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 Sunday February 21, 2010 "God Given Bounty" Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Minimize
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Posted by: Brad Miller2/22/2010 9:26 AM
I never really understood why this passage was considered a Lenten passage, but every third year, it shows up as one of the suggested passages to be used during our Lenten observance. I never really understood that, until this year.

The Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years, waiting for the day when they would inhabit the “promised land.” They have seen their parents and grandparents generation die before the promise was made real. They must have had some reservations about this God that let them roam in circles for all those years. They must have wondered if they too would die before they saw this land.

This scripture passage is one of great importance for our Jewish brothers and sisters. It is one of the essential “identity” stories of their faith. It is the story of the Isrealite’s inheritance; they are heirs to God’s enduring promise, now spread out before them. It is the climax of the exodus story. Think about this: if my math is right, the Israelites have been wandering in the wilderness for 39 years, eleven months and one week. They are gathered on the plains of Moab, poised to finally, finally, enter the promised land. They have learned a mountain of laws; they have been disciplined and forgiven, disciplined and forgiven; they have been confused and frightened. But now, as they hear the words of Moses, all of that is about to change – and they are about to go home. Home to a place they have never been before; home to a place they have dreamed about; home to a place where they can finally put down roots and live. In that moment, how real the grace of God must have felt to them.

As they stood on the highlands overlooking the Jordan River Valley, Moses spoke to them of the question that may be on our minds this morning: what’s next?

How are they to act when they finally settle themselves in this new land? How are they to proceed? What’s next?

“Whey you come into that land,” Moses said as he pointed toward the land of Canaan, “you need to remember that God is giving you this land. It is not yours by right. It is not yours by virtue of your superior intellect. It is yours because God decided to give it to you.”

“When you come into that land,” Moses continued, “the first thing you must do is to remember where you came from and to give thanks to God for all you have been given. You will come into that good land and you will use it to honor God. You will come into that land to thank God. You will come into that good land and celebrate with all those you will live with. And what you are honoring, what you are giving thanks for, what you are celebrating is the simple notion that God has given you everything that you have.” I’m sure it dawned on at least some of those present that they were honoring God for the gifts they had been given with those very gifts!

It seems to me that once they could get their heads around that concept of thanksgiving, this idea of honoring God with what God has given them, the what’s next is pretty straightforward. Continue to give thanks, continue to honor God, continue to live as God has taught.

In some way, as stand here today, we also must deal with the “what’s next” question.

We have not wandered in the desert for 40 years looking for a place to light, but we do know something of uncertainty and doubt. As we made plans to renovate this space, the bottom fell out of our economic world. What should we do? Should we continue on? Scale back our dreams? Postpone any projects until the economy rebounds?

Because we took our time, asked the right questions, spoke to the right people, and prayed long and hard together, we now stand on the threshold of a new day in the life of this congregation. Not because suddenly something has fundamentally changed about the way we do things or who we are, but because we faithfully moved forward and completed the task. I don’t know about you, but as I stand here today in this beautiful space, I am reminded again why we undertook this renovation: We did it to honor God. We did not do it to attract more people. We did not do it because we deserve such a beautiful space. We did it because we had the ability to build a place that is appropriate and pleasing to God…we did it as a way to say thank you for all you have given us. And paradoxically, we understand, like the Israelites, that even this thing we have done to honor God is a gift from God.

This is something we can never lose sight of. Everything we have is bounty from God. Everything.

When that truth of God’s grace is truly, firmly, completely part of who we are, the logical question on our hearts will always be, “What’s next?”

And that my friends, is truly a Lenten question.

Lent is a time when we look inward and face the hard realities of who we are. We are flawed humans, tempted and sinful, even when our intentions are good. We do our best live into who God would have us be, even though we know that the goal is lofty and oh so hard to achieve. We want to do what is pleasing to God, but sometimes get sidetracked in our attempts. For each of us the circumstances are a little different, but still, when we dare to take that hard look at who we are, our whole selves are revealed: the good, the bad, the ugly.

But Lent is not just recognizing that we have fallen sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Lent’s utility does not end when we discover our inadequacies and mistakes. Lent is about recognizing that God will forgive our sins. Lent’s utility begins when we discover our inadequacies and mistakes and leads us to repent of our sins. Lent’s great purpose is for us to come face to face with the reality of our lives, to let God in to those dark and private places, to ask for another chance. Lent’s great purpose is to push us to that place where, recognizing who we are and whose we are we honestly and deliberately as the question, “What’s next?”

Each of us will grapple with that question sometime over the next six weeks. Each of us will come to different answers and take different routes. But if we do this right, the answers will lead us to a life intent on honoring God with all we do, stepping out in faith to minister to those in need, being ambassadors of God’s grace and mercy to all we meet. Can you imagine what our lives would look like if we did actually achieved this goal of a God honoring, faithful ministering, gospel sharing life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? It would be amazing.

But that is exactly the kind of life that Moses is leading the Israelites to embrace. And it starts with one simple point: to celebrate the fact that everything they had, came from God.

And that is where we must start, too. To celebrate the fact that everything we have, comes from God. It is tempting to sit back and look around this beautiful sanctuary and say, “Look at what a wonderful things we have done.” But that would not be right. What Moses says to us through the ages is, “Look at what a wonderful thing God has done.”

We are called to celebrate this beautiful thing that God has done among us, and then, we are called to use this beautiful thing to honor God with our worship. We are to use this wonderful sanctuary to welcome those strangers who seek God’s presence to join us in worship. We are to use this sacred space as a place to recharge, not just for our own purposes, but so that we might be energized in our daily walk, seeking to be God’s light in the world every day. We are to use this holy temple to pray together and to answer that all important question, “What’s next?”

What better time to think about that, than Lent?

There is a “what’s next.”

There is something we are being called to do. We just need to find out what it is. And we will discover what it is in the same way we discovered that God was leading us to this place: we will pray and talk and pray some more and study and take a good hard look at where God is leading us, and we will move forward as a congregation.

And I for one, can’t wait to see what God has in store for us.

But for today, and maybe just a little bit longer, let us celebrate this place that God has given to us, and give thanks.

Let us pray: Gracious God, thank you for all the good gifts that you have given us. May our worship and our use of this space be used to glorify your name and honor your presence among us. May this place be a place of nurture and comfort to us, a place where we might gain strength to provide nurture and comfort to those we come in contact with.

As we leave this place, may we be reminded that you are with us always, and may we always give thanks.

In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
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