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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1259

May 29, 2016 Deuteronomy 8:11-20

Dr. Ed Pettus Hebrews 11:1-12; 12:1-2

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)



“Looking Back and Looking to Jesus”


  • A Day of Remembrance


This weekend our nation recognizes Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have given their lives for the sake of country, freedom, and all that serving one’s country means as well as all that serving God means. Remembering those who have given their lives is crucial to the on-going life of our country. When we forget those who have died, we also forget why we are who we are as Americans. We forget the blessings of freedom and service and hope. Memorial Day is a day to remember and to give thanks. I think we should have a second memorial day to remember how our country came into being, perhaps a day to study civics and all Americans must then pass an exam about our history and citizenship in order to vote! But I digress.

It is important for us to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Not just to remember them, but also why it is that anyone would serve in manner that places places one’s life in jeopardy. Why do men and women serve a cause greater than themselves? We know it is about defending our freedoms, our liberty, and our way of life. Yet, we see that there are people who would also threaten our way of life from within. As a nation, we also must defend against that. We look back and give thanks for those who died for the sake of our nation and its principles. In my estimation, all who are seeking to destroy this nation and its Judeo-Christian ideals are also disrespecting everything that Memorial Day stands for. This is why remembering is crucial to the future of our nation and it is why remembering has been crucial for the faith traditions of both Judaism and Christianity.


  • Looking Back


The Bible calls us to remember those who have gone before us and given their lives through faith in God, as we see in Hebrews 11. God calls us to remember and give thanks. A clear example of this is seen in Deuteronomy 8. As the people God delivered out of Egypt were about to cross the Jordan River into the promised land, Moses reiterated the importance of keeping commandment and remembering their deliverance. Moses tells the people that they must diligently observe the commandments. The commandments are crucial to their very existence. In one sense, keeping the commandments was a way to remember the freedom received in the exodus. The first ten verses of Deuteronomy 8 acknowledge the providential care of God during their forty years in the wilderness. The danger is that the people might forget that God cared for them. The message is that they are to remember: “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has lead you these forty years” (8:2).


The memory is one of lessons learned: a memory of humility, testing, dependence upon God, so that they would learn “That one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that come from the mouth of God” (8:3). Ultimately Israel was to come to understand that they were dependent upon God for their daily bread, for their daily existence, and that life is not sustained just by bread and water, but by God’s very word. In this word is our life. We can eat all the bread we want everyday, but if we are not “eating” of God’s word we will be malnourished in spirit. It is in God’s word where we find joy and delight.


These people have wandered for forty years in the wilderness learning the lessons that will sustain them for the rest of their life as they prepare to enter into a new land. This land will not be like Egypt where they had lived as slaves. This land will not be like the wilderness where they were fed manna daily – not too much, not too little. This land is a land of abundance: A land with flowing streams, a land with springs and under ground waters, a land of wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive trees, honey – a land without scarcity – without the scarcity of the wilderness. This land will have more than enough water, food, and things like iron and copper. Verse ten concludes with: “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord you God for the good land that he has given you.”


This could easily be a metaphor for our life. When we come to know Christ as Lord and Savior we are no longer subject to the wilderness of sin and bondage, but set free to a “promised land” of abundance. We eat our fill most of the time, that is, when we are not over eating beyond full! And we are called to bless the Lord for the gifts of food and goods and home and money – for it is God who has given us the good life, just as God had given Israel the good land.


Deuteronomy 8:11-20 then takes on virtually the same themes but with more of a warning for Israel. Once Israel enters the land, eats its fill, builds its homes, multiplies its goods and livestock – then Israel will have a new temptation they had not encountered before. “When you have eaten your fill…when your herds and flocks have multiplied…then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God” (8:12-14). “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth’” (8:17). The temptation in a land of abundance is to forget God! The temptation in a land of plenty is to forget – to forget soldiers who gave their lives, to forget God who blesses us, to forget God’s Word that brings joy and delight. The temptation is to believe that we have gotten what we have by our own means, by our own power and work and resources. Moses reminds Israel and us: “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” (8:18). The warning to Israel is if they forget God and follow others gods they would surely perish. There are no guarantees that they will continue to be forgiven, but the covenant is conditional, dependent upon Israel’s willingness to learn from the wilderness lessons – to depend on God, to humble themselves, and to understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. This is also the warning that we are giving to America. We cannot afford to forget God as a nation. Memorial Day is also a warning that we not forget why people died for what has been known as a Christian nation since its beginning.


