Go Up To Heaven and Get It For Us

Deuteronomy 29:29, 30:11-16

St. Paul's United Methodist Church
February 12, 2023

Secret Gnosis

Remove war from the earth,
set love in the ground,
pour peace into the heart of the earth,
rain down love on the heart of the fields.
Hasten! hurry! rush!
Run to me with your feet,
race to me with your legs;
for I have a word to tell you,
a story to recount to you:
the word of the tree and the charm of the stone,
the word which men do not know,
and earth's masses cannot understand:
the whisper of the heavens to the earth,
of the seas to the stars.
I understand the lightning which the heavens do not know.
Come, and I will reveal it: †

The words are beautiful, exciting, beguiling. But they are not for you.

Those words are the "Message of Baal the Conqueror, the word of the Conqueror of Warriors"†. They are a song from the religion of ancient Canaan. Is it any wonder that the Hebrew people were tempted by the religion of Canaan when they entered into the promised land? The words are enthralling, the narratives are intriging, and the Canaanite believers already knew the secret of living in villages without having to wander from place to place with their flocks.

Gaining the knowledge of secret things is an attraction familiar to ancient Hebrews at the border of Canaan, 18th Century Freemasons, and 21st Century American moviegoers. But it is not for you.

Moses offered a different understanding of secrets in his address to the people. Moses said,

Secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those that are revealed belong to us and our descendants forever, so that we might obey all the words of this law. [Deuteronomy 29:29 NET]

If anything is a secret, Moses says, then it belongs only to God. God does not share secrets with a cabal of self-proclaimed guardians. God does not leave half-revelations lying around on the internet or in the pages of dusty old books as puzzles for you to figure out. Nor were God's secrets entrusted to the priests of Baal and Asherah. If something is a secret, truly secret, it belongs only to God.

Those things we need to know are not secrets at all. Everything that has been revealed belongs to all of us: you and me, our parents and our children, our cousins and neighbors and grandchildren and step second cousins in law. If it has been revealed it is not secret. Instead it is freely available to help us live our lives so that we might follow God's way and walk in God's road. That is what Moses said.

Space Travel

8:3 When I look up at the heavens, which your fingers made, and see the moon and the stars, which you set in place, 8:4 Of what importance is the human race, that you should notice them? [Psalm 8:3-4 NET]

I hear that NASA is planning a trip to Mars. I hear that a lot of people are excited about this: people at NASA, members of Congress, students of astrophysics, various kinds of escapists, even some taxpayers who will be footing the bill. Me, not so much.

Do we need to travel to Mars? Not if the question is how to live a good life. The knowledge of how we ought to live is not hidden on Mars as though one must say, Who will go up to heaven to get it for us? [Dt. 30:12 NET]

On the contrary, Moses says the thing is very near you. [Dt. 30:14 NET]

Decades ago I was part of a congregation in Madison called University United Methodist Church. While I was there the congregation became dissatisfied with the way confirmation preparation was being done. As is the way of all institutions, a task force was formed to figure out a better way.

There were 4 of us on the committee. We completed that task. Then we were assigned to carry out our plan.

We took over the Sunday School class for the more academic aspects of our program and supplemented that with adult mentors and a series of field trips. The person who coordinated the field trips once apologized to the rest of us. She felt she was not contributing enough; she only called the locations, set the times, arranged for a host organization representative to talk with the group, recruited transportation, and had everyone ready at the right time for every trip. Not, she said, like the hard work of teaching the class every week.

Sam Gratz and I said, no, leading the class is the easiest part of the program. Coordinating all these adventures, we said, would be almost impossible for us! The good things each of us did came easily to us because those things were near to us and familiar.

The only secret was no secret at all. We each used whatever abilities we had to walk in God's ways. [Dt. 30:16]

Global Commerce

107:23 Some traveled on the sea in ships, and carried cargo over the vast waters. [Psalm 107:23 NET]

I have read that we live in a global economy. It certainly seems so. How much of what is on my table was built in China or mined in Chile or grown in Mexico? We carry more cargo over the vast waters [Ps. 107:23 NET] than ever moved in the times of the psalmists.

I do not know whether a global economy is better or worse for people. I do know global commerce is not a requirement for us to know how to do good things in life. The knowledge of living rightly is not too remote. … And it is not across the sea. [Dt. 30:11,13 NET]

Sometimes when I look back to my father's life it can seem as though his primary work was going to meetings and asking questions. He asked questions like, shouldn't we be doing something for native people? For people in the jail? For long-haul truckers? For those who go down to the sea in ships?

Asking questions is no secret. The questions were near at hand for my father. It was in his mouth and in his mind. Yet three of those questions my father asked led to founding decades-long ministries. [Dt. 30:14 NET]

Living Rightly

You know what is required of you to walk in God's ways. It is already in your mind; it is already in your mouth. Or, if it is not, then it is available to you from the mouth of that person sitting next to you or 2 pews ahead. Everything that has been revealed belongs to all of us: you and me, our parents and our children, our cousins and neighbors and grandchildren and step second cousins in law.

This is what Moses said:

30:11 "This commandment I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it too remote. 30:12 It is not in heaven, as though one must say, "Who will go up to heaven to get it for us and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 30:13 And it is not across the sea, as though one must say, "Who will cross over to the other side of the sea and get it for us and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 30:14 For the thing is very near you — it is in your mouth and in your mind so that you can do it. [Deuteronomy 30:11-14 NET]


† "Baal". Recited by Attanu-Purlianni, chief priest of Ugarit [Ras Sharma], transcribed by Illimilku of Shubani, and translated by Michael David Coogan. Stories From Ancient Canaan. Westminster Press, 1978. Page 93.
NET: The Scriptures quoted are from the NET Bible® https://netbible.com copyright ©1996, 2019 used with permission from Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
January, 2023