At a few points this week, I have mentioned how willing we are to die on our mountains, those of us who stand and shout God's grace or truth from our own perspective, without even a glance to the valley where God dwells. Without even a whisper of an amen to those on the other mountain.
But this is not just some contemporary turn of phrase, this idea of dying on mountains; it, too, is a biblical example.
It's tempting to think that we're talking about big, bold, loud stories of mountains here, like Abraham and Isaac when they climbed up to sacrifice to God on the mountain, with Isaac unaware that he was about to become the sacrifice (there, but for the grace of God) or Jesus on the hill outside of Jerusalem. But those of us today who are willing to die on our mountains will not make such bold splashes into the landscape of God.
Ours will be more like the quiet, heart-aching deaths of Moses and Aaron.
Moses and Aaron led the people of God through the wilderness; they led them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea and right to the edge of the Promised Land. But neither was allowed to actually enter the place where Israel was going, each due to their own sins that they committed along the way.
When the time for Aaron's death came, God commanded him to climb the mountain with his brother, Moses, and his son, who would succeed him as priest. There, on the mountain, Aaron was able to look out and see the entire people of God, the people that he would no longer be able to speak to, no longer be able to minister to, no longer be able to guide in their journey. He had, on this mountain, a profound sense of having to let go.
He had to let go of everything he had fought for. He had to let go of all the hopes and dreams that he had for them. He had to let go of any illusion that he might still play a role somehow in their formation. And for all our shouting, we, too, have to let go. When we are willing to die on our mountains, there comes a time when we know that that death is near, and we have to let go of everything we'd been fighting for, hoping for, working for.
The people we can see from here, they may or may not ever come to understand what we were saying. But our time for saying it is up, and all we can do from this mountain is to look out over the people our hearts ache for, but whom we still just don't know about.
When the time for Moses' death came, God commanded him, too, to climb the mountain, this time, with his servant, Joshua. There, on the mountain, Moses was able to see the Promised Land that they'd been working so hard for, the land flowing with milk and honey that God had promised them. But that was as far as he could go. He would never set foot on its soil, never taste of its fruit, never dip his hand in its honey.
And this, too, is true for us. Most of us spend our whole lives shouting grace or truth, but from the mountain where we stand, we can only ever see what that is going to look like one day. Maybe. We can only ever look out and set out eyes on the place to where God is bringing His people. Because we cannot move off of our mountains, because we have set to die there, we sadly never set foot on the soil of the very things we proclaim. We never taste the fruit of either grace or truth, never dip our hands into their sweet nectar.
Why? Because they have become the theological shouting points on which we have staked our claim and not the true promises of God that they were intended to be. If they are promises, then we have to step into them, but most of us are unwilling; we would rather die on our mountains.
So here we are, dying. Like Moses and Aaron, we're looking out over the people and the promise, able no longer to touch either, but shouting nonetheless. Not a shadow of community, not an echo of amen, but two camps shouting over the promises. It's tragedy at its finest.
For we are not two camps, but one people - one people of the living God. And we were not meant to die on these mountains.