Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Do Not Forget

Deuteronomy 8

 Do you have a hard time remembering?  It seems we all do.  Everyone always says, “Oh, I have such a hard time remembering names!”  Or we’re always complaining about how often we forget to do things.  “Why did I come into this room?  What was I supposed to pick up at the store?  Sorry!  I forgot to do that!”  

 I’ve heard that some people think that we had better memories a few hundred years ago.  Today we almost always have pen and paper or a computer or a phone or something to use to write down what we need to remember.  And some people say that before we had all that, we had better memories because we used them more.  In Jesus’ day, there were rabbis who had memorized the Old Testament in its entirety.  But when you didn’t have a copy of it, I guess you had to.  Today we wouldn’t even try that because we have a Bible on the shelf or on our phone or on the internet.  

 But as annoying as it is to forget to mail the check or pick up milk at the store or to forget good-old-what’s-his-name’s name, our lives probably won’t end because of it.  But what about forgetting things that really matter?  What if we forget what’s important in life?  What if we forget to invest in the things and people that matter?  What if we forget about God?

 Two of my favorite lines from movies feature the concept of forgetting.  One is the introduction to The Lord of the Rings.  It begins with the elf queen Galadriel speaking, and she says, “Much that once was is now lost, for none now live who remember.”  To forget is to lose, and maybe to lose forever.  The other is the movie Excalibur, which is one of one of many versions of the legend of Arthur made into film.  Now if you’ve never seen Lord of the Rings, I think you should.  Excalibur, on the other hand, is definitely for “mature audiences” only.  But there’s a scene in Excalibur where Arthur has pulled the sword from the stone.  He’s gathered a group of knights in his service.  And they have fought long and difficult wars to unite England into one nation.  And they gather together to celebrate their victories, glad that the difficult times are over.  And Merlin the wizard hushes them all and implores them not to forget the difficulties and the sacrifices and hard work it has taken to unite the country.  And he tells them, “It is the doom of men that they forget.”  And if you know the story, they do forget.  They become complacent, lazy, bored, and they stray away from the moral purity that founded the kingdom.  And it all comes apart.  

 In both of those stories, the successes of the past are lost because people forget.  And so, on the border of the Promised Land, Moses speaks to the people, and he tells them, “Don’t forget.”

 First, do not forget the lessons and experiences of the wilderness.  Do not forget how you were led for 40 years by God.  Do not forget how you were humbled, tested, and your character was proved.  Do not forget how you learned that God provides.  

 Even in the midst of scarcity, God provided.  In the desert wilderness, the people of Israel had no way to rely on themselves.  They could only rely on God.  There was no food or water to be found, except what God provided.  He gave them bread from heaven and water out of solid rock.  Only God could provide in those ways.  It taught them humility.  There was no place for self-reliance in the desert.  

 It also taught them about true wealth.  “People do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from God.”  Real wealth comes from knowing God.  The truest wealth we can have is spiritual wealth.  And there is no poverty like spiritual poverty.  The person who knows God is always wealthy, no matter what they have in this world.  And the person who does not know God is always poor, regardless of their possessions.  

 That’s the point Jesus made in Matthew 13, the parables of the treasure in a field and the pearl of great value.  When you find something worth more than anything else, you are willing to give up anything to have that real treasure.  And God is a real treasure. 

 The time of scarcity in the wilderness tested their character.  Would they trust God in difficult times?  Would they learn what had real value?  But that time of scarcity would soon end.  Soon they would be coming into a land of abundance, a land rich with food and water and natural resources.  

 Scarcity tested them.  But abundance would also test their character.  Would they remember God?  In the desert, they could only look to God for their food, their water, their daily needs.  Only God could have delivered a nation of slaves from the hands of the Egyptians, the mightiest empire in the region.  Only God could have led them through the desert safely and preserved them from its perils.  

 What will happen now when they begin to enjoy abundance?  It will be easier to credit themselves for their blessing, easier to admire their own hard work.  It will be easier to find satisfaction in an abundance of possessions, even though possessions can’t really satisfy.  

 It will be easier to become proud, arrogant.  They might become arrogant in their own abilities.  They might begin to have a sense of entitlement:  “I deserve this.  I deserve good things because I have earned them.”  

 Or they might become complacent.  They might forget the past, forget the hard lessons of the desert.  They might fail to think of the future, fail to think what might happen if they forget God and wander away from him.  They might say to themselves, “Everything is fine.  There’s nothing to worry about.”  

 They might even reject God completely.  I think that affluence creates more atheists than poverty.  A rejection of God is more likely among people who have much than people who have little.  Atheism is far more common in Europe, Australia, and North America, the wealthiest parts of the world, than it is in Africa or Latin America or India or the other more impoverished parts of the world.  

 The Bible calls to us a fundamental view of the world that is God-centered, not self-centered.  The self-centered view of the world says, “I have good things because I earned them.  I have produced them with my own labor and ingenuity.”  But the God-centered view of the world says, “I have good things because God has been gracious to me.  I may have ‘earned’ them through my own labor and ingenuity, but even those things are a gift of God to me.”  “It is the Lord your God who gives you the power to become rich.  Never think it was your own strength and energy that made you wealthy.”  

 I think this is one of those chapters of the Bible that has particular relevance to us as Americans.  We are also a nation had an unlikely beginning.  There was no good reason to think that the 13 colonies should ever have been able to win their independence from Britain.  Britain was the most powerful empire on earth at the time.  There was no reason to think that the American militia should have been able to defeat a highly trained and battle-tested British army.  But they did!  And the Founders believed it was God’s providential hand that gave them victory.  

 But now we have become wealthy, proud, self-sufficient.  We are complacent, and I think too often, have a sense of entitlement.  We credit ourselves for our abundance, not often remembering God or thanking him for the good land he has given us.  Maybe this is also true of us:  “Much that once was is now lost, for none now live who remember.”  

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