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The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 23, 2011
The First Reading: Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Sermon: "The Second Half"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
The First Reading:
Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him 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, and the Plain-- that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees-- as far as Zoar. The LORD said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, `I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there." Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the LORD's command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses.
Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
The Second Half
“Never trust anyone over 30!” Do you remember that much quoted mantra of the late ‘60’s? With that remembrance in mind, it’s more than a little ironic, I think, that the youngest of the Baby-boomers are already fifty, and the oldest of us have just started retiring this year. Now that we Boomers can find old college T-shirts in our closets that are too old to trust, that phrase sounds, well, unsympathetic.
It’s not surprising, then, that the fastest growing segment of the American population is those over 60. People are living longer lives, and they are living healthier lives as they do so. In just over one century, there has been an astonishing 50 percent increase in longevity (from age 49 in 1900, to almost 80 now). Centenarians are the fastest growing segment of the population percentage-wise. By some accounts, the life expectancy of a child born today is well over 90 years.
For the first time in history, four-generation families are becoming somewhat common. Now that the boomers have begun to hit retirement age, the percentage of the population over 65 is expected to swell dramatically; from 12.5 percent to 21 percent.
If anyplace in our society should be excited about these numbers and what they mean, it is the Church. A longer life span, with an extension of reasonably good health means tremendous opportunities for doing God’s work in our world.
Nowhere is this potential more evident than in our Scripture lesson from Deuteronomy, chapter 34 this morning. Here in the final chapter of the last book of Moses, in just twelve short verses, we are told of the death of the greatest prophet of God who ever lived. Moses, the law giver, the leader of the children of Israel from slavery to nationhood, the great mouthpiece of God and motivator of Israel, is suddenly recalled by God. It is so sudden, surprising, and even seemingly untimely. But then the sudden death of one who has always been there, always leading the way, always to be counted on to find the steady course in all circumstances, the death of such a one as this is always perceived by those who are dependent upon that one as untimely.
But Moses’ death is not the only point of our passage. As with any truly good eulogy, this passage also has important things to remind us of about Moses’ life. Without exception, every bit of greatness referred to in his life here, comes from Moses’ later years; his “second-half.”
During his youth, Moses lived as an Egyptian, pampered and privileged in Pharaoh’s house. In midlife, Moses worked hard building a livelihood, raising a family, being a member of a busy community. Not until he had appropriately aged did the Lord call Moses into his most active service. In his “second half,” Moses did not “retire” into sedentary oblivion. He became a servant of the Lord unlike any other ever known, Israel’s greatest leader.
By looking at the references to Moses’ second-half in our passage, we can discover examples for how to live our second-halves. Now, this message, this morning, is not just for those of us in or entering our second-halves; it’s also for our young first-halfers as well; as a word of great future hope. Because, we just might discover that life’s second-half can be life’s best half. So let’s take a few moments this morning and look at these
references to Moses’ second-half greatness.
The first reference to Moses’ second-half greatness is this: HIS VISION. Consider the first few verses. “Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Can, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar.” You know, it is actually physically impossible to see all of those places from Mt. Nebo, or Pisgah. But, this part of the passage isn’t referring to Moses’ eyesight. It’s pointing to the vision of his insight. The middle of verse one is the key; “…and the Lord showed him the whole land:…” The point is that Moses was so in tune with God’s perspective that he could see with God’s vision.
That’s the way God intends for out lives to be lived. There is no such thing as becoming too old to know God better, or too old to learn more about his ways and thoughts and purposes. Frankly, I think that every second-halfer, ought to be better versed in Scripture, and better rooted in friendship with God than ever they were in their first half of life. Our relationship with God in Christ is meant to be a growing living relationship that never slows down much less reaches a point of stagnation. There is no end to how much more we can learn from God, and there is no end to how deep we can go into Christ’s love-filled presence. It’s from that relationship that the vision to see what others can only guess at comes.
I remember I my seminary days at Princeton, that a particular pastor was visiting the campus. Over dinner he had gathered a few of us around the table and was telling us how pathetic our Bible knowledge was. “You know,” he said, “I have an eighty year old woman in my congregation who knows the Bible so well, that she could take a Bible exam with any of you and make you all look weak.” Now, we all felt suitably admonished by this statement. It had been his intent to make us feel that we were slackers, and it had worked. But did you catch the flaw in his logic? Shouldn’t every eighty year old know the Scriptures better than any twenty year old; even if that twenty something is a seminarian? That woman represented how God intends life to be. She was a representation of hope. It is truly in the second half of life that you have lived enough and experienced enough and learned enough to really understand how to apply God’s perspective to daily living. It is in the second half that your insight can become a spiritual 20/20 like Moses; full of wisdom and the visioning God supplies. But only if you will invest yourself in that relationship with Christ from which the vision comes, and in the study of Scripture from which God’s wisdom comes. The challenge of this first reference to Moses’ second-half of life is that all of us second-halfer’s, and all of us potential second-halfer’s are to invest ourselves in growing deeper and faster in our relationship with God and our understanding of God’s ways than we have ever done before, so that we might have God’s vision in all things. In this reference to Moses’ vision is the challenge to you and me to become visionaries for God ourselves. Moses vision was part of the greatness of his second-half of life.
The other part of the greatness of Moses’ second-half is this: HIS VITALITY. Consider this verse. “Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated.” No small fete for anyone of advanced years, but quite miraculous for someone of one hundred and twenty. We wonder that someone so old could have been so healthy. Yet, with modern medicine and other health advantages, even those of us who are not quite as well off as Moses have been given lives that are far longer and far more productive than any previous generation could have hoped.
In listening to the political debates going on right now, I’ve been struck by some facts that have come out of the call to fix Social Security. Did you know, when Social Security was set up the average life expectancy was only 63? You couldn’t collect until you were 65, so it was a flawless system. What undid it is that we all started living longer. Now one fix that I do not suggest is that we stop living longer. But, leaving politics aside, have you ever considered this extension of your life to be a gift? We have something previous generations never had as we do; the possibility of an extra twenty to fifty good years of life. Second-halfer’s…and you potential second-halfer’s, what are you planning to do for God with all that extra time he’s going to give you?
At midlife, Moses was a stumble-tongued shepherd, eking out a living on his father-in-law’s land, consumed by the demands of a family. Moses certainly was not looking for any radical changes in his life. But then, God had other plans. With an open spirit—if a fairly incredulous mind—Moses obediently followed the dramatic retirement plan” God had in store for him.
God has an active retirement plan for you too. Consider what gifts and graces you have to offer the Lord in his service. His plan is for you to apply those life experiences and vocational skills you’ve gained to the work of ministering to others for Christ. Living these extra years does not mean winding down and rusting out. Instead, it means learning to shift gears, sometimes into four-wheel drive. My old mentor, Gus Harris, upon retirement from the pastorate, said that retirement just meant changing the tires on his car, because now he could finally get out and do all the things for God he’d always wanted to be free to do. And God blessed him with 25 additional years for the sheer joy of doing it.
Invest your heart now in your relationship with Christ. Invest your mind in understanding the Scriptures. Invest yourself in Christ’s service. The Church is calling out for its vigorous visionaries. Like Moses, be one!