Thursday, November 24, 2011
Sermon for the Day of Thanksgiving (November 27, 2011)
Right before the big game, the coach gives his team a pep talk in the locker room. They are about to go out and face their opponent on the gridiron. This team is imposing. They are vicious. And so the coach reminds the team how they got to this big game in the first place. They started out humbly. No one ever expected them to get this far. They made it through adversity after adversity during the season. They wrestled with other opposing teams along the way and managed to win. Now they are about to exit the doors of the locker room and spill onto the field where they will meet their challenger.
The coach tells them, “Remember your journey up to this point. Let that journey be a reminder to you that you can be victorious today.”
The team rises in unison. They huddle together and give one last cheer before the kickoff. Suddenly, the assistant coach stops them and says, “Remember, too, men, that you would not have gotten this far were it not for your head coach with his wisdom and skill. This man taught you how to play the game as it should be played. Do NOT forget what you’ve learned from him.”
The book of Deuteronomy might be called Moses’ pep talk to the people of Israel right before they entered Promised Land. The Israelites are about to cross the Jordan River, go to war with the Canaanites, and take possession of the land. All throughout the book, Moses tells them to “Remember.” Their beginnings were humble. They were the fewest of all peoples (Deut. 7:7). They were stubborn and rebellious (Deut. 9:6ff.). Yet Yahweh set his love upon them and chose them to be his own. He delivered them out of slavery in Egypt. He led them and fed them in the wilderness. One adversity after another came their way, and they survived. Moses tells them, “Remember where you came from. Remember who was with you along the way. When you enter the land that Yahweh is giving you, you will be tempted to forget all this. Do NOT forget what he has done for you and how he taught you along the way. Remember the One who remembers you.”
When you and I give thanks on a day like today, we normally think about the bounty of the land in which we live. Later on today, many of us will feast from that bounty. Some of us will even root for football teams who were probably given a locker room pep talk. In order to keep our Thanksgiving celebration from being limited to turkey and touchdowns, it’s good for us to remember where we came from … remember who was with us along the way … and remember the One who has remembered us.
Remember where you came from. Take time to look back. Recall not just the immediate present and the prior year. Think farther back into the past. Moses told the Israelites to think back over the previous forty years (I have a hard time remembering what I had for dinner last night). Remember the many ways in which God blessed you and took care of you throughout your life. Look back from your perspective today. Open up that mental scrapbook of yours. Turn the pages carefully. Look at the images you see there. Ponder and give thanks for the ways God has blessed you with material goods, deliverance from evil, and spiritual life in Christ through Baptism and the faith given to you by the Holy Spirit.
Remember who was with you and the lessons he taught you along the way. He is more than just your coach. He is your God who personally travels with you and graciously gives you his loving and merciful presence. He may have led you in the way of want at times. He did it for the Israelites. He let them feel hunger. But he did it to discipline them, to teach them to rely on his provision … that everything comes from his creative hand … that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” After Yahweh led them in the way of want, he fed them with manna. Not only that, their wardrobe lasted for forty years. Not a single shopping spree at the Sinai Super Mall. Not one stop at the Kadesh-Barnea K-Mart. And no blisters or swollen feet. No need to buy new Birkenstocks in Beth-Peor.
“Remember,” Moses urges the Israelites … and you and me. In times of prosperity, we are tempted to forget the Lord. In times of scarcity, we are tempted to curse the Lord. The author of Proverbs 30 says, “[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:7-9). Moses knew this would be a problem for the Israelites. Not long after our text, the prophet sternly warns the people: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish” (Dt. 8:17-19). Sadly, it wasn’t long before the Israelites did forget Yahweh and chased after the gods of the Canaanites.
You have known times of prosperity and scarcity. Right now we are experiencing leaner times. Our dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to. Some of you are unemployed. Perhaps there are days when you went to bed hungry. But the Lord is still taking care of us. When there is a need in our congregation, we can take care of one another and thereby serve “the least of these” as Jesus told us in last Sunday’s Gospel.
We complain, like the Israelites often did during their wilderness journey. But things could be worse. A friend of mine recently gave me a piece of wisdom. He said that the presence of thrift stores proves the abundance of our society. Perfectly good items are thrown away for newer and better goods. When the thrift stores disappear, that’s when we know things are really bad. But maybe that wouldn’t be so bad after all. Perhaps more people then will finally be looking for the true spiritual manna from heaven, realizing that “man does not live by bread alone.”
In both good times and bad, we are tempted to forget the Lord. But he never forgets us. God remembered his promise given to Abraham, to make a great nation out of his descendants. He saw the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Ex. 2:24).
But even before God’s covenant with Abraham, he made a promise to Adam that the whole world would be rescued from their slavery to sin, the slavery that started in the Garden. Psalm 98 says “Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! … He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” And guess when the Church sings that psalm. On Christmas Day. The Lord remembered his promises to Adam and to all people when he sent his Son into the world to be our Savior.
The Lord Jesus humbled himself and knew want and weakness. In his time in the wilderness, he was tempted for 40 days to deny his Father’s care for him. He fully relied on his Father’s provision and did not fall to Satan’s temptation to turn stones into bread when he was hungry. If we have cursed God because of our lack, Jesus became a curse for us at the cross so that he might bless us and fill us with his life and love. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says, “I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34).
Jesus forgets our sins. Then he remembers us before the Father. Even in his moment of greatest pain, while hanging on the cross, one of the criminals crucified with him said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). Now, those wounds he still bears in his resurrected flesh are a reminder to the Father that Jesus has earned for you a place in Paradise, the Promised Land of heaven, and a place in the new heaven and new earth in the resurrection to eternal life.
So remember where you came from. Remember who was with you along the way. Remember the One who remembers you. Remember the blessings he sets before you and give thanks. And come feast on the greatest of all Thanksgiving meals, the Holy Eucharist, where Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Receive the heavenly manna of Jesus’ body and blood, and be fed by his life and salvation until we feast at his table in eternity. Amen.