Do Not Forget

Gratitude Season #2
Deuteronomy 8:11-18 & Mark 8:17-21
20 October 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                                                  
As we are perched on the edge of our “promised land” I’ve been reading Deuteronomy lately.  Deuteronomy is presented as Moses’ last words to all Israel before they entered Canaan.   It is meant to focus them on what matters to them as a people as they enter a new phase of life together, more established.   Now many scholars believe this book was written or edited many years later, because it shows signs of later periods such as when Assyria dominated the region and when King Josiah was making reforms.  It shows signs of the later exile, when the people were removed from the land, sent away by the Babylonians.   But no matter the timing of the writing, the setting is when the people are about to move into the Promised Land.   After leading the people for forty years, Moses doesn’t get to go in.  As I’ve only been pastoring this flock for eight years, I sure hope I don’t have to die sitting over here at MAR.   
The word, Deuteronomy, is Greek, for second law or repeated law.   But law as understood by the Hebrew people was more than legal requirements.  Law was life.  It was guidance.   It was help.   The Hebrew people call this book “Devarim” which means “words.”  These are the words, the story they are not to forget.   In fact, twenty-three times in the book of Deuteronomy, God’s people are told either in the positive or the negative, “Remember” or “Do not forget” the Lord your God and all God has done for you.
Deuteronomy 8:11-18
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.
Remember.   Do not forget.   Every week we come to the table to feast on Christ and we rehearse Jesus’ table words to the disciples from Luke and 1 Corinthians:  Do this in remembrance of me.  The Greek word he uses there is anamnesis.  Remembering not forgetting – not having amnesia.   We do not want to have amnesia about what Christ/God has done.   As I was thinking about this, I remembered this challenge from Jesus to the disciples who are worried about having enough bread. This is just after the miracle of feeding the five thousand.  Jesus and the disciples had left that great crowd, leaving in a boat, arriving in Dalmanutha where the Pharisees pester Jesus, and they left again by boat.  While on their second boat trip, they realized they only have one loaf of bread.  
Mark 8:17b - 21
Jesus said to them, "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" They said to him, "Twelve." 20 "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" And they said to him, "Seven." 21 Then he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"
(New Revised Standard Version)

So we have the Israelites perched on the edge of newness (or living in times of struggle long after the newness has worn off) hearing the challenge to remember that it was not by their own might, not by their own strength, not by their own smarts that they were blessed with a land of plenty.   And we have the disciples, worrying over their single loaf of bread, fretting that there will not be enough, even after Jesus has performed a great miracle multiplying the bread, however you interpret the miracle.
It’s a lot like us.   When we are worried about something, we go running to God in prayer.   Please God help me.   I’m struggling.   I’m worried.   I need you to help me with this test, this broken relationship, this health issue, this grief, this decision.   But then we forget that God helped.   Just as soon as life is going well again, we stop praying, and we don’t even remind our own hearts, not to mention telling anyone else, that it was God who got us through that hard time.   It was God’s help that we needed and God’s help we got.  It was the Spirit of Jesus Christ sustaining us and leading us out of darkness.   But as soon as we see the light, we forget who brought us to it.
That’s why it takes a whole season of gratitude at Peace to wake us up.   Yes, we started thanking God last week, with the one leper out of ten who remembered to go back to say “thanks.”  We recognized that we’re often like the nine who run off with our healing and forget.  Yet, Jesus says it is the expression of thanks that actually makes us whole, in the largest sense of that word.   Thanksgiving saves us, even after Jesus has healed our bodies.  
As we at Peace prepare to move to our “promised land,” we easily already forget where we were back last spring, when the Faith Church property was found to be infected with mold and the bank insisted that all liability be on us and we were dead in the water.  No options.   But God came through at the perfect moment, providing us with a new and better option.   We can easily forget the year before that, when we were so disappointed that we could not afford the cost of building on the five acres on Lorraine Road, and God knew but we did not know, that we really could afford more, but God prevented us from acting too quickly.   
Because then we would have built on a tiny five acre site, heavily controlled by SMR, and now, because of the growing faith of the people of Peace, we can afford to buy and to build on this lovely twenty-four acre site because many of us trusted that there will be enough bread, enough retirement, enough to pay the bills month by month.  These last eighteen months have had purpose – teaching us to trust God.
You see, this act of remembering what Christ/God has done and can do empowers that attitude of trust that there will be enough bread, enough money, enough of whatever it is you are worried about having.   But if you forget and think that is by your own strength, power, wisdom that you have achieved good fortune (as a individual or a community or even a country) then you fail to give thanks and in your amnesia, you lose not only your memory of God’s goodness but with it, you lose your faith, courage, or wisdom for the present and the future.   
You know one of the traditions that has made this country great is our emphasis on the Thanksgiving holiday.   I despise the way Black Friday commercialism keeps creeping toward Thursday, crowding out our one big day for giving thanks.   For those who are forced to work on Thursday to prepare for Friday’s craziness, I have sympathy.   
When people forget God, they begin to worship their possessions, and they begin to take unfair advantage of the poor, or at least to be less concerned for them.   When people forget God, they think it is all up to them to guard their future, instead of trusting that all will be well we will seek the way of Christ in the world.
When people forget what Christ can do, they grow in anxiety about God’s faithful provision, which is sure.    How am I going to pay my bills?   How am I going to be secure in retirement?   How am I going to pay for my kids college education?   
People who have forgotten God also fret about time.  True confession time.   This is one of my biggest weaknesses – thinking there’s not enough time.   God gives us all the time we need to do what we are called to do.   
If we are frantic about time, it is that we had unrealistic expectations about what we should be able to accomplish.   We needed to simplify.  We have enough.  And all this fear of not having enough money or enough time is really a trust issue.   Who is in charge?  God or me?   Have I remembered that God has blessed me and given me everything I need, including all the time I need to accomplish every single thing God intends me to accomplish?   
We heard on Friday night from Pastor Helevio Poget from Madagascar and Doug Tilton, PCUSA global mission coordinator for six countries in Southern Africa, that 85% of the people in Madagascar identify as Christian, even though many of them live in terrible poverty, especially since the coup d’etat of 2009.   It is estimated that they are the tenth poorest country in the world in terms of food shortages.   And compare ourselves that to our country, where a shrinking number of people identify as Christian.   We don’t need God.   We have forgotten what God has done.   We are self-made and independent.   
It is time to remember again the story that it is God who rescues his people and carries them through the wilderness, who gives them guidance to follow so that it will go well with them.  Those ten commandments are aimed at making us well, at giving us a blessed life, as we honor God and care for one another.   Remember my friends – we have more than a few reasons to give thanks.  Christ was a little harsh with his disciples, asking them, after they forgot so quickly his ability to provide for them:  do you not hear or see or understand?   So in his Spirit, I say to you, do you not see all God is doing for you?  Do you know how much Christ loves you?   Do you have friends or family who care about you?   Do you have shelter, food, health care, education?  You have transportation, enough money/bread for this day, clean water, reasonable safety – that’s more than most of the world’s people have.   Last year we read the book One Thousand Gifts, a book that challenged us to start a journal, writing down all the little blessings of the day – everything from the taste of maple syrup to the feeling of warm sun on our backs.   The trouble is one thousand is not a large enough number.  This year we declare that there are ten thousand reasons to give thanks, to bless the Lord our God.