The Lord said to me, “Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Deuteronomy 3:26a-28 – July 12, 2012)
God had made it abundantly clear to Moses that he wasn’t going to be allowed to cross over into the Holy Land. He would be allowed to see the Promised Land from the opposite side of the river, but not to enter it. Despite Moses’ requests, God’s mind was not going to be changed, as this divine outburst of temper makes clear. ~ There have been times in my career – maybe I should say “careers”, because it was true when I was a businessman and when I was a lawyer, as well as during my ministry as a parish priest – that I have felt like Moses standing on Mt. Pisgah: I can see where this business, firm, community is (or ought to be) headed, but I am pretty sure I’m not going to get there with them. ~ A colleague and I once made note of a common occurrence in parish ministry: the aftermath of a building program. It seemed to us (and later we both personally experienced) that once a pastor has led a congregation through a building program and the building is up and running, the pastor leaves. Like Moses’ life, his or her ministry among that people is at an end. We were never sure why that was, and even having been through the experience I’m still not sure. ~ Moses (and his brother), of course, died without entering the Promised Land because of his lack of faith: the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “”Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Num. 20:12) Is it because clergy lose faith (maybe faith in their communities) during a building program? Is it because the community loses faith in the clergy? I remember reading (several times) about how the stress of designing and building a home can be a cause of divorce; maybe something of the same dynamic is at work in the pastor/parish relationship during a church building program. ~ In any event, whether a building program or a change of ministry direction or a shift in church style, I’m pretty sure that every church leader (clergy and lay, I’m sure, but probably more the clergy) has felt, at some time, that he or she could see a vision of the church’s future that he or she was probably not going to be joining in. And if it hasn’t happened yet, I’m confident that it eventually will. When that happens, clergy, know that you are in good company! You are standing with Moses atop Mt. Pisgah!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.