Passing the Baton

Passing the Baton

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

What a sad death.

I mean, poor Moses.  He’s come so far, and done so much!  He’s confronted Pharaoh, parted the waters of the Red Sea, met with God on Mount Sinai, guided Israel around and around the wilderness…  Now God and Moses are perched on a vista overlooking the Promised Land.  And God says to Moses…

…look, but don’t touch.  Or, more accurately:  “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there” (Deut 34:4).

And Moses dies!  That’s it!  That’s the end of his story!

This is depressing.  Like if Neil Armstrong never made it to the moon.  Or Sir Edmund Hillary never summitted Mt. Everest. Or if Dan Marino never won a superbowl.

Oh… wait.

Yes, much like Dan Marino never winning a superbowl… Moses’ life has been all about the goal of leading these people to their own land, and he doesn’t get to claim that victory with them.

And yet – this is weird – Moses’ story doesn’t end on a low note.  Listen to all the glowing words about him:  “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and wonders which the LORD sent him to do…” (Deut 34:9-11).

That’s not a sob story; that sounds like a celebration.  If Moses dies with his life-goal unfulfilled, why isn’t his a tragic ending?

I’ll tell you why:  Because we’re not running a one-man race here.  These lives we live, they’re part of a relay race.

In a one-man race it’s all on you.  I’m a recreational runner (at best), so I have little personal experience of this.  But I know people who do.

My Aunt Cathy was on the track team at our shared alma mater, Emory University.  “All the pressure is on you when you run an individual race,” she said. “Either you do it, or you don’t.”

My college friend, Angie, described running an individual race like this:  “If I was to run a mile, I would pace myself, the first lap to set the course, the second lap to move up, third lap to pull away, and fourth lap is all out sprint.”

In a one-man race, you take on all the pressure while having to save up stamina, because there aren’t any reinforcements coming in.

A relay race is different.

relay race.jpgIn a relay race you still have your individual responsibility.  Take a 4×400; each runner is responsible for their 400-yard stretch.  But because it’s only 400 yards – and not a full mile – you can give it all you’ve got.  “No way I could maintain that pace for 4 laps,” said college friend Angie.  “I would pass out!”  The end result is that, as a team, those four runners can clock a much faster mile than any of them could individually.

My pastor friend, Laura, said she got her best personal times during relay races – not just for the whole mile, but for her own 400 yard sprints.  “I was able to push myself harder so I wouldn’t let my team down,” she said.  “I was usually the last leg, so if my team was ahead, I didn’t want to lose that and fall behind, and if we were behind, I wanted to make up time and help us win.”

Let’s look at Moses’ life again with that in mind.

If Moses is running an individual race, then yes – it’s a depressing end.  But there’s a clue that tells us this is a relay instead, and that clue is Joshua.

“Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid hands on him,” Deut 34:9 reminds us.  It appears that Moses had passed the baton to someone else.

Moses was not meant to run the whole race by himself… And neither are we.

If our lives were individual races, man, that would be a lot of pressure.  We’d think of all the good that needs doing in the world and feel discouraged, like I’m never gonna cross that finish line.  But our lives are a part of God’s race, a race God has designed to be a relay we all participate in.  We each have our part to do, and we should do it to the best of our abilities remembering that we are picking up where someone else left off.

On Sunday at Andrews UMC we observed All Saint’s Sunday, a day to remember those who have died and gone on before us.  As we remember them, we can remember the way they ran their races for God.  We can remember that they’re passing on a baton to us, one that we’ll take and pass on to others.

That pass, though – that’s tricky.

It’s the hardest part of the race, I hear.  The current runner has to keep up the pace while the new runner is starting fresh.  The new runner has a hand out behind, blindly ready to receive.  The current runner reaches out, places the baton where the grip will be sure.  “So much can be forgiven in a race,” Aunt Cathy said.  “Like running your leg slower, for example.  But the handoff better be good, or else!”

We don’t want to drop that handoff.

The loved ones we remembered today – they had a part they played in the race, a part we’re called to continue.  And don’t forget, this is a part in God’s race, so we’re looking for something that has to do with God’s kingdom.  It might have to do with loving God with all our heart and soul and strength.  Or maybe loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Maybe we save one of the fruit of the spirit in them, and we want to pick up the baton of love, or joy, or peace, or patience, or kindness, or goodness, or faithfulness, or gentleness, or self-control.

A baton is being extended to you.  Have you picked it up?

Now, it’s our turn to run with it – run as fast as we can for this leg of the race that’s ours, run knowing that it’s not our responsibility to win it all – but to do our best while the time is ours.  And then, one day, we’ll pass that baton to someone else… and we want to make it a good one.

Let’s start this work today with a simple prayer.

Remember someone you love who has died.

What’s something he or she did for God’s kingdom?  A Christ-like quality; a way they devoted their lives to God; a way they loved their neighbors; a fruit of the spirit they possessed?

Get that quality in mind.

Imagine it as a baton, being held out to you.

Now imagine yourself intentionally grab it.  As it’s in your hand you will run… but how?  What will you do to take that baton and run with it?

If you don’t know, ask God:  How do you want me to run my leg of the race?

Whether you’re clear on what you’ll do, or still working to figure it out, say this prayer:

God, let me run for you.

Not the whole race – I couldn’t do that.

But let me run my part.

I offer my life to you, following where others have left off.

I will do my best for as long as you need me to run.

Let me love you, and love others.

Let my life bear the fruit of the spirit.

Yes, let it honor the loved ones I’ve lost who ran before me…

But above all, let my leg of this race honor you.

Amen.

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