By Whose Hand?

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

The turkey has been eaten, and if you’re lucky, there still are a few leftovers remaining in the fridge. In this season of Thanksgiving, this long weekend of looking around and then looking upward, we find ourselves in a good land.

Some would call such an assertion debatable, citing the recession, high unemployment, rising prices for essentials like food and fuel, and political gridlock as their evidence. And these problems do exist, causing suffering.

We still live in a good land, however. If for no other reason, it is good because it remains a place where we can freely remember and worship God. (I also think there are many other reasons it remains a good land. Despite the current gloom and doom, I’m an optimist, and I’m mindful that we’ve faced much worse as a nation.)

To me, the parallels between our situation and the situation the Israelites were in as they prepared to enter the Promised Land are striking. The book of Deuteronomy largely is Moses reminding the people of their history and their relationship with God, preparing them for Moses’ imminent death and their first steps into a long-anticipated future.

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper,” Moses told them, his words recorded in the eighth chapter. “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.”

With a few modifications to the types of crops and some additions to the minerals, this could suffice as a description of North America.

There also is a warning: “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God,” Moses said. After reminding them once again of all the perils God had brought them through, Moses added, “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ ”

I would not go so far as to describe the United States as some kind of new Promised Land. Our nation was not designed to relate to God through a direct covenant. It is, however, structured so that individuals can enter into any kind of covenant with God, assembling with those of like mind without fear of persecution. That freedom has allowed Christianity in all its variations to thrive here.

Yes, the stock market gyrates; yes, gas is well over $3 a gallon. But even if the market crashes and gas is rationed, this land remains a great blessing to its inhabitants and the world as long as our principles of freedom remain. Less stuff does not diminish our connection to God.

The lesson from today’s text is simple, and as relevant to us as it was to those desert people longing for a little variety in their diets and a constant water supply. Remember God—remember the one you follow, the one you have declared to be above all creation. Worshiping God in good times and bad is our primary task.

These words in Deuteronomy also are words of hope, something we celebrate on this first Sunday of Advent. God had begun a relationship that ultimately led the people to look for a messiah, one who would make that relationship with God full and complete. Christians gather to worship because we call Jesus the Christ, another word for messiah. He died on the cross to make that full relationship possible. He first experienced the resurrection, giving us a sign of what is to come.

Many of you find yourselves enormously blessed, with plenty of food, good shelter, and lots of love in your lives. Take care that in your comfort, you do not forget the Lord your God.

Some of you find yourselves struggling, perhaps concerned about your next paycheck or feeling isolated. Take care that in your worries, you do not forget the Lord your God.

Wherever we are in our lives now, we worship a God who has done great things for us and is moving us toward something greater. All God asks is that we love him back, and in the process learn to love each other better.

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