The Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy describe the journey of the Israelites from Egypt up to their entrance to the Promised Land, but these books are also a biography of Moses, their great leader. They describe 120 years of Moses’ life and what he did and said.
Today, we’re reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. (Dt 31, 1-8) As his life is about to end, Moses says to the Israelites after delivering three long sermons: “I am now one hundred and twenty years old and am no longer able to move about freely.” Then he gives over his leadership to Joshua. He’s not going to cross into the Promised Land.
He doesn’t speak so much about himself or his accomplishments, his failures or regrets, as his life ends. Rather, he speaks about the Lord God and what God has done. It’s not me, it’s not Joshua, it’s not human power and wisdom that will be with you, Moses says to the people. “It is the Lord, your God, who will cross the Jordan before you.”
His words to Joshua are in the same tone:
“Be brave and steadfast,
for you must bring this people into the land
which the Lord swore to their fathers he would give them;
you must put them in possession of their heritage.
It is the Lord who marches before you;
he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you.
So do not fear or be dismayed.”
Moses’ last gift to those who follow him is a fearless faith. A great gift to pass on.
A Pew Survey awhile ago mentioned that some scientists think we will live to 120 years old in the future. The survey asked representatives of the various religious traditions what they thought about it. I noticed the Jewish response was for it. Were they thinking of Moses?
One of the best sources on religious practice in the United States is the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (http://pewforum.org/). Based in Washington, D.C., the Forum is “a nonpartisan ‘fact tank’ that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.”
It’s recent survey (April 27, 2009) reveals that about half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once in their lives and explores the reasons different groups cite for leaving or joining their religion.
“Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once,” the survey says.
“The group that has grown the most in recent years due to religious change is the unaffiliated population. Two-thirds of former Catholics who have become unaffiliated and half of former Protestants who have become unaffiliated say they left their childhood faith because they stopped believing in its teachings, and roughly four-in-ten say they became unaffiliated because they do not believe in God or the teachings of most religions. Additionally, many people who left a religion to become unaffiliated say they did so in part because they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money. Far fewer say they became unaffiliated because they believe that modern science proves that religion is just superstition.”
“Catholicism has suffered the greatest net loss in the process of religious change. Many people who leave the Catholic Church do so for religious reasons; two-thirds of former Catholics who have become unaffiliated say they left the Catholic faith because they stopped believing in its teachings, as do half of former Catholics who are now Protestant. Fewer than three-in-ten former Catholics, however, say the clergy sexual abuse scandal factored into their decision to leave Catholicism.”
A sobering survey, indeed. Worth study. What does it call us to do?