Remarks made at the memorial for Gary Morris
In my church tomorrow we will be reading a passage from the book of Deuteronomy:
Deut 34:1 (NRSV) Then Moses went up from the plains of Mo’ab to Mount Ne’bo, to the top of Pis’gah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gil’ead as far as Dan, 2 all Naph’tali, the land of E’phraim and Manas’seh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Neg’eb, and the Plain–that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees–as far as Zo’ar. 4 The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Mo’ab, at the LORD’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Mo’ab, opposite Beth-pe’or, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Mo’ab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses.
10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
When I was reflecting on what I wanted to say to everyone and how I wanted to honor Uncle Gary the above passage kept running through my head, and this is what I would say if I were there:
Moses never made it into the Promised Land. It is important for people of faith to hear that and understand it. Moses who witnessed so many of God’s miracles; Moses who led the children of Israel through the Red Sea and out of the slavery they knew in Egypt; Moses who received the ten commandments from the burning bush; that same Moses who spent so much of his life leading his people into the land that they had been promised by God, never made it there himself.
I have stood on that very spot on the top of Mount Nebo and if you look westward, in the far distance you can see the spires of Jerusalem. There were no spires in Moses’ day, but I can imagine how he must have seen the tops of those mountains and wondered what wonderful land God was leading his people to. How sad it must have been for Moses to stand there and know that his life’s journey would end before he reached his intended destination. Those that he loved would be going on without him and he would have to settle for the brief glimpse that he had of the Promised Land.
Moses was the most honored prophet in Old Testament times, even though by our modern standards we would say that he failed to reach his goal. He was honored because he was willing to go on the journey. He kept going even when everyone else wanted to turn back. Moses’ entire life was about one great journey: from the moment he was dropped into the Nile, until his death near the banks of the Jordan, his life was less about where he had been and more about where he was going.
I think the story of Moses standing on top of Mount Nebo and looking across the valley to the Promised Land is inspirational whenever we talk about someone who dies before he gets to where he really wants to be. Some of us are fortunate enough to achieve many of our goals in this life, but many of us aren’t. I wouldn’t say that Uncle Gary had much in common with Moses, they both spent their lives wandering in a way, but after very different things; but when I think of a man sitting on top of a mountain looking off into the distance and pondering what his life could be and wondering what God has in store for him, I do see a connection.
After so many years of struggling and wandering, I think Uncle Gary finally got a glimpse of where he wanted to be shortly before he died. Just a few weeks ago he was talking about how he wanted to make his father proud of him. I have no doubt that he wanted to be a better husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and musician as well. I think that he could look in the distance and see the direction that God was calling him, even though he didn’t completely make it there. Maybe one of the side effects of being a mountain man is that you are always looking into the distance and wondering what is just over the next hill. The truth is, we just don’t know. None of us would have guessed a few weeks about when we were gathered together to remember Papa that we would be together again this soon to remember Uncle Gary. Life has a way of speeding up as we get older, and no matter how much it may feel like death separates us from those we love, we have to on some level realize that it never separates us for very long. We never know how long we have, which is why we have to make each and every day of the journey count. We may never get to where we want to be; but the important thing to remember is that God honors us whenever we say yes to the journey, even if through our own faults or circumstances we are unable to realize all of God’s promises in this life.
I imagine that it must have been very hard for the children of Israel to leave Moses behind, but they had to. The only way that they could honor his life was by pressing on and moving into the land that Moses had longed for, but only got a glimpse of. They didn’t create a memorial or shrine to him, which is why they never knew where he was buried: his life wasn’t about building a tribute to where he got, but by always remembering where he wanted to go.
I don’t think that Uncle Gary ever completely got where he wanted to be in life, many of us never do, but I do think that he had hope for what he could become. He had said yes to the journey and was trying to head in that direction when God finally called him home. We can always remember Uncle Gary as he was, but we also should not lose sight of who he wanted to be. We should also continue to look into the distance and think about God’s promises to us and how we can continue to move toward them and live into them. We can honor him by continuing the journey that he started because we all have a father waiting for us just across the Jordan in the Promised Land, and it is never too late to make him proud.