In Nomine Iesu
November 23, 2017
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~
The Book of Deuteronomy is essentially one last, long sermon from the mouth of Moses. It is Moses’ swan song; for his departure was near. He was 120 years old. And for those final four decades he had been leading the children of Israel through the wilderness. This final “sermon” consists of thirty-some chapters, filled with law and gospel, threats and promises, history and prophecy.
If you’ve read much of Deuteronomy, you may have noted how it sometimes sounds redundant to modern readers. But what you have to remember is that, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, that original generation of Israelites who had been delivered from slavery in Egypt—they were all gone. It was a new crew of Hebrews who were about to cross the Jordan and take possession of the Promised Land—with all of its bounty. They needed to hear the history. They needed to know what had come before. Going forward, they needed to remember to remember.
That’s what Moses reminded them in today’s text: Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna. . . . Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Remember to remember.
Of course, remembering is risky business. It’s not for the faint of heart. Because right alongside all those rosy remembrances, there’s also a more harrowing history—a history of rebellion against God, of disregard for His commandments, of faithlessness in the face of trials and troubles. What, exactly, did Moses’ listeners have to remember? Well, there was the idolatry of the golden calf, grumbling about the manna, murmuring against Moses, fire and snakes and plagues as punishments from the Lord. We like to remember the good old days; but in, with and under those days . . . are deeds—deeds that are not so good—sins that stain our history.
Now, the challenge before us today is giving thanks, not remembering. This is Thanksgiving Day, not Remembrance Day. But Moses is teaching us that, in order to be thankful, we must first remember. And this remembering is not always pleasant. For we each have our own harrowing history. Not everyone here this morning has forty years in the wilderness to unpack; while others of us are well past that point. But if you’re going to be thankful—if you’re going to bless the Lord and praise the Lord—then you need to remember to remember.
Remember when you woke up face down in a sinful mess of your own making—when you put pleasure ahead of principle, and tested the boundaries to see just how far you could wander from home. Remember your faithless fear when you were flat on your back and the surgeon was sharpening his scalpel, and you were terrified. Remember the times you grumbled and mumbled against the Lord—when you cursed His holy name for taking away from you that which you loved—or for how He humbled you the hard way, in full view of everyone. Do you remember?
Because if you do remember that unholy history, then you cannot help but also see traces of grace in that history of horrors. For here you are on this Thanksgiving Day in the year of our Lord 2017. You are the living proof that our Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve. When you’ve been faithless, He’s been faithful. When you have fled from Him, He has not ceased to follow you all the days of your life. When you have not remembered—when you have forgotten the Lord in times of plenty and prosperity—He has not forgotten you.
There’s a tradition at some Thanksgiving tables where before the meal everybody has to tell something for which they are thankful. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that per se—nothing wrong with praising God for your Play Station or blessing Him for you BMW. But that’s an attitude of gratitude that just won’t last. It can’t. It’s based on what’s here today and gone tomorrow. Wouldn’t we be better served to go around the table and remember? How God helped us in our time of trouble? How He remembers no more the sins we can’t forget? How He used the surgeon and the pastor to bring health and healing for both body and soul? Such remembering gives us reasons for real, honest thanksgiving.
The Israelites had miracles to remember. When they looked back, they saw divine displays of supernatural power . . . and so do we. No, we haven’t walked through the Red Sea on dry ground; but we have been born again in the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism—named and claimed as God’s own children. That’s worth remembering. No, we haven’t been fed with manna from heaven; but we have been fed with the precious body and blood of our Lord in His Holy Supper, for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s worth remembering. No, we haven’t been rescued from a life of slavery under Pharaoh; but we have been rescued from the power sin, death and hell by Jesus Christ the Son of God, who loved you and who gave Himself for you—who bore your sins in His crucified body, and who gives you His own righteousness. That’s worth remembering. No, we haven’t been led each day by a pillar of cloud and each night by a pillar of fire; but the Risen Christ does come among us as we are gathered in His name to forgive us, renew us, and lead us (and love us). This is worth remembering. This is every reason for praise and thanksgiving.
Moses’s words about remembering the Lord came at a unique time in Israel’s history. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another. The wilderness was behind them and the Promised Land was before them. Even as they listened to old Moses, they were looking ahead in hope and anticipation: wheat and barley, figs and pomegranates, milk and honey. What God had promised so long ago was now becoming a reality.
That’s also where we find ourselves on this Thanksgiving Day. For as surely as Joshua led God’s people into the Land of Promise, so a new and better “Joshua” is leading us into the life of the world to come. Jesus is our Joshua. He has gone before us in a battle to the death, and has emerged triumphant and resurrected on the other side of the Jordan. Our thanks this day is not just based on remembering things that have already happened, but also on remembering things that will happen—things that Jesus promises for all who trust in Him: including the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We look back and see grace; we look ahead and see a sure and certain hope.
Have a happy Thanksgiving . . . and don’t forget to remember.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.