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.