The View from Pisgah

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Deuteronomy 34

When I started studying for today’s Scripture, I immediately wanted to take a hike.  Let me read the first line for you again and maybe you can hear why: 

“Then Moses when up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah…” (Deuteronomy 34:1).

If you don’t know, we have a Mount Pisgah right here in Western North Carolina!  One of the few good things about COVID is that we’ve learned how to take this show on the road.  Clearly this is a sermon that begged to be preached on location. 

Here we are – the top of Mount Pisgah!

Now, obviously this isn’t the same Pisgah that Moses hiked up.  Moses’ “Pisgah” is in modern day Palestine.  It overlooks places like the ancient city of Jericho – which I’ve actually had the chance to visit.  No offense to Moses – I think I’d rather be here.  Jericho and the land around it is brown and deserty.  Look at all this green!  Layers of mountains – Cold Mountain, Looking Glass Rock…  There’s the French Broad River Valley and on a clear day, Asheville…

In my opinion, this is a particularly good place to meet God.

Which is why Moses hiked up to his “Pisgah” – to meet God.  God wanted to show Moses something.  “This is the land,” God said.  “The land we’ve been talking about all this time.  The land I promised to Abraham, and to his son, Isaac, and to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob.  The land I promised to their descendants.  Here it is!”

This was also the land Moses had been heading toward for forty years.  To get here, Moses had been through confrontations with Pharaoh and plagues and a dramatic escape from Egypt.  After Egypt there was wilderness – and in the wilderness, the Israelites didn’t make life easy for their leader.  Moses had to lead a people who whined and complained, who broke God’s commands, who worshipped other gods, who doubted that God could be more powerful than the people they might have to confront.  Forty years Moses had been working so that one day they might arrive here – at the Promised Land.  And now, finally, it was time for them to have it!

…except not for Moses.

See, this is the weird part to me about today’s Scripture:  God pulls Moses up onto Pisgah to show him the Promised Land… and tell him that he’s not going to get to go into it.  The Israelites, yes; but Moses, the one who led them all that way, no. 

It’s kind of a tragic moment.

If you read Moses’ story, it’s also a moment you know is coming.  There are a couple moments where Moses shows a lack of 100% faith – one about whether God can provide water from a rock, and another when the Israelites hesitated to go into the land, wondering if God could help them defeat all those people already living there.  Multiple times God has told Moses, “I’m not going to let you go in.”  That God is true to God’s word shouldn’t be surprising; but why pull Moses up on Pisgah, show it to him, taunt him with it?  “Here it is, but you don’t get to go there, nah-na-na-na-nah-nah!”

For years that’s exactly how I’ve pictured this moment – but something hasn’t felt right.  It doesn’t fit with Moses and all he did for God; and it doesn’t fit for God, who is gracious and kind.

But thinking about this view this week – it’s gotten me rethinking that moment.

Like I said, from here you can see a lot of cool things – Cold Mountain, Asheville, Haywood County… 

Haywood County.  Oh man.  Just last week Tropical Storm Fred ripped through this area and brought floods of, frankly, biblical proportions.  14 inches of rain caused millions of dollars of damage, affected hundreds of homes, displaced some 500 families, cost at least 5 people their lives.  It’s awful.

One image that struck me was of the damage done to another Pisgah.  One of the high schools in Haywood County is named Pisgah High School.  Last year they redid their football field.  It looked beautiful.  It also cost about $1 million dollars – but they did it knowing that it would last for years.

And then Tropical Storm Fred.  Aerial pictures showed Pisgah’s brand-new field completely underwater.  Devastated.

That’s just a taste of the destruction that happened in Haywood County.  The emergency director described the town of Cruso as “complete destruction.”  If you use your imagination, that’s the kind of stuff you can see from this Mount Pisgah today. 

Last week, many of you called our church asking, “What can we do?”  And we wanted to know, “What can we do?”  We have to do something!  Look at all that!  Look at those people, those families!  What can Sylva First do?  What can I do?  How do we fix this?

But the enormity of the problem is overwhelming.  It’s huge.  Thinking about how much needs to be done kind of makes me want to shut down.  It’s too big, too much for any one of us to do.

It’s too much for any one of us to do.

It’s not a Mary sized problem.  It’s not a Sylva First sized problem.

It’s a God-sized problem.  This is God-sized work.

And no one person is responsible for doing God-sized work.

Not even Moses.

See, I wonder, if instead of feeling disappointment that he wouldn’t get to go into the Promised Land – maybe Moses felt relief.  He had to have been tired.  His job had been long and hard.  And he had been God’s servant; there’s been no one like him since, Deuteronomy 34 says.  And now, his part was done.  Joshua was coming next.  Joshua would take the next leg of the journey – because maybe, Moses wasn’t ever meant to do the whole thing alone.

If that’s the case, then God taking Moses up onto Pisgah – it’s not to taunt him, it’s to show him.  To show him the big picture that he got to be a part of.  So he could see what his efforts were working toward.

I think we all need a Mount Pisgah moment with God from time to time.

There are a lot of God-sized problems in the world.  Right now, there’s COVID and Afghanistan and wild fires.  There’s shortages in our supply chain and our workforce.  And you – you’ve got your own God-sized problems, things that feel too big for just you to handle.

Whenever we feel that – that “it’s too much” feeling – that’s a good moment to find a Mount Pisgah space.  It doesn’t have to be on a mountain top; just somewhere you can be quiet with God.  Somewhere you can let God show you – not what you’re going to do, but what God is going to do.  Let God show you the Joshuas that God is calling up to help.  Let God whisper to you, “You are my servant.  Don’t let the view be overwhelming; let it be inspiring.”

The next day – after we took that trip to Mount Pisgah – I took a trip to Pisgah High School.  Or – right across the street, at least. 

A member of our church connected us with Bethel Baptist Church, who is providing emergency food boxes to families in need.  I put off calling them for a few days, honestly, because I was still overwhelmed.  But when I called and asked, do you know what they said they needed? 

Can openers.  Can openers to open the canned food in the boxes. 

We can do that.  We can do can openers.  So we used some of our church mission money to clean WalMart out of their can opener inventory.  As I drove to drop them off at Bethel Baptist, I drove right past Pisgah High School – and there was the football team, practicing.  The field didn’t look quite as beautiful… but they were out there. 

Because God is still good.  God is faithful. 

So let’s make some Mount Pisgah space together this morning.  Take a moment and pause.  What do you feel overwhelmed about?  What God-sized task is in front of you?  Maybe it’s the flooding in Haywood County… but more likely, it’s something personal to you.

Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine yourself on a mountaintop with God.

What is the view?  What is God showing you?

What part of that view is your responsibility, your calling?

What “Joshuas” are at work around you already?  What “Joshuas” might God want you to invite into this work with you?

Before you open your eyes, look out at that view one more time.  Remind yourself:  this is not an individual size problem.  This is a God-sized problem.  God will use me to work on it, but God will use others, and above all, God is at work here.

Amen.

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