the Library - and it looks out over the distant horizon.  If you squint you can almost see Dan and Naphtali, Ephriam and Manasseh.  And you can almost hear Moses reminding his people to choose life.  Choose to do something that makes a difference.  Choose engaging  ministry.  Choose generosity.  Choose God’s abundance.  When we decide how and in what ways we are going to support the church, try not to think about the church itself as a building or even as an institution, and think rather about what it is we do, together, what we stand for, what we mean to one another and what we mean to the folks who have turned to us so many times in their own season of need or seeking meaning.  This is why God has called us, has created us to be God’s own people, has formed us into this particular body of Christ, and has equipped us with all the gifts and blessings we talked about last week, the gifts and blessings that make for genuine ministry,

If we don’t take the higher view at stewardship time, the mountaintop view Moses took in, then we are simply looking at a budget, and we begin to wonder, “Can we afford it?  How will we pay for it?  How much does it cost?”  These are the questions that will leave us stuck in the reeds.  Remember, it was Oscar Wilde who cautioned against the person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.  This is why good stewardship doesn’t measure the cost of ministry, rather it measures the value of ministry.  And if it measures cost at all, good stewardship measures the cost of not doing God’s ministry.  “This day I set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity… therefore choose life.”  The choices you and I make as individual people of faith reveal what we value most.  I pray we make those choices from a place of faith.

Amen.

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