A Farewell Address

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

September 4, 2022
Labor Day Weekend

13th Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading – Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

Our topic for today’s sermon is “great farewell addresses throughout history.”  Here are some examples:

  • General Douglas MacArthur gave his farewell address to Congress on April 19th, 1951; this was the speech in which he included that famous line: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”  It would seem that General MacArthur didn’t take his own advice.  Toward the end of his life, he gave another farewell address to the Corps of Cadets at West Point, where he had served as Superintendent many years earlier. 

This one included that famous line: “My last conscious thought will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.” 

  • Speaking of generals, at the end of his second term as President, George Washington gave his farewell address in which he warned us to “avoid foreign entanglements.”  I wonder what our country and our world would resemble if we had followed his advice.
  • In baseball, the Yankee great Lou Gehrig found out in 1939 that he was dying of ALS, which has been renamed Lou Gehrig’s disease.  During his farewell address in Yankee Stadium, he remarked, “Today, I feel like the luckiest man on earth.”
  • The famous comedian Jack Benny hosted two farewell specials on NBC back in the early 1970’s.  He was already working on a third one when he died of stomach cancer in December 1974. 
  • And finally, even as we speak, Serena Williams is playing tennis at the US Open in New York.  She was supposed to be playing in her farewell game, but she keeps winning.  It would seem that Serena is not quite ready to give that farewell address just yet.

When an official farewell address is given, most of them include certain aspects:

  1. The timing is at the end of a large body of work.  No one sensible gives a farewell address after only a few weeks or months of involvement.  Then you just say goodbye and call it a day.
  2. The audience is composed of people who admire the speaker and want to express their own admiration by attending, listening closely, and even clapping loudly.  
  3. There is often a vivid emotional connection between the audience and the speaker.  Tears are not uncommon, especially from family members.  Even the speaker can choke up from time to time.
  4. The setting for that farewell address is somewhere meaningful.  You can’t just stand up in your own living room or on a random street corner and give a farewell address.  It must be done in just the right place:
    1. MacArthur at Congress and West Point
    1. Washington at Congress
    1. Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium on the Fourth of July
    1. Jack Benny on NBC television
    1. Serena Williams at the US Open.

This leads us to the two greatest farewell addresses in the Bible:  Jesus Christ and Moses.

Jesus gave his farewell address to just his Apostles on top of a mountain in his home territory of Galilee – or on Mount Bethany or on Mount Olivet near Jerusalem, depending on which Gospel you reference.  Whichever site was just perfect.

On that day, Jesus kept his remarks short.  He had just spent three years living with them and teaching them.  After his resurrection, Scripture tells us that he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”  He also promised to send them the Advocate – or the Holy Spirit – to help them.

What’s more, Scripture also tells us a troubling comment.  Even though the Apostles were overjoyed to see Jesus, we are also told “but some doubted.”  If we put ourselves in the places of those Apostles, it is a little hard to believe that after all they had seen and experienced, some of them STILL doubted!

But I guess lots of words weren’t really necessary for Jesus on that day.  He had said and done it all, and the Holy Spirit was coming soon on the Day of Pentecost.

That leaves us with the farewell address from the Old Testament hero we read about today, Moses.

When Moses was to give his farewell address, it was the perfect time, audience, and setting.

He gave it at the end of 40 years of traveling in the desert led by the Lord God Himself.  Moses had done all he could for those troublesome Israelites, but the Lord had gotten them to the very edge of the Promised Land, a land “flowing with milk and honey.”  No more manna was necessary after today.  Also, Moses had been told by the Lord that he could see the Promised Land, but he would not enter it with the Israelites.  So the time was perfect.

The audience was certainly perfect for Moses’ farewell address.  He had led them disciplined them, loved them, cared for them, and even risked his own life for them for 40 years.  They OWED him, especially for all the trouble they had caused.

  • Remember the golden calf?
  • Remember the complaining about no food?
  • Remember the screaming and crying when they were “trapped” at the Red Sea with Pharoah’s soldiers and chariots bearing down on them?

They owed Moses their love, their devotion, and on that day – their rapt attention.

The setting was also perfect.  They had all reached the Promised Land.  They could see it; they could smell it!  Their animals probably could too.  After two generations of wandering, they were finally home.  But now they understand that Moses was not going with them, Joshua would be their new leader, and Moses was talking to them for the last time.  

Imagine their shock!  Imagine their heartbreak!  But that was how it was going to be.

And now Moses took his time laying out their possible future if they will only do one thing well:  listen to and follow the Lord in all they do.  Moses reminded them of past failings, but he also made it crystal clear that their best days were ahead…if only they would soften their often-hardened hearts and instead dedicate themselves to the Lord.

Such as easy promise to make in that setting. 

They wouldn’t dare tell Moses, “I can’t do that.”

They loved Moses and they owed him. 

The least they could do was to promise him they would do as he asked and follow the Lord.

But you have to wonder…do you think Moses fully trusted those Israelites?  Were they ready to go, even with an excellent leader like Joshua showing them the way?

They had turned away from the Lord so often during the Exodus story.  Even with the Ark of the Covenant leading them, even with the Ten Commandments inside of that Ark, even with all the miracles, signs, manna, rescue from the Egyptian army…

Even with all that, those Israelites had turned away from the Lord at the drop of a hat…and they would drop it!

So, I can’t help but wonder if Moses trusted his audience.  If you read the entire passage, there is almost a desperate sound to Moses’ words; they sound similar to Paul’s final letter to his protégé, Timothy; in Paul’s letter, he is going to die in prison, he seems to know it, and this will be the last letter Paul ever writes that we know of.  The tone of that letter certainly leads the reader to the conclusion that time is running out.

Moses gives the same tone to his farewell address.  Perhaps that is the best reason it should be heard and believed.

All of us will say goodbye to one another sometime, someday.  It is how life goes.  If we get the chance to give a farewell address, we should be loving and honest.  If we get the chance to hear a farewell address, we should be attentive and grateful.

And know this: Our Lord NEVER tells us goodbye…because we all know we will see him again.

Then all the farewell addresses in our lives and in history will be unnecessary.