Saturday, October 5, 2019

Remembering the Past

Deuteronomy 8:1-5 The people we encounter in God’s Word today, and over the next several weeks, were standing at a crossroads in life.  They had been slaves-- but now they were free.  They had been desert wanderers-- but now they were going to have a homeland.  They had been a solitary people in the wilderness--now they would live next to those who did not share their faith.
They were at a crossroads in their lives as a people and so God spoke to them through his servant Moses to help them Plan for the Future.
I’ve chosen the words of Deuteronomy chapters eight and nine for a three-week stewardship sermon series because I believe that we as a congregation find ourselves at just such a crossroads in our life together as the people God in this place and we need God’s counsel to Plan for the Future and go forward in faith. 
A crossroads in life is always a serious matter.  It can be a little bit frightening because it calls us to step out in faith and begin to go in a new direction.  But it can also be faith-building as we discover (in a brand new way) that the Lord (who has blessed us this far in our journey) will also be with us to bless us as we journey on.
What we are going to discover in God’s Word over the next three weeks is that Planning for the Future requires three things from us:  that we take time to remember the past; that we make sure we are walking in God’s ways right now; and that we cross over and go forward into the future with faith and courage.  The Bible says that:
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.  You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you…
            The command that Moses gave was not new—it had been given by God to the people forty years earlier at Mt Sinai.  It had been ringing in their ears for decades.  And even before that, Moses’ words harkened back even earlier in salvation history to a promise that God had made to Abraham and renewed again and again to his descendants to give them the land that now lay before their very eyes. 
That’s why this moment in time was different.  Camped on the east side of the Jordan River, they were Planning for the Future in the Promised Land.  That journey into the future began with them remembering the past. I believe that we are in much the same place as a congregation. 
If only because of the demographic realities of our own congregation, I can assure you that over the next five or ten years, we will not be the same congregation that we are today.  We have a school ministry that is younger than the church ministry and is growing-- while our aging congregation has reached a plateau.  And the community itself around us is changing.
Like the Israelites, we stand at a crossroads and face a future that is very different than the past and we need to plan for that, first of all, by remembering the past.  The Bible says:
You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.
            For the children of Israel camped along the Jordan River, when they remembered the past, they remembered God’s salvation and blessing and protection and deliverance.  They remembered all the twists and turns along the way. 
A journey that should have taken them 11 days, took them forty years.  But God was with them through it all and they knew in a powerful way that the Lord their God was a powerful God who led them along their journey as a people.  Can we say anything different?
            This congregation began worshiping in San Angelo is 1926 and was formally organized on January 2, 1927 with six charter members.  For the first two years of our existence we worshipped in another congregation’s building until the church on Kenwood was dedicated in 1929.  Over the years, additional properties and buildings in the neighborhood were purchased so make room for a growing congregation. 
In 1951 this congregation stepped out in faith and began a Christian day school and by 1957 there were 190 children enrolled from kindergarten to sixth grade.  Thirty years later a new church and school building was dedicated here on Lutheran Way.
Ninety plus years later there are over 400 people call Trinity Lutheran Church their home and 70 years later over 300 children are given a Christian education here each day. 
Along with the Israelites camped along the Jordan, and with God’s people in every place and time, in times when we stumbled and times when we were faithful, we can truly say that the Lord has led us on the way and sustained us by his Word.  The Bible says that
The Lord humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
            The Israelites left Egypt with the wealth of their former masters but in very short order that wealth became the source of their spiritual downfall.  Later they would grumble against the Lord about his provision in the desert and they would yearn to return to slavery just to eat the food of Egypt. 
By hard lessons they had to learn that their life with God was not about material things-- but about his promise to meet their needs. And so he did!  Hundreds of thousands of people had their hunger satisfied and their thirst quenched for decades in a desert—and all because God promised to care for his people. 
During all those years they learned again and again that their life did not depend on what they could see and hold and taste and touch in that moment—but on the faithfulness of their savior God who had always provided for them and promised to meet their needs in the days ahead as well.
So it is for us.  Our life together as a church and school has been sustained for over ninety years by the Word of God.  Sustained by the Word of God that guides our lives and corrects us when we go astray.  Sustained especially by the Word of God that assures us that we are forgiven and loved and cared for by our Savior God. 
That Gospel Word of God in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion—in preaching and teaching and absolution—in classroom and lunchroom and playground—has sustained and strengthened us in our life together as God’s people in this place for decades and it is important for us to remember that.
Often times when we talk about stewardship, our minds immediately go to money—and certainly the way that we use our money is important and says much about faith and life with God. 
But the most important gift God has given us-- and the most important gift we have to share with others—and our only reason for existence in this community--is the Good News of salvation that is found in Jesus Christ who has delivered us from slavery to sin and death and promised us a home in heaven.
That message of life (that man does not live by bread along but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord) we know!  What a blessing it is to say that!  And so we are charged by God with making it known to our community through the preaching of our church and the teaching of our school. 
But we also have to recognize that the fulfillment of that charge requires financial support that is faithful and sacrificial.  The Bible says that for the Israelites:  Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.
The unimaginable provision of our Savior God!  The Israelites spent most of those decades outside in the elements, tending their flocks.  They did a lot of walking in in the wilderness over those forty years—most of it because of their own waywardness. 
But in all those years they never replaced their clothing and their feet never gave out, besides have their hunger and thirst satisfied daily.  Truly miraculous provision for their material needs!  As they gave back to God, they knew that he would meet their needs.
Now, just think about our life as a congregation.  Imagine you were one of those six founding members.  First of all, there were only six of you—not hundreds!  Your pastor was actually the pastor of another congregation.  You met in a building that was not your own. 
Could you have ever imagined over 90 years of provision that would have led to the facility and financial resources and personnel that we have now?  If they were here today they would count this place no less a miracle of God’s provision than what he did for the Israelites.
We need to remember that!  Standing at a crossroads as we are now, we have a tendency to only look ahead and wonder and worry about how we will ever meet the challenges that lie ahead—and there are challenges to be sure! 
But what we learn, as we remember, the past is that our faithful God is more than able to meet our needs in wonderful and miraculous and unexpected ways just as he always has—for he is a faithful Father who loves his children.  The Bible says:  Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.
The meaning of this Hebrew word that is translated as “discipline” in our text is much broader than that.  It means to teach and instruct and admonish.  In other words, it means that God deals with us every moment of our lives as a father deals with his children: teaching and training and disciplining and instructing and admonishing. 
As they planned for the future, God wanted the Israelites to remember that they were his children and they could count on his fatherly presence in their lives in the years to come.
Yes, there were going to be challenges.  Yes, there would be hardships.  But God would always be to them a Father who could be counted on to meet their needs and bless them in the days ahead.
So it is for us.  God does has never forsaken his children and he will not forsake us in the years to come.  Instead, he will be to us what he has always been:  a wise, generous, loving Father who desires only the best for his children.
When we remember the past, we are reminded of how true this is—in our own lives and in the life of this congregation.  And laying claim that relationship of a Father and his children, we are glad to walk in his ways, and plan for the future, and go forward in faith with courage and boldness.  Amen.

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