Summary: At their worst, fences keep us out of the place we most want to go.
What do you think about fences? Are you FOR them or AGAINST them? I guess that depends on whether the fence is yours or someone else’s. If you put up a fence, it is because you are trying to protect your property or your privacy, but if someone else puts up a fence that keeps you out of somewhere you want to go, fences become a problem. I have a shortcut from our house to Dundas Street and for a while there was construction going on so my shortcut was blocked with a fence. I know there were good reasons for that fence. The fence was there for reasons of public safety and probably some insurance and workplace concerns, but that didn’t stop me from resenting the fence.
Think about what the Berlin Wall meant for those who lived in Berlin during the Cold War. A wall divided a country, a city, and even families. It created, or at it least maintained a spirit of “us” and “them.” The same can be said of the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.
On a smaller scale you have gated communities. They are all over the US and in a lot of other countries as well. On one side of the gate is the world and on the other side are life, family, comfort, and security.
Then there are the fences that keep people in: the fences of POW camps in WWII or the fences of penitentiaries today. At their worst, fences give us a view of what we cannot have.
Please turn with me to Deuteronomy 34, p. 180
As you turn there, let me give you a bit of background. Deuteronomy is a collection of sermons. In fact Deuteronomy contains the longest sermon in the Bible, so this week I want you to go home and read Deuteronomy out loud to each other and time it and then you can properly evaluate the length of my sermons. Actually, since I haven’t done this myself, perhaps you better not, just in case.
Deuteronomy is one of the four most often quoted books in the New Testament and it is Jesus’ most often quoted book as well.
Deuteronomy is a dramatic book. It presents Moses standing on the Plains of Moab, in the presence of the entire nation of Israel, preaching what will be his last sermon. Maybe that’s why this particular sermon is so long—Moses knows that when he is finished preaching, he will leave his people, walk up Mount Nebo, and die in the presence of God. If I knew I was going to die after this sermon today, I would be in no hurry to finish it either. In fact, I would consider it my prerogative to preach long enough to take a few of you with me!
Eugene Peterson writes in his introduction to Deuteronomy: “This sermon does what all sermons are intended to do: Take God's words, written and spoken in the past, take the human experience ancestral and personal, of the listening congregation, then reproduce the words and experience as a single event right now, in this present moment.”
Next time you read through Deuteronomy pay attention to how many times you see words like, “now and today.” Moses wanted to recount their past to ensure their future by making them renew their commitment to God in the present. Without a present commitment to God your past has no power and your future has no potential.
The Plains of Moab are the last stop for Moses and his people. For forty years, from slavery in Egypt, to their soon to be freedom in the Land of Promise, Moses and his people have been through a lot together: deliverance, wanderings, rebellions, wars, worship, joy, sorrow, faith, doubt, grumblings and more grumblings, and did I mention grumblings?
They had shared everything together, as a living community following their God through all the unexpected experiences that life brings. And now their journey together was about to end. Moses would pass the baton of leadership to Joshua. Joshua would lead the people into the Promised Land meanwhile Moses would walk up Mount Nebo and find Pisgah, its highest peak, and there he would find rest in the presence of God.
Beginning with verse 1 we read: “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land--from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the LORD said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it." 5 And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over . . . . 10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt--to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” (Deuteronomy 34:1-8, 10-12)