Remember in order to give thanks

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. 2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert 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. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you. 6 Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land-- a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 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. 10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
“Remember to give thanks.” That is the mantra of thanksgiving. And truthfully, we need it. We need to be reminded each year, each day. For we are a people who have forgotten how to give thanks. We expect service instead of thanking others for it. Thank you notes are becoming a thing of the past. Feelings of entitlement produce not thanks but resentment, when we do not get what we think we had coming.
But we are not the first. The people of Israel forgot how to give thanks as well. Moses recognized the problem. And so he tells the people to remember, for remembering is the key to giving thanks. Don’t just “remember to give thanks” – but remember, in order to give thanks. For it is the remembering that is important, and that will lead to lives of thanksgiving.
And so Moses tells them:
remember the Lord’s leading in the wilderness;
remember His testing;
remember His provision of bread and meat and water;
remember your clothes and shoes lasting far longer than they should have!
remember His discipline;
remember His Word and His promises.
Remember, Moses says, and you will bless the Lord. Moses doesn’t use the word “thanksgiving” there, but bless – a word which includes thanksgiving, but means much more. For it also includes faith, trust, worship, praise, honor, and glory. It is to acknowledge the gifts received and to make known the goodness of the Lord, who gives such gifts to His people. For such is the highest form of thanksgiving – not just to thank the Giver, but to make known what He has done.
And notice, all the things the people would remember were not just pleasant memories!
They would remember the rebellion that caused the additional 40 years of wilderness wandering.
They would remember the episode with the fiery serpents.
They would remember the fears, the hunger, the humbling, the struggle.
All was not a bed of roses.
And isn’t that what we find in our lives as well? When you look back and remember this past year, or through your life, you will remember such times as well.
Not just good times, and times of plenty and joy;
but also times when things were difficult,
when there was fear and doubt;
times of sadness and testing and humbling.
In your life too, all has not been a bed of roses. Or maybe it was … because roses have thorns. And I’m guessing that your life has been a garden of both roses and thorns.
But you are here because through it all, the Lord is faithful. Perhaps you too grumbled and complained, like the people of Israel.
For provision not good enough.
For help that did not come speedily enough.
For people who remained silent when you needed them to reach out to you.
For people who were diligent and spoke up to remind you of sin when you wished they had remained silent and passive.
For a God who often seemed distant by allowing you to go through struggles.
For a God who often seemed all too near humbling you with discipline that you would rather not have received.
Yes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it? From Adam and Eve, to the people of Israel, to you and me today.
But with such remembering – of things both good and bad – we remember what is most important of all: and it is not our remembering at all! What is most important is that the Lord remembers us. He remembers His promises. He remembers to have mercy. He remembers to provide. We are never far from His mind. He never forgets us. And though He may seem to delay, or not act fast enough; though we may not always understand His ways, or get answers to all the “why” questions we want answered – His love never fails.
His love in providing our daily bread: food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. (Small Catechism, Explanation to the Fourth Petition)
His love in defending us against all danger, and protecting us from all evil. (Small Catechism, Explanation to the First Article)
And most of all, His love in sending His Son to ascend the cross in our place; to lay down His life for us; to atone for our sins. To make amends for all our sins, including our forgetfulness, our ingratitude, our rebellion, our grumbling and complaining. He knows the desperate condition of both our bodies and our souls, and promised and did something about it. He freed us from the slavery of sin. He allowed us to escape from the Pharaoh of hell. He heals us from the fiery Serpent’s bite as we look to Him who was lifted up on the pole. He gives us the Water of Life in Holy Baptism, water that pours not from a rock, but from a font. He gives us Manna from heaven in the body and blood of the Lord’s Supper.
So tonight, like the people of Israel, we remember our sins, our humility in confession and the blessings of God’s forgiveness in Christ. But let us also take some time to remember God’s discipline. Perhaps when things did not always seem to go our way, which was a good thing. The cancer forced us to our knees in prayer. The health or financial problems made us realize we cannot get through life on our own. The death in the family caused us to rely ever more heavily upon the resurrection at the Last Day. Whatever our struggles have been, they have allowed us to stop relying on ourselves and look to God in faith for every needed thing. That is why we need God’s Word and Sacraments, love and mercy to sustain us through the wilderness of this world until we arrive in the Promised Land of heaven.
Our God remembers us. So, we in turn, remember Him.
We remember the Lord by blessing the Lord for all the blessings He has showered upon us. We acknowledge the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation received in Word and Sacrament and absolution. But we do not just thank the Giver, we also make known what He has done. We express our thankfulness certainly in our prayers and hymns here in church, but we also express our thankfulness in our prayers with our family at the Thanksgiving dining table; we express our thankfulness in our gifts to the needy at this time of the year; we express our thankfulness in how we live, what we say, how we act, the other 364 days of the year.
And this then leads to one other blessing, whose importance should not be underestimated – the blessing and gift of contentment and peace. It is as we heard from St. Paul: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:10-13).
Indeed, all things, for the Lord remembers us. And in and under His watchful eye, His powerful hand, His loving heart, and His merciful mind, He will supply every need. No cry of His children is unheard, no pain is unknown, no trouble is too great, no enemy is too strong. His forgiveness and love endures forever, until the day He brings us into the Promised Land of heaven.

So remember. Remember the way the Lord your God has led you and provided for you and saved you, these nine, or twenty, or forty, or eighty years. Remember Him who remembers you always. Remember in order to give thanks. Amen. 

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