When I was a child, most of the stories I read had an almost standard ending. It went something like this:
“And they all lived happily, ever after.”
You remember stories like that, don’t you.
But in our life-time, stories have changed. First of all Walt Disney decided that there was a very specific formula that stories should follow if they are going to work. Then the big movie houses decided that a story should never be told in just one movie – and we discovered not just the sequel, but even the prequel.
The Lord of the Rings was written in three volumes, so it made sense for the movie version to be in three parts, but who decided that the prequel The Hobbit needed to be in three parts as well?
The idea behind this is that the ending of a story must always leave open the possibility of taking the story somewhere else.
Our reading today from what many call the Hebrew Scriptures rather than the Old Testament marks the end of the discrete group of Biblical texts the Jews called the Torah – or the Law. For many years these were all that Hebrew people referred to as their Bible. Later the Prophets and the Writings were added to what Jesus would then have read as his version of the Bible.
But in the ending of these texts, there is the opening for more. The story has somewhere else to go. Before we explore that, lets stand back from this huge narrative we have been zooming over for the past 18 weeks.
Last week we were looking at a reiteration to Moses of God’s promise to be with him, and a very brief and strange (to us) revelation of God’s person to Moses – at least Moses was permitted to see the dazzling light of God’s presence as he had passed by. And today we are right at the final chapter of Deuteronomy – another 100 or so pages on in my edition of the Bible.
Did someone get bored with the story and jump to the last chapter to see what happened?
Just so that you are not left in too much suspense, the Book of Leviticus carries on from the end of Exodus by spelling out all the regulations for worship and religious ceremonies in the life of Israel.
The book of Numbers chronicles the story of the 40 years of wandering that followed the receiving of the Law on Mt Sinai, some few months after the people had left Egypt. It also reports to us the results of two censuses of the people that were carried out during that time.
The book of Deuteronomy (or the Second Law) is really a record of a series of addresses given by Moses after their 40 years of wandering in which he
1. recalls the great events that God has done through that period;
2. reviews the 10 Commandments;
3. reminds the people of the meaning of God’s Covenant with them, calling them to renew their commitment to it; and
4. finally commissions Joshua to lead the people into the next chapter of their history with God.
The introductions to these books in your Good News Bibles tell us that the key verse in the book of Leviticus is 19:18 where we have the words Jesus called the second great commandment:
‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
And that the key verse in Deuteronomy is in 6:4-6 where we have that most important saying for Jews that they call the Shemah:
‘Israel, remember this! The Lord - and the Lord alone - is our God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Never forget these commands that I am giving you today.’
In many ways I think these words sum up the messages we have been considering over these many weeks, journeying with the Great Family.
We have considered the great and wonderful signs of God’s utter faithfulness and dependability, and the often repeated call by God for his people to learn to be just as faithful and dependable to God. And we saw again and again God’s grace and mercy (compassion) when confronted with the failure of his people to get it.
And God’s final words to Moses were that here, in this moment, God was keeping the promise he had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – that their descendants would have a place they could call home – the Promised Land.
But in this story, which is more important?
1. The Promised Land that they would be able to call home; or
2. The realisation that God’s promises are utterly dependable.
I think the latter is the only possibility for us in these latter days.
And there the story ends.
But wait! We all know the story goes on. There was an opening and it went on. God said “I have let you see it, but I will not let you go there.” Obviously the people went on under the leadership on Joshua, and the stories of God’s faithfulness and the feeble attempts at faithfulness by the people cycle their way through history – right down to the present day.
So my questions for us all (I include myself in this) are these:
We are now the next chapter in this story. How is this story going to pan out? How will we together experience the utter faithfulness of God, and how will we go at trying to be utterly faithful to God and to each other?