Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you
Day of Thanksgiving 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon theme is pulled from the Old Testament reading, Deuteronomy 8:2, “You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you.” Our text thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
I had totally forgotten about that! I haven’t thought about that in years!
It’s been about 8 or 9 years since I was at the house of my dear wife’s uncle Bill for Christmas. Just the other day, Laura mentioned Uncle Bill and Aunt Cass, and then we started reminiscing about the last time we saw them, and then we started talking about the last time I was there at their house, how they have a den that comes off of their kitchen, how they had stockings hanging on a string over the mantel of their fireplace.
And that got me thinking of a remarkable silly little story. Laura’s family was around for a gift exchange, we were sitting all in the den, and Uncle John was up in the kitchen. He decides to open a bottle of champagne, he undoes the wire, he unwraps the foil, and the cork pops up to the ceiling. Now, there are about 20 people there, so he goes to get another bottle. He undoes the wire, he unwraps the foil, he points the bottle and pop, the cork goes flying twenty feet or so, it hits the mantel like a backboard and falls right into a stocking. You could have done it a hundred more times and it wouldn’t have happened again.
And I say to Laura, I had totally forgotten about that! I haven’t thought about that in years!
I tell you that to tell you this: remembering brings the past back to the present. For me that day, it meant a pleasant and silly memory of people that I loved. Remembering brings the past back to the present, and that’s doubly true for the holidays. Today, we will find ourselves reminiscing. We’ll find ourselves thinking about the past.
For some, the past is full of happy memories, of traditions that you will be a part of today, that you’re going to make the stuffing the way your mom used to make the stuffing, do the cranberries the way you remember Grandma made cranberries. For others, the past is full of regrets, of sadness, of people who have disappointed you, of broken relationships, of hopes dashed. For still others, the past is full of the ghosts of those who have passed away, the ache of loneliness that comes from loss. The first Thanksgiving since that loved one was laid to rest.
Whatever the past that comes to present today, whatever the context of your memory as you come to Thanksgiving today, whatever you reminisce about, I would invite you to bring it to the foot of the cross. I invite you to pour it out before the heart of our God. I invite you into our text today, where God bids his people to remember, and to remember means to bring the past back to present. Three thoughts for our sermon today: first, remember the whole way of where you have gone. Second, remembering the past often allows us to see God’s hand in a way we cannot in the present. Third, God calls us to remember where he promises to work and what he promises to do.
In the book of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are knocking on the door of the promised land. They had been in the little itty bitty desert on the far side of the Red Sea for forty years, and now they were about to enter into the Promised Land. They had been led by Moses for those 40 years, and now he was giving his final speech, his deutero nomos, his second giving of the Law.
He tells them, remember. Remember the whole way of where you have gone. He says, remember the whole way that the Lord has led you. The whole way. Even a brief survey through Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy would tell you that things have not always been easy for the people of Israel.
They were at the Jordan River, knocking on the door of the Promised Land forty years ago, mere weeks after they had received the 10 Commandments from Mt. Sinai. They had the chance to move into the Promised Land, but they saw the people there and their hearts were afraid.
They had grumbled about no food. They had grumbled about manna. They had grumbled about too much manna. They had grumbled about quail. They had grumbled about water. They had rebelled. They had made a lot of mistakes.
They were to remember the whole way. Remember their mistakes, the ones that God had used to discipline them like a dad disciplines his children. Two days ago, I had the chance to discipline my boy Benny. I sent him to his room for doing this and that. I came in, he apologized, I forgave him, and we hugged. And I told him what I often tell him, that I want him to grow up big and strong and kind and wise, so I discipline him. They were to remember their successes, the way that this generation had grown up in their faith to love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and mind.
And more than all of that, notice what they were to remember the most: Notice it in the verbs of our text. Remember that God had been the one who led them. That God had been the one who provided for them. Remember that God was with them, God was leading them, God was feeding the, God was caring for them.
Dear friends, this is the second great point of our sermon today, remembering the past often allows us to see God’s hand in a way we cannot in the present. The truth of the Christian is that God is present everywhere. His Spirit is active. He is working whether or not we can see him, whether or not we understand what he is doing.
He is working in our joy, reminding us where true joy resides. He is working in our mistakes, teaching and disciplining us. He is working even in our tears, in the loss we feel over our loved ones. He is working, patiently and slowly.
And so we get to the third great point of our sermon. God calls us to remember where he promises to work and what he promises to do. The promised land that God promised to his people of Israel was a good thing for only a time; the promised land of the new creation is a promise for eternity. The manna in the desert satisfied them for a day but the bread of God’s Word will satisfy them for eternity. The water from the rock satisfied their earthly thirst, but the Living Water who is Jesus Christ will ensure they will never go thirsty again.
And then a curious thing happens. We begin to remember differently. Instead of just the feeling of overwhelming loss, death becomes a doorway instead of a wall, and the promise becomes that our loved one stand by the side of Jesus Christ, and though there are tears, they are tears in the hope of something more.
Instead of joy being a happiness for the moment, it becomes something more. It becomes a little picture of something that is beyond it, a little taste of a really great feast, the first glimpse of a joy that has no ending in a place that has no darkness.
And then, perhaps most remarkably, something happens to our mistakes. Or rather, something happens to us. You see, for the Christian, as we remember our faults and failures in the light of the Gospel, in the light of forgiveness, we have the freedom to know those mistakes, to name them, to acknowledge them, and to know that as often as we confess our sins, we receive forgiveness which washes over them like a flood. As often as we drop to our knees, that often does Christ answer us with the words that only he can say. As often as we kneel to receive it, we remember that Christ has paid for them all.
There is no reason to hide, no reason to defend. There is only and ever the love of Christ that lifting up our sorry souls, separating us from our sin as far as the east is from the west, cleaning us so that our sins which were like scarlet become as white as snow.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters