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An Essential Vision 
By Dr. Thomas D. Walker
10/23/11

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
DR. THOMAS D. WALKER
OCTOBER 23, 2011

An Essential Vision
Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Revelation 21:1-7


There seems to be widespread agreement that our national life is not well. Media commentators use such terms as "a declining spiral" or a prevailing "bearish age" to characterize the state of our nation. Rana Foroohar begins her article in the October 10 issue of Time magazine with a quote from the dark classic by W. B. Yeats written in 1919 during the aftermath of World War I.

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold," Yeats writes. "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."(1)

It is difficult to imagine a better description of our nation's current pessimism. The middle class is shrinking, the markets are volatile, presidential candidates are bickering and, says Foroohar, "European policy makers are fiddling while Rome (and Athens and London) burns."(2)

There seems to be common concern among Republicans and Democrats about the slippage of the middle class. All of you have seen the data: The top one percent of households take almost twenty-five percent of all household income – a share not seen since 1929. 

While most Republicans and Democrats seem to agree that we face serious economic problems, they differ sharply about solutions.

Republicans, especially Tea Party members, say emphatically that government should stop taxing and regulating people to death. Get labor unions off our backs and let us compete on level ground with the rest of the world. That's the way to keep jobs from leaving the country. It will also bring home many jobs that have left already.

The Occupy Wall Street group sees it very differently. Tell these big corporations to get their money out of my politicians' pockets so that my politicians can work for me and my family and my friends like we elected them to do.

I don't know about you, but these bitter, accusatory divisions are troubling to me. Financial analyst Howard Davidowitz remarks:

"Personally, I believe the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have, at their core, a lot in common: Frustration with our political system and a fear the 'American Dream' is dying."(3)

Do you think the American Dream is dying? Do you envision it as being in a "downward spiral?" Visions and dreams are an important part of our lives.

I have found that the American Dream is not simple to define. It seems to be an evolving, developing idea. Certainly the founding fathers had a dream or a vision of what they believed this nation should be when they produced the Declaration of Independence in 1776, soon followed by the writing of the Constitution in 1787. The Constitution was a brilliant work that made various aspects of the American Dream specific. The American Dream was surely given substance by Abraham Lincoln in his eloquent Emancipation Proclamation Speech of 1863. And who can speak of the American Dream without including Martin Luther King's sermon, "I Have a Dream," given the night before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. 

These legislative assemblies and these eloquent American leaders, in company with countless others, provided their wisdom and their vision to the ongoing development of the American Dream.

That vision of democracy through our American experience is certainly unique. It is unequaled in its benevolent contributions to the world. But it is surely not the only vision of how people may live together. 

In fact, some visions of communal life can be very dangerous and harmful. Adolph Hitler's vision of a Third Reich was immeasurably harmful resulting in a terrible world war. Visions of American life promulgated by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups are dangerous and harmful. German Theologian, Jürgen Moltmann, provides a chilling vision of a possible catastrophic future.

"All peace treaties, disarmament agreements and conventions about the use of nuclear weapons have as their tacit presupposition the fact that each partner wants to live. Mutual deterrence only works if all those concerned want to survive. What happens when one of the partners has no wish to survive, but wants to die in order to destroy the world? The suicide terrorists belonging to the Islamic world are as yet no more than organized individuals in their struggle against the West. But what happens if whole nations become suicide assassins?"(4)

So, visions of the future are natural and unavoidable. Some are peaceful and benevolent. Others are quite ominous.

We read this morning of Moses, a person of extraordinary vision. Moses had grown old and it was time for him to die. So God takes Moses to the top of Mount Pisgah to give him a panoramic view of the Promised Land, the land of which he dreamed for the last forty years. The land he would never set foot upon.

It is impossible to over emphasize the importance of Moses in the history of Israel. He is probably the greatest character in the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses is mentioned in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament character. Without Moses, there would have been no nation of Israel. Without Moses, the Jewish people simply would have disappeared in ancient Egypt. The biblical writer meant every word when he said, "Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses…" (Deuteronomy 34:10).

But I wonder how Moses felt as he ascended Mount Pisgah where he knew he would die. My guess is that Moses spent some time reflecting upon his long extraordinary life. And of all the low points and high points, the zenith must have been his encounter with God at the burning bush. That encounter completely changed his life. Moses had not been looking for God. God came looking for Moses. And in the revelation of God's self to Moses, God gave him a new vision of his future and of Israel's future.