  • Do Not Forget!


One of the ways that we remember what God has done is to offer to God our gratitude. Our gratitude comes from remembering that all we have is from God. In the scarce times of the wilderness or in the abundance of the promised land – we are grateful. The temptation is to believe that we did it ourselves: we acquired our wealth, our homes, our cars, our abilities and skills all by ourselves. The temptation as a nation is to think that we have grown to where we are without God's blessing and guidance. An affluent nation has trouble remembering where it came from and God's help to get there. It is increasingly obvious that many people and many leaders in our nation are not just forgetting God, but actively seeking to delete God from any part of our national consciousness.

Two things happen when think about Memorial Day; we remember and we give thanks. Those two things are inseparable. Israel was reminded to practice a lifetime of gratitude and remembrance. A lifetime of gratitude is the continuing discipline of memory - overcoming our amnesia. A lifetime of gratitude is the continuing dependence on God - overcoming autonomy as a way of life. Gratitude is demonstrated in obedience to every word that comes from the mouth of God.

This is not about our individual memories or our capacity to remember, because we know that we can be forgetful, but it is about intentional acts of remembering, i.e. reading Deuteronomy, reciting creeds, practicing communion, regular worship…telling of God’s works, including the gospel. We remember by being reminded in intentional acts of faithful practice.


  • By Faith


Hebrews 11 gives us a list of names: By faith Abel offered…by faith Enoch was taken…By faith Noah respected the warning from God and built an ark…By faith Abraham obeyed when called…by faith Isaac invoked blessing…by faith Joseph gave instructions…By faith Moses lead the people of Israel…By faith the people passed through the Red Sea…By faith Rahab received spies in peace…and the list goes on, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, and the prophets. Today we remember by reading Hebrews 11; we remember this great cloud of witnesses. It is our memorial to faithful living and it nurtures our faith. The result of our memory is to lay aside all that would hinder us from the faith and service that they displayed in their lives. And we are encouraged to persevere in the race set before us, looking to Christ and to this cloud of witnesses for strength and the courage to go. Proverbs 10:7 says, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” No doubt about it from this Proverb, our memory of the faithful brings a blessing. We look back to the faithful names of biblical history just as we might look to the names at a war memorial on Memorial Day.



  • Looking to Jesus


We look back in order to understand better what it means to look forward and in this case, to look to Jesus. Today we see what that remembrance leads us to in Hebrews 12.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).


Surrounded by all these witnesses we are given three directives:

  1. Lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely.

  2. Run with endurance/perseverance the race set before us.

  3. Look to Jesus, the pioneer/founder and perfecter of our faith.


First, we lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely. Sin is a heavy weight upon our lives. It can cling to us as if we were filled with static electricity. I think about the sock that clings to my t-shirt when they come out of the dryer. You try to pull it off and it wants to cling and pop and stick itself on the t-shirt or maybe the t-shirt to the sock. They cling together. Sin is like that. It can cling to us sticking around even when we think we have flung it off. The opposite and positive clinging is like that of Psalm 119:31, I cling to your decrees, O Lord; let me not be put to shame.” We can cling to the word to help us rid ourselves of the sin that clings to us.


The second directive from Hebrews: Run with endurance or perseverance the race set before us. We run this race by remembering where we have come from and also from whom we have come. Our race is a steady race of endurance and perseverance. It is a pilgrimage of memories, obedience, gratitude, and faith.


The third direction is to look to Jesus who is the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith. Jesus is the one to whom we look all the time. He has run the race before us. Interesting that we look back to Jesus and his earthly life in the gospels, but we also look to the present day as he is is with us through the Holy Spirit, and we look to the future by his promise to come again. We look back today to enable us to better see Jesus. Let us not forget; let us give thanks. We set our sights on Jesus, for he is the way of life. Amen.