Eve of the National Day of Thanksgiving
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Philippians 4:6-20
“Forget. Forget. Forget. Forget. Shut out all the distractions. Think about what’s going to be happening here in just a short while. Stay focused on the goal. It’s so close now. All the planning and preparation has come down to this. It’s go time.”
If you’ve been getting ready for Thanksgiving and Black Friday, you can probably imagine those thoughts running through your mind. You’re about to have the family over. You’re sitting down to feast on course after course at the big meal. You’re waiting outside a store early on Friday morning – or maybe even on Thursday evening this year as sales have expanded out to Thanksgiving Day. Charge the gates! It’s go time!
The Hebrew people might have been feeling the same way as they got ready to enter into the Promised Land. After forty years of migrating through the wilderness as a consequence for their disbelief, the people were right on the verge of having a place to call home, a place where they could settle down. In this evening’s text from Deuteronomy, the people hear that God is bringing them into a good and rich land through which He will provide for all their needs. At this point in their history, it’s easy to imagine that the Hebrew nation was ready to move in and move on. In their excitement to reach this ultimate destination, this great goal within reach, could they even think about anything else?
Have you been paying attention to all the hype around Thanksgiving this year? Although to be fair, I suppose it’s more about what happens after Thanksgiving that gets all the hype. At first, there was just “Black Friday,” the big shopping day for retailers to push into profitability. Then there were Small Business Saturday and “Cyber Monday,” when deal-hunters would patrol the Web to get great deals as they did their holiday shopping. But now that’s all expanded and intermingled, with online deals starting the week before Thanksgiving Day, and stores even opening Thursday evening after shoppers have had their fill of food and family. Admittedly, it can be pretty exciting to see the deals that retailers are offering, especially when so many of them are shiny new things that you know would make a great addition to your life. In the midst of all that hype and excitement, it becomes so easy to forget where you’ve been and where you’re at. Forget. Forget. Forget. Forget. You just start to see what could be ahead, the promise that the future might hold – and you might not even consider if that’s the future which you should be pursuing.
Before they moved ahead to the Promised Land, Moses called the people to remember. God had led the people those forty years, preserving them and shaping them as His chosen nation. Moses looked ahead and saw the likely future where the people would forget their identity as God’s people once they’d settled into their new homeland. After they’d taken possession of the good land into which God was placing them, the people might get so caught up in the prosperity they’d be enjoying that they’d forget the Lord and their history with Him. They could become so complacent in their identity as the nation through which God would make Himself known to the nations that they’d neglect their special role as the Lord’s ambassadors. They might take God’s provision for granted and fail to use what they had in the proper way. If the people forgot where they’d been and what they’d had, they’d just go off in pursuit of shiny things that promised to be great additions to their lives, even when those things might be the false gods of the nations around them.
On this eve of our National Day of Thanksgiving, have you forgotten? Are you waiting at the doors, ready to charge the gates? For what?
In the language of the Old Testament, “to remember” meant a lot more than it does in our modern English. It’s not just thinking about something or someone from the past. Remembering, in its fuller sense, is connecting with history in such a way that you are participating in it. When Moses puts it upon the Hebrew people to “remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you,” he’s calling them to stay actively connected to their identity, seeing their present in light of their past with the Lord to pursue the right future.
In our epistle reading from Philippians 4, Paul encourages Christians to think about that which is worthy of praise. As you step into the days ahead, do the same. Our culture is going to continually bombard you with messages that tell you what you don’t have and why you need to get it: food, stuff, experiences. Forget what the world says you need. Instead, remember what you have as blessings from the Lord. And since remembering is about actively connecting, put those blessings to use. Instead of chasing after shiny new additions, polish up what you’ve already got and enjoy it as it is meant to be used. Going beyond the materialistic wealth that our nation often takes for granted – especially in a world where many people do not have access to clean water– remember what God has done, and will yet do, for His people.
There’s an amazing and frequently-overlooked detail that Moses notes while he’s speaking to the people in Deuteronomy 8. The Lord provided manna for the people to eat while they journeyed for 40 years – most people who are familiar with the history of the Hebrews know that. But He also kept their clothing and shoes from wearing out. Imagine having your favorite pair of jeans, sneakers, or dress for four decades, never having it wear out or fall apart! God remembered His people and gave them what they needed. God has remembered you, too. He’s given you His Son.
Forget what the world says you need. God gives life through Jesus, life which doesn’t have to charge the gates of the newest experience. Life with God through Jesus remembers what He has done to preserve and prosper life, including all the provisions which you enjoy from day to day. Life with God through Jesus is life forgiven and grounded in a Savior who sets his people free from the pursuit of the shiny things that promise to be great additions to our lives. Life with God through Jesus knows contentment with what you’ve got and celebrates the past which has brought you to today.
Looking ahead beyond Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, there’s something else: Giving Tuesday. It’s a campaign to call people to remember the opportunities to support charities at home and abroad. As God’s redeemed people who have life through Jesus, we too can remember and act upon the needs of others in our world. Our church body, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, offers a number of ways to use the wealth with which God has entrusted us, including supporting the LCMS Global Mission Fund by giving graciously and giving globally. As you head into a season that promises to be filled with calls to “buy, buy, buy,” consider this and other ways to “serve, serve, serve” as the people God has called you to be: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This Thanksgiving, forget. And remember.
other sermons in this series