That vision was formed out of God's concern for the enslaved Hebrew people and, as we have learned in subsequent centuries, for all people. "I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt … I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…" (Exodus 3:7,8). "Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people out … of Egypt."

There was the calling. There was the vision. I have chosen you, Moses, to lead my people out of slavery to freedom. And God burned that vision indelibly upon the consciousness of Moses. God's future for the Hebrew people became Moses' life's passion. And though Moses never crossed the Jordon River, he lived his entire life convinced that God's future promises for the Hebrew people were valid. Without doubt, Moses' vision of the future tangibly affected the way he lived his daily life.

But what do you think Moses may have seen from the top of Mount Pisgah? What were the last visions of his mortal life? Surely he saw the Jordon River and the promised land of milk and honey beyond. But did he see Israel's glory in the monarchy of Kings David and Solomon? Did he see the "downward spiral" of Israel when Assyria and Babylon took the people captive and left Jerusalem in desolate ruins? Did he see a manger … or a cross?

Probably not. But I wager that as he looked from the top of that mountain at the panoramic beauty before him, Moses knew that God was up to something special. His years of interacting with God, obeying God, failing God, praying to God and experiencing God throughout his life gave him insight into the character of God. And as he prepared to die, I suspect Moses sensed that God has great plans for the future.

What are those plans? Obviously, no one knows the mind of God. But throughout the Old and New Testaments, the hope of God's future is constantly reiterated. In fact, says Old Testament Professor John Bright, the hope and proclamation of the Kingdom of God "unbreakably links the Old Testament to the New Testament."(5)

Those of you who have grown up in the church or who have been a part of it for awhile are no doubt familiar with the term, Kingdom of God. But let me share a succinct definition by Wolfhart Pannenberg so that we are all on the same page:

"The Kingdom of God is that perfect society (of people) in which everyone will know the will of God and live in perfect response to it."(6)

That "perfect society," I believe may have been a part of Moses' vision from Mount Pisgah. Deeply embedded within the stories of Biblical history is a longing, a dream, a desire for a new order, a new mentality, a new mode of existence. It is a dream of peace and harmony. It is a dream in which the brokenness of our world and the brokenness of our individual lives are put right.

Do you have such a dream? I believe you do. I believe you dream of a time … or a sphere of existence … or an unknown dimension where you do not have to live a dog-eat-dog existence. It is a dream of better times, better days, and peace – with the world, with yourself, with your loved ones, with everything. That is the promise of the Kingdom of God.

Listen to these extraordinary words of Jesus from the gospel of Mark: "The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."(7) That is an amazing statement! Mark is saying that Jesus has become the embodiment of the promised Kingdom of God. In Jesus the Messiah, the Kingdom of God that awaits us – at the end of life, at the end of history – is presently among us.

And that has so much significance for the world in which we find ourselves today. People live in communities that are politically ordered. It is the only way we can exist. You and I cannot avoid being citizens of this world and citizens of this nation, nor do we wish to. But as disciples of Jesus, we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God. And the presence of that Kingdom among us today should transform our worldly citizenship. Our citizenship in the Kingdom of God is to take precedence over our citizenship in any worldly kingdom or sovereign state.

Therefore, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, you and I, Republicans, Democrats or whatever, can never be satisfied with the brokenness, the estrangement, the violence, indeed the character of this world.

That is why we build Habitat houses; that is why we send our people on mission trips; and why we are partners with churches here and around the world. Our task is not to withdraw from the world. We are not called into being to conduct the world's funeral. God loves this broken, sin-sick world. God's will for heaven is also God's will for the earth. "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, ON EARTH … as in heaven."

Friends, I cannot offer any expertise on the world economy. I do not really know how seriously one should take the claims of "downward spiral" or how these troublesome matters may play out in day-to-day life. But I am not hesitant in the least to testify that the vision of Moses, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Jesus of Nazareth, has been given to you and to me. That vision informs us that God is not finished with creation. The time is coming when the will of God will be written on the hearts of all God's people. So hear these words and lift up your hearts:

"…The one who was seated on the throne said, 'Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.' 'It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the springs of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.'"(8)

That is the fulfillment of the hope for the Kingdom of God. You do not have to stand on the top of Mount Pisgah to see that vision!
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