Sermon / Oct 9, 2016 / Thanksgiving / Deut 10-11; 17-18a / Pastor Terry Defoe
My message on this Thanksgiving Sunday is based on a text from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, chapter 8, verses 10 and 11, as well as 17 and 18. Moses says to the people of Israel – and to us today:
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God... 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth... (N.I.V.)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Our text this morning, as you just heard, is from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. "Deuteronomy" actually means “second law” or “repeated law.” The book of Deuteronomy reiterates the Law of Moses – for the benefit of a new generation of Israelites – the ones who were getting ready to enter the Promised Land. Deuteronomy has three basic commands for the people of Israel.
· The first is to "remember."
· The second is to "obey."
· And the third is to "behold the land."
Each of these commands is connected to the special relationship God had established with his people. Deuteronomy, chapter 8, verse 2:
"Remember how the Lord your God led you."
“... behold the land of promise.”
The people of Israel were soon to enter a land with many rich blessings and many severe challenges as well. God wanted his people to know – and to remember – that this land was His free gift to them – today we would call it a gift of His grace. And it was given to a people he had redeemed from death and destruction. I pray that God would abundantly bless our consideration of His holy Word this day!
A critical command in our text this morning is the focal point of our Thanksgiving celebrations, and that is the command to “remember." Pastor Kenneth Behnken reminds us that a related word for “remember” is “reminisce.” So what does it mean to reminisce? It is to remember with a sense of fondness and a subtle sense of joy. Pastor Behnken says,
That’s what God’s people do, when they think about their God and what he has done for them.
In all ages and generations, God’s people remember – and reminisce about – afflictions that turned out to be blessings. God had tested his people for 40 years in the desert. He tested them with various afflictions, as they moved toward the land of blessing. During that time, God satisfied their hunger with manna and quail and sustained them by his grace. That long and arduous journey forced the people of Israel to depend on God’s every word and action. During that time, He miraculously fed them, strengthening them physically, and he also strengthened them spiritually with his Word. This act of remembering – this reminiscing when faith is added to the mixture – leads to praise and thanksgiving: Verse 10:
…praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. (N.I.V.)
Willis P. King, writing in a Christianity Today publication titled “Pulpit Preaching” defines the word “gratitude.” He then compares that definition with the meaning of the word “thanksgiving.” He says:
Gratitude is from the same root word as "grace," which signifies the free and boundless mercy of God. Thanksgiving is from the same root work as "think," so to think about God's mercies is to thank Him for his grace.
Citation: Willis P. King in Pulpit Preaching. Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 17. As seen in www.PreachingToday.com
On their journey through the wilderness the children of Israel had to fight the same sin that catches so many of us today – the sin of self‑sufficiency – thinking that we can do everything on our own and that, as a result, we don’t need God. According to the third chapter of Hebrews in the New Testament, the “land of blessing” -- the Promised Land -- we Christians are heading toward is not Canaan but heaven. We deceive ourselves when we think that we can handle every problem that comes our way completely on our own. We deceive ourselves when we think that we really don’t need God’s help. Too often, when we succeed in life, we take all the credit. My point? It’s oh-so-easy to forget God, the one who enables us to earn a living in the first place.
In Deuteronomy, chapter 8 we are reminded about what we already know – that God is gracious and merciful. We are reminded that He wants only the best for his people. And that He wants to supply our every need. It doesn’t matter whether these needs are physical or spiritual. As we remember, or, maybe I should say, as we reminisce about these things, we realize that it wasn't our power or ability that made all these things happen. We couldn't do anything without God's power at work in us. An honest appraisal of our lives – our individual lives or our congregational lives -- reminds us that whatever we have been able to accomplish, has been done by God’s blessing.
Using Moses' own words, we realize that God has "humbled” us – in other words, he has encouraged us to take our eyes off ourselves. Second, He has "tested" us – and we realize that we don’t live on earthly bread alone. And thirdly, he has "satisfied" us – by means of the true bread of life that comes down from heaven – and that, of course, is Jesus Christ our Lord. In Deuteronomy, chapter 8, Moses encourages us to follow God's every command so that we might "live." “Life" – true Biblical living - is characterized by happiness and prosperity, and it results from a strong relationship with God. Should this relationship be broken – and not subsequently repaired – death will result. Jesus Christ died for us on the cross – so that our sins might be forgiven – He died so that we might have life in the fullest sense of the word. Jesus says, in John, chapter 10, verse 10:
I have come that they might have life and have it to the full. (N.I.V.)
The Gospel of John is summed up with these words – John ch. 20, v. 31:
... these (things) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (N.I.V.)
Those who listen to the Word of God are those who remember good things – and they take some time to reminisce. In the Bible, true spiritual remembering is more than just recalling knowledge. In the Bible, true spiritual remembering is mentally re-enacting and re-living salvation’s story. In the book of Deuteronomy, God commands His people to remember the salvation they have received by His grace. In Deuteronomy, chapter 32, verse 7, God says:
Remember the days of old.
