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Remember… / Thanksgiving Eve

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.

Recently a man was released from prison at the age of 65. Why was he released? Because the DNA and the investigators assigned to his case found him innocent of all charges. In prison for something he didn’t do. Sixteen thousand days in jail.

What were the first words he spoke when he stepped outside the prison walls? He lifted his hands and he said, God is so good. God is so good. God is so good.

The Hebrew people had spent forty years wandering in the Sinai desert after escaping slavery in Egypt. They are now standing on the borders of Canaan, the promised land. Moses is an old man and is about to die. And he gives them instructions for how they are to deal with the new phase of their existence as a people. These instructions could be directed at us. Listen carefully while I read a portion of Moses’ words to his people:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day.

Doesn’t that sound like it was written for us? When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.

It’s easy to forget, isn’t it? It’s easy to take for granted the blessings that are ours. Even worse, it’s easy to believe that we somehow deserve these blessings, that somehow we are more virtuous, more enterprising, more Christian than other nations, that God loves us more.

It’s all right to thank God for your blessings. It’s another thing altogether, however, if you think that God has picked us out to receive an extra dose of blessing because we’re somehow special. That’s a danger for individuals; it’s a danger for nations. God loves everyone the same. And we dare not take our blessings for granted. Every generation must be reminded. Regardless of how wealthy or powerful we become, we dare not forget the One who gave us all out bounty.

There is an ancient fable of an Indian healer who cured a man of leprosy. He took away all the disfiguring marks of the disease but left the man with one small scar. What was the scar for?

The healer answered, so, he will always remember. Maybe we need a scar like that, to remind us of all the wonderful things God has done for us.

We are a prosperous people. We may feel pinched right now by soaring prices and an uncertain economy. Yet some of us live in homes that are twice the size of the homes our parents lived in. We drive cars that cost as much as our parents’ first home. We are a prosperous people. We need to be reminded.

The greatest need we have on the Thanksgiving Day is to rekindle our sense of dependence on God. Where people forget their need for God, they also lose their joy and their sense of purpose. That’s why we have set aside this national day to reflect on what our blessings mean and to remind ourselves how much we owe to God.

On the verge of entering the Promised Land, Moses has one word to say to his people and to us. Remember . . . Remember God. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.

Delia is an utterly giving wife and mother who does her best to keep her household running smoothly. But as her children grow, they begin to ignore Delia and all she does for them. They also begin to flinch from her hugs. Meanwhile her husband is so wrapped up in his medical practice that he, too, adds to the neglect. Her family’s ongoing lack of gratitude finally kills something in Delia. She has tried so hard to be the perfect wife and mother, but they continually fail to appreciate her efforts.

Then, the day comes when Delia just walks away. She disappears. Can you blame her? Once her family realizes she is missing, they have a very difficult time describing Delia to the police. They just can’t seem to recall the color of her eyes, her height or weight, what she was wearing when they last saw her. Of course, they’d never really seen her to begin with. They had been blinded, by ingratitude.

I wonder if some of us have been blinded by ingratitude. When you have eaten and are satisfied, [and I suspect that tomorrow you will eat and be satisfied] praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God . . .”

Of course, part of remembering God is living as God intends for us to live. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day . . .”

This reminds me of a term from the colonial period of American history. The term is, “Stay in the traces.” This term comes from a time when few roads were paved and people traveled by horse-drawn wagons.

Over time the wagon wheels dug deep ruts in the hardened clay that was called “traces.” A good driver would make sure his wagon wheels were firmly in the traces, and then he let the horses pull the wagon to the destination unguided. By keeping in the traces, they could faithfully reach their goal.

Down South there is a famous national parkway, called the ‘Natchez Trace.’ It’s a lovely drive that starts in Nashville, Tennessee, and ends at Natchez, Mississippi on the banks of the Mississippi River. In the old days people who wanted to go to Texas would follow the ‘trace’ from Nashville to Natchez. In a few places the old roadbed can still be seen, with the deep trace marks still evident after 150 years. To travel the road, you simply put your wagon in the traces in Nashville and just ‘stayed in the traces’ until you got to Natchez, a few hundred miles down the road.”

In this passage, Moses is basically reminding his people to “stay in the traces. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day.

This is why we study God’s word. That’s why we worship God’s Son. That’s why we stay connected to the community of faith. That’s why we take time each day to bow our heads and listen for God’s guidance. All these things exist to keep us in the traces.

Sometimes we forget, don’t we? And so, on this Thanksgiving Eve, let us remember the Lord God who brought us together as a people, who gave His own Son in our behalf, and has given us so many opportunities for life and health and happiness.

It was Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War in 1863, who established the annual celebration of Thanksgiving. Lincoln had learned how important it is to stop and thank God in the midst of great difficulties. Listen very carefully to Lincoln’s words and notice how much they sound like the words of Moses to the children of Israel:

Lincoln wrote, we have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God.

We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gifts of God] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

Did you catch that? We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown, said Abraham Lincoln, But we have forgotten God. That’s a constant temptation, isn’t it? And so, I’ll say to you again today, when you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God . . .”