Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
October 18, 2015
“An Act of Remembering God”
“Let us now open our ears as we listen now to these words from the Old Testament, the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 8, verses 7-18.”
7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills,
8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,
9 a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.
10 You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
11 Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today.
12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them,
13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied,
14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,
15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock,
16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.
17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”
18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
“Let us allow God to open our hearts to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”
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Here it is the middle of October and already we are into our annual Thanksgiving celebration! What! Didn’t you know today was a day of thanksgiving? When I woke up this morning I gave God thanks for the breath of life, the food that I ate, the cloths on my back and a means of transportation to come and be with you today. I can also say how thankful and grateful my wife Lois and I are to be a part of this faith community. Not only that, you paid me to take another week off last week! How cool is that! Thanksgiving is one of those celebrations that we can renew every day of our lives! And on top of that our scripture lesson today is most frequently used to acknowledge and celebrate our annual and traditional Thanksgiving observance in late November.
So before I go on and on thanking our Music Director, our choir, our drummer and the praise band for the wonderful and worshipful music they bring to us each week – we best move on. Oh, did I mention how wonderful it is that all of you have come to worship this morning; and did we lift up all the volunteers who make things run so smoothly around here? Without our volunteer audio visual folks you would not hear my voice when I preach and pray, or God forbid, you might hear me singing into this mike because there was no one standing by to – shut off the volume – after I have said enough! And thank God we have a Stewardship Committee to help us focus on our gratitude and how we might respond with generosity and a willingness to support the ministries of this our church. Praise God! And let us be grateful for the numerous other volunteers that do so much and are tolerant enough to forgive me for not individually mentioning them this morning. But I would be remise if I did not mention our newest budding theologian in our midst that preached a wonderful sermon about living with fear last Sunday. Thank you Jarod!
Now as we enter into our discussion this morning I want to remind everyone that even more volunteers have helped organize a pot luck luncheon after church today. Please stay and enjoy; no one wants to take home left overs; so let’s be sure we take time to sample what has been gathered with such love and care; out of our gratitude, that’s the least we can do.
The overall theme “Trust in the Promise” of our Stewardship Campaign this year comes from Jeremiah chapter 29, verses10 and 11. “For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” It is summed up in this simple phrase: “Trust in the Promise.” But before we can truly discuss this we must be reminded, we need to have fresh in our minds what the promise was and is. In verse one of this 8th chapter of Deuteronomy Moses instructs the people that they “must diligently observe, the entire commandment, that Moses had given them, so that they might live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.”
From Matthew Henry’s Commentary we are reminded of the works of Moses, at the time of the exodus of the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians, as recorded in the ancient documents we refer to as the Old Testament. For “Moses directs to the duty of a prosperous condition. Let them always remember their Benefactor. In everything we must give thanks. Moses arms them against the temptations of a prosperous condition. When men (and women) possess large estates, or are engaged in profitable business, they find the temptation to pride, forgetfulness of God, and carnal-mindedness, very strong; and they are anxious and troubled about many things.”
One theologian, a Dennis Bratcher, puts forward this remark. “One of the greatest dangers that we face as Christians, especially those who feel led into some kind of special ministry, is that we are tempted to forget where our strength lies.” As we ponder his comment, let us be sure we understand that we are all included in this for his use of the words “special ministries” can be applied to every volunteer in this and every church, as-well-as every organization or community action. And also includes every duty and responsibility or job we undertake as individuals. For in the eyes of God every use of our gifts, be it singing or picking up after a meal and washing a dish, is a ministry to others and is customized to your ability thus your special ministry. Therefore, we are being reminded that we all are in danger of the temptation to forget where our strength comes from.
From John Wesley’s Notes we hear his words of caution. “It is good for us likewise to remember all the ways both of God’s providence and grace, by which he has led us hitherto through the wilderness, that we may trust him, and cheerfully serve him.” At times it can be difficult to bring to our conscious minds all the times that we clearly knew we were ok and that God was close at our sides. Wesley is simply reminding us how important it is to bring those times, those moments to our present moments, especially when it is a challenging moment.
Two weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I took my wife to the airport so that she could spend a week with our daughter and her family in New Hampshire. It was a rainy morning and on the way back to Sebastian I stopped to take a needed break and upon walking back to my car I lost my footing and fell hard to the pavement. I split open my chin and sprained my wrist and scrapped up my knees and even scratched my glasses. As I got up and took an accounting I realized first, that I was hurt, it was only later that I began to count my blessings as I started to realize what didn’t happen. I didn’t break my knees, or smash up my face or break my wrist. I had easy access and choices as I drove to an emergency room. With a new technic they glued together the gash on my chin and it has healed with hardly a trace. Although my chin is still very sensitive to touch, thus reminding me, how fortunate indeed, as I only bruised the bone of my chin, I didn’t shatter it.
Many have experienced moments when it was hard to be grateful, till later on. You and me, we are only human. This shall happen from time to time. During such times, we need to rely on each other and those around us, and near to us, to remind us that we are not alone. We need to reach out to one another, thereby helping us remember: that we are still cared for and as time moves us, we can be gradually reminded of how clearly fortunate we are. For our God has promised to be with us during the difficult times as we journey ever onward.
The sign in front of the Lutheran church near where I live has a catchy phrase for the passerby to ponder. “God promises a safe landing; God does not promise a calm passage.” I suspect the local pastor plans to preach several sermons on that topic as I can’t imagine covering all the possible topics it brings to mind, in just one sermon. For us today, it is again a reminder that we need to trust in God, trust in the promises of God, for there will be, there shall be: moments that are difficult; some more than others, as time moves on. This is the human condition.
Verses 12 thru 14 remind us that remembering to be grateful is often more difficult in good times then in bad times. “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God.” During the aftermath of catastrophic events like earth quakes and tornadoes people turn to God. Those recently freed from some burden or another turn to God in gratitude. But, when you have been working sixty to eighty hours at your job and finally get that well deserved and sought after promotion… do you remember to thank God for giving you the skills the tenacity and grit that it took to climb that corporate latter?
Giving thanks is an action. Being grateful is an action. Picking what day of the year to celebrate a blessing: is a choice. You and I, we have choices. We can remain open to the possibilities that God still has in store for us or we can stay wrapped up in our own personal lives and shut God out. For me, personally, God has blessed me with many gifts. In gratitude I strive to give back through my service to the community I live in, my contributions to the circle of people I interact with, and my willingness to be a good steward within the church where I have been invited to serve. This, I believe, is what the prophet Jeremiah was suggesting to those he was speaking to in this morning’s lesson.
As we bring our discussion to a close this morning, we must acknowledge and remember that the opposite of fear is faith. Although we live with fear we can also live with faith. And from out of our faith we can trust in the promises of God. “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your work, says the Lord… there is hope for your future: your children shall come back to their own country.” These words from the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 31, verses 16 and 17) sum up for us how we are to stay faithful to our God; trusting in God’s grace and mercy, believing that the ancient promises of God, still have merit in our day to day lives here in the Twenty-First Century.
Surely, if we keep the faith, trust in God, thus inviting God into all areas of our lives; not just into the good times, and not just involving those things we have under control and in order, but trusting God in the most difficult moments… those darkest of moments. Then truly we will begin to believe in a time of thanksgiving – thus filling our hearts with gratitude – thereby allowing us to acknowledge that ‘Thanksgiving’ can indeed be celebrated any and every day of the week; and most certainly on the 18th day of October, in the year 2015!