When the people of Israel remembered, they recalled hot sand on their feet, they brought to mind parched throats, and hollow, growling stomachs. When the people of Israel remembered, they also recalled how God had transformed these things into protection for their feet, a cool drink of water, and the sweet taste of manna – bread from heaven. On this Thanksgiving Sunday, on a day when many will be enjoying a special meal, I share this little story with you. It’s about a little boy whose heart was in the right place, even if he didn’t get the words exactly right. Charlotte Slater in a publication called “The Christian Reader,” says:
One evening at dinner, our four-year-old grandson, Robbie, volunteered to say the blessing. With hands folded, Robbie said his usual table grace, "God is great, God is good ..." but after a quick peek at the food on the table, quickly added, "And thank you, God, for the hands that repaired it!"
Charlotte Slater, Greenville, Pa. Christian Reader, "Kids of the Kingdom." www.PreachingToday.com
God wants us to remember, that is, he wants us to mentally re-enact and re-live, the saving acts of Christ. In the Lord's Supper, which we share on this Thanksgiving Sunday, we personally and directly participate in God’s salvation. Today, we remember Jesus’ death, his resurrection, his present involvement in our lives, and his promise to return again. In the Lord’s supper, which we share today, we receive all the benefits of Christ's amazing salvation – we receive the full and free forgiveness of all of our sins – and that is made possible only by the sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross.
Life isn’t always easy. There are difficult times – times of trial and struggle – times when we want to throw in the towel and call it quits. But, as God’s people, our remembering – this special Biblical kind of remembering! – helps us bear up under the load. Deuteronomy, chapter 8, verse 3 says
… man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God
Jesus quoted this verse at the beginning of his ministry. He quoted it when Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread. Jesus, like the nation of Israel before him, was tempted in the wilderness, but where Israel had failed, Jesus, the Messiah, was victorious. And he didn’t do that just for himself, he did it for us, and for the whole world. Jesus says, with words of amazing grace, in John chapter 6, verse 35 --
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.
Martin Luther's explanation of the Commandments wonderfully captures both the Law and the Gospel when he says: "We should fear and love God that we may do this or that..." This "remembering" – this reminiscing that we’ve been talking about this morning – builds our relationship with God and also with his people. We say, with all of God’s people, through all generations (Psalm 118:29, N.I.V.)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
In our text this morning, God encourages us to reminisce about what he has done for us in the past, for what he is doing for us right now, and for what he will do for us in the future. When Israel stopped to think about all that God had done for them, they were moved to praise God. Both congregations and individual believers remember times when they were humbled, times when they wanted to give up. But God’s people also realize that God has been with them – even in their difficulties – or maybe I should say ESPECIALLY IN THEIR DIFFICULT TIMES. In our personal lives, too, when we step back and recollect, we remember times when we were sick or discouraged, times when we felt that no one really cared. But God was there. He encouraged us. He brought healing. In our busy lives, it’s so easy to forget how many times the Lord has helped us. God has humbled us. But He has helped us, too, by his Word and Sacrament. We can now say – with the apostle Paul, in Romans, chapter 8, verse 28:
... in all things God works for the good of those who love him... (N.I.V.)
Consider the following illustration of the truth of Romans 8:28 --
A ship was wrecked, and the only survivor washed up on a small uninhabited island. He was exhausted. He cried out to God to save him. Every day he scanned the horizon, searching for help. Finally, he managed to build a rough hut and put his few articles in that hut. One day, coming home from hunting for food, he was stung with grief to see his little hut in flames and a cloud of smoke. The worst had happened. But early the next day, a ship drew in and rescued him.
He asked the crew, "How did you know I was here?"
They replied, "We saw your smoke signal."
Citation: John Yates, "An Attitude of Gratitude," Preaching Today, Tape No. 110. As seen in www.PreachingToday.com
Truly, in all things, God works for our good!
On this Thanksgiving weekend, it’s good to remember where we have been as God’s people. And it’s also good to remember where we are now. And it’s good to remember where we are going – by God’s guidance and grace. In our life together as members of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, God is tapping us on the shoulder this morning and asking us if we have stopped to think about where we are today. How would we have felt if we came to church today and found it boarded up? How would we have felt if Bibles and devotional books had been gathered up by some enemy of the church and burned? What a privilege it is to hear the message of God's love in Christ! What a privilege it is to kneel at the communion rail and enjoy fellowship with the living God, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ! What a joy it is to hear the words of forgiveness pronounced over our sinful lives. Think about all of the people who have gathered together, under the name of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, since its founding. Think of the influence that this congregation has had in the lives and hearts of thousands of people who have heard God’s word and received the Sacraments here. We truly have much to be thankful for today!
It’s good to remember that in our personal lives – in our families, our homes, among our relatives – we have been richly blessed. Every day, God has given us all of life’s necessities. In our spiritual lives, too, God continues to bless us. God loves us despite our faults and weaknesses. We begin to realize that none of the things we have now – not one of them – would have been possible without a God who loves us. God loves us just as we are, but he loves us far too much to leave us that way! As believers in Christ, our future is certain. Jesus has made that sure for us by his suffering, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. God will bring to pass his plan for our lives. Amen.
And now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in this same Christ Jesus. Amen!
Let’s Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – We thank you for stepping down from heaven and into human history. We thank you that you are our God, and that we are your people. Give us eyes to see your blessings. Give us lips to sing your praise. Help us remember what your Son has done for us, at the cross, and at the empty tomb. In his name we pray. Amen.