Saturday, March 9, 2019

Year C, Lent 1, Deuteronomy 26.1-11, Luke 4.1-13, Remember

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Remember from whence you came and to where you are going.  And that it’s not about you.
“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
When God gave the commandment to honor the Sabbath, he had a particular reason in mind:
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.  Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
For Israel the very act of worship was an act of remembering.
When you bring your gifts to the altar remember that once you were aliens living in a foreign country.
When you observe the Sabbath day, remember that once you were slaves.
And remember that once you had nothing, and everything you have now is from the Lord.
Many of our families have similar stories to the Israelites.
We came to this country, often with little or nothing, except hope for a better life.
My own family came and received a gift of land, just as the Israelites did.
The homestead.
My father’s family homesteaded in northeastern South Dakota, near Pierpont.
My mother’s family homesteaded in Minnesota around Dawson.
Karla’s family journeyed first to Russia, and then to the United States where they homesteaded in the Elgin/New Liepzig area of North Dakota.
Remember that all that you have goes back to this gift of land.
Remember this as you observe the Sabbath and bring your first fruits forward as an offering to the Lord.
Remember from whence you have come, and to where you are going.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.  For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
For the Israelites salvation was related to the Promised Land, and the Kingdom of David.
For us today salvation most often refers to the forgiveness of our sins and the inheritance that is ours in Christ Jesus, an eternal place in the house of the Lord.
To be with the Lord, is an experience we can only imagine at this point, yet it is our hope.
Remember where you are going.
And remember that this is not a privilege for you, and you alone.  It is a gift to all who call upon the name of the Lord.  Grace.
One of the most common temptations we experience as religious people is the belief that we have in some way acquired salvation as a reward for our own labors.
Maybe we realize that it is a gift, but that God gave us this ‘gift’, is an indication of our privilege, our worth, and our good works.
One thing that has struck me throughout the years is how important it has seemed to be for very many people that some are saved and others are condemned.
It has left me with a nagging question in my mind.
“Would heaven be any less heaven if everyone was there?”
The Eastern Orthodox do in fact believe that all people will be in the presence of God in the afterlife, because there is no place that God is not.
The difference though is that some will experience being in God’s presence as paradise, and others will feel condemned.
But back to the point.
A gift is a gift.
Grace is grace.
My ancestors received a gift of land, the homestead.
It was no less of a gift because other families also received that same gift.
160 acres of prime farm land.  A quarter section.
A place to call home in a foreign land.
A gift.
Salvation is like that.  It comes as a gift, a place to call home in a foreign land. 
Remember.  And don’t fall prey to temptation.
Even Jesus was tempted.
What was the nature of Jesus’ temptation?
He was tempted by Satan to make it all about him.
Turn these rocks into bread, and eat, be satisfied.
“Worship me,” Satan says, “and I will hand over all the nations of the world to you.” 
“Throw yourself off the top of the temple so that the angels can save you.”

Make it all about you, Jesus, make it all about you.
That was the test.  Would Jesus turn inward and make it all about him?
That’s the temptation for us as well.
Remember from whence you have come, and to where you are going.
If we make it all about us, then what about grace?
I think that the single most difficult statement in all of scripture to believe is also the most grace filled.
For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift.  (Romans 3:22-24)
Oh, but we do make distinctions.
There are some we feel are worthy, and some that are unworthy.
There are some sins that we think are forgivable, and other sins that we believe should be punished.
There are some people we welcome into the church, others we’d prefer not be here.
The temptation is to make it about us.
And if we make salvation about us, we turn our backs on the grace of God.
You had nothing.
You were nothing.
But out of this ‘nothingness’ God called you forth to life.
Job put it this way:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my life as a pastor’s son, and subsequently as a pastor myself, is about this grace.
As I grew up in a pastor’s home,
And as I lived out my own life in the ministry,
I have become increasingly aware that every penny that I have ever had originated as a gift.
Your offerings will be brought forward and from them, I will be paid.
Your graciousness and generosity literally put the bread on my table.
I won’t say that this gives pastor some sort of spiritual advantage, but it is a valuable lesson.
Remember from whence you have come, and to where you are going.
Remember that just as the Israelites once were aliens in a foreign land, and slaves to Pharaoh, so also all of us, at one point, were nothing.
Remember that all that we have is a gift from God.
Remember that you, together will all people, have sinned, and that you are justified, not on the basis of your own works, but by God’s grace as a gift.
Remember that it is not about you.
It’s about God, and the grace he has shown to all.
We gather here on the Sabbath because God has freed us from slavery.
We bring our first fruits because “a wandering Aramean was our ancestor” without a land to call home, and God blessed him with his grace.
We celebrate the Gospel because we have all sinned, and are all saved by God’s grace.
Remember from whence you came and to where you are going.
Remember that it is not about you.
But rather, it is about God’s grace.

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