September 13, 2009
Today we pause in our series of sermons on the Fruits of the Spirit. You “nine o’clock worshippers” might be interested in reading those sermons. (Actually, some of you could benefit from them!) You can do so either on the website, or there are copies in the back of the sanctuary. It’s been a fun series so far! We’ve been thinking about these fruits – these things that are the outward signs that we have when we are “walking by the spirit,” as Paul told the Galatian churches. So far we’ve dealt with the fruits of love, joy, and peace. Next week we resume the series with the fruit of “patience.” So if you’re anxious to continue… Please! Have patience!
This week we’re taking a little foray back into the Old Testament, to the “Torah,” to the book of Deuteronomy. The passage we read comes after the giving of the Ten Commandments. And of course the account in Deuteronomy is the second telling of that event. You might remember that the original giving of the Ten Commandments comes in the book of Exodus. Well, it’s also found in Deuteronomy because Deuteronomy is a book that was written to remind the people what God had done for them.
Just before our passage, then, God gives this little explanation of why he chose the Israelites in the first place. And I love this. Listen to these words. I hope they are familiar. “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it is because the Lord loves you.” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
We don’t know why God had a “chosen people” way back then, but he did. And the Bible tells us that it was in his love that he chose them, not because they deserved it, not because they were more worthy than any other nation. By his love he chose them and he blessed them. And what follows is a wonderful description of the land of blessing to which he was bringing them, and a statement about “the goodness of the Lord.” That is the backdrop for our scripture for today from chapter 8.
There are two main things in this passage we need to consider. The first thing is the admonition to “Take heed, lest you forget – after you dwell for a while in that land of prosperity.” He was warning the people in case they would forget all that God had done for them once they were living at their ease. The second thing I want us to focus on are these words of warning. “Beware, lest you say in your heart, (where?) ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” Then he says, “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) Those two things are so important for us as we think about our own lives in God’s kingdom. We too cannot forget what God has done for us. And we must not start to think that it’s all achieved “by our own power.”
As I said, the backdrop for this is the statements God made about his choosing of Israel, and the blessing he gave them. But, the context is the book of Deuteronomy. And as I said a moment ago, the book of Deuteronomy has one overriding, important theme. And it is this: Remember! That puts our passage for today at the very heart of Deuteronomy! The reason for all that was that the people of Israel were prone to forget. That was their predisposition. That was their history. That was the eternal frustration of their God! It’s no wonder that this one entire book of their five most sacred writings was devoted to the theme of remembering.
What I want to ask you today is this. If we really think about it, do we not have that same tendency within us? If we are really honest with ourselves, will we not agree that we too are prone to forgetting about God, his grace, and our dependence on him. I think we are! (I know that happens to me!)
Of course it’s a different story when we’re hurting. When life is difficult, when things are not going so well, then we do turn to God. But once we’ve “made it through,” once we’re back to enjoying the good, not only do we forget, but like those Israelites we too tend to think it’s by our power we’ve gotten where we are.
God doesn’t want us to forget those things! In fact, he doesn’t want to be in our lives only in the difficult times – as important as that is. He wants to share all the times of our lives with us. More than that he wants to share the joy of our lives. He wants to enjoy his relationship with us! (We don’t often think of it that way, do we?)
I want you to notice how often God tells the people in the scriptures about the goodness of the land, and the wonders he’s done for them. Why? Is he trying to convince them of his greatness? Is he trying to prove something to them about his love? Possibly. But beyond that, he wants the people to enjoy all that. He wants them to remember his hand in their lives. And he wants to enjoy it all with them. He wants to share the good times, and to be a part of their lives in their prosperity!
That’s what he wants with us, too. I really believe that! I think you’ll agree that God blesses us in many ways. And sometimes we are called to stop and “count our blessings.” Why? Because too often we forget. That’s why. Then, like the people of Israel, we have a hard time giving God the credit. And I know that somewhere in the back of our minds we know that “giving God the credit” is the “right thing to do.” But somehow we only half believe it. Somehow we still think it’s by our power.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying we’re powerless, or we can’t do anything on our own. Of course we can! Many people do – and quite successfully! But when we are God’s people, it’s different. When we are God’s people I like to think we are then “living our lives in conjunction with” God’s power, spirit, and guidance. We walk by the spirit. (Which is a good metaphor, by the way!) But we do not do so aimlessly! We do so with God – not led, like on a leash, but guided, as though walking with a companion who suggests, guides, and encourages!
We walk by the spirit. So did the Israelites. They had to take steps of faith too, didn’t they? They took countless millions of them! And their steps were in the desert! They had to trust. They had to have faith – faith like we can hardly begin to imagine. But then, after they had arrived, God wanted them to remember that it was his hand by which they were delivered, and by which they lived and were living. And he wanted them to know that it was through his power that they even were who they were.
He wants the same for us. Because we are like those Israelites! We are in danger of forgetting? We are in danger of thinking we do everything by our own power? Let’s not think like that! Instead, let us heed the words of the Deuteronomist. Let us remember! Let us rejoice in God. For it is “not by our power.”
Eternal God, you are the source of all life and hope and joy. You have called us, you have sent your son to die for us, not when we deserved it, but when we least deserved it. Help us to know. Help us not to forget. Help us to rejoice in you, as you rejoice in us. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his glorious kingdom. Amen.