Rev. Bruce Skelton, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Highlands Ranch, Colorado ☩

Three older gentlemen were having coffee together at one of their homes and they chatted about a number of things, until one of them said, “You know, I’ve been getting awful forgetful lately. Why just this morning I was standing at the top of the stairs, and I couldn’t remember whether I had just come up or was about to go down.”

The second fellow said, “You think that’s bad? The other day, I was sitting on the edge of my bed and I couldn’t remember whether I was just going to sleep or I had just woken up.

The third fellow smiled smugly, “Well, I have no problem in that area at all.  I have a memory like a steel trap, knock on wood.” he said as he rapped the table with his knuckles.  Then a startled look crossed his face as he turned and looked at the front door and yelled, “Who’s there?” 

Okay I’ll admit it’s a groaner, but we have all forgotten or will forget something at some point in our lives.  Such lapses in memory are inconvenient and often embarrassing, but when it comes to forgetfulness about spiritual matters it can be a very grave matter, very grave matter indeed.   In fact one theologian I have read defines sin as “forgetting God,” which is not a bad definition, because when we sin it is as though we forget that it is God who has created us and who saves us. Everything good thing we have and are we owe to Him and Him alone. Yet, sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking that we have somehow done it all on our own and are not accountable to God or anyone else for anything.

A perfect example would be the ancient Israelites to whom God is speaking in this text through servant Moses.  They were preparing to go into the promised land and Moses is taking one last opportunity to remind them of whose they are, where they had come from, what had been done for them, and also what God expected of them

Moses repeats the law for them again, which is what the name of this book:  “Deuteronomy” means. It means ‘repetition of the Law’ or ‘the law a second time.’  But did they remember God?  After the Israelites took the Promised Land back did they remember that they were the people of God?  Did they remember how He delivered them out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand? Did they remember how he had sustained them in a desert, a wasteland for 40 years with manna or bread from heaven and water from the rock?  Did they remember how He set them apart as His own people unique among all the nations of the earth?  Did they remember His Holy Law given to them at Mt Sinai?  The answer is sadly, “No.” No, they did not remember.  As we see in the book of Judges chapter two: After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord, nor what He had done for Israel.  Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.

Oh how easy it is to point our fingers at them and say shame, shame on them, how could they have been so ungrateful? How could they have let all those luxuries, all those nice houses, all those nice cities and all the peace and freedom they enjoyed take their eyes off the Lord?  How could they forget they were his special covenant people?  How could they forget his law, which he gave to them? Well, like my father says, whenever you point your finger, there are always three pointing back at you.

Might not future generations look back at us and say the same thing about us.  They could say, “Look at the abundance God gave them. In the history of mankind, there was never a people who were better fed, better clothed, and better housed than those Americans. There was never anyone who enjoyed more freedom that anyone at anytime ever on the face of the earth including the freedom to proclaim the Gospel without fear of persecution.”

Beloved, is there any doubt about that? Is there any doubt that all that we have is from the gracious hand of our Almighty God?  There was no such doubt in the minds of the founding fathers, who although they were not all strong Christians, all recognized the importance of Christianity and its accompanying morality found in the Bible, without which they knew there could be no real freedom.  George Washington, in his inaugural address said: No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of Men more than the people of the United States.  Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency

In one of his first official acts he issued a thanksgiving proclamation which reads:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly implore his protection and favor... and it goes on to call the nation to thankfulness to God.

How about a quote from Lincoln who proclaimed a national day of fasting, humiliation and prayer during the height of the Civil war:

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven.  We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity.  We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God.  We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, to proud to pray to the God that made us!  It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the Offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Beloved that might well have been written to us, for like those ancient Israelites to whom our O.T. reading was first addressed, we too are inclined to forget about God. We too have fallen into serving the Baals of our own convenience, lust, perversion, and greed for way too many years.  We too need to fall to our knees in humble contrition and repentance, asking God to forgive us and renew us. And the good news is that he has and he will. For just as He delivered His people Israel out of their bondage in Egypt so He has delivered us out of a greater bondage, the bondage of sin and death, by offering up His Son, Jesus Christ, as a perfect sacrifice on the cross on Calvary and then by raising him from the dead three days later.  Yes, even though we often forget about God, he did not and still does not forget about us.

And that, beloved, is truly something worth remembering, not only on Thanksgiving, but every day of our lives.  So as we gather together in His presence this day and also as we enjoy the company of our families and friends, and all the good things God has given to us, let us remember who gave it all to us.  We enjoy them all because God is good and He would have us remember Him so that we would not die eternally, but have our sins forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ, and dwell with Him in His kingdom forever.

How could we ever forget about Jesus and all he has done for us?  How could we ever forget to offer him our thanks?  We cannot and we must not.  It must be as we sing in our hymn, We Praise You, O God: We worship you God of our Fathers, we bless you;

Through trial and tempest our guide you have been.

When perils o’rtake us, you will not forsake us,

And with your help, O Lord our struggles we win.

Indeed God does help us in all our struggles, all our trials and temptations, all the difficulties we face in our lives. He is our help and our stay, but it is interesting to note the way that he helps us is often with other people. He asks us as His people to love and help one another.

I read an interesting story, a while ago, a true story of a college sociology professor who gave his students the task of going into the slums of Baltimore, Md. and gathering the case histories of 200 boys.  After they had done this he asked his students to predict what would happen to each boy in the future.  In almost every case the answer was the same, “He hasn’t got a chance, because of his environment, his family, and his economic situation, he’ll never amount to much of anything.”

25 years later the same professor was going through his files and stumbled upon the earlier project and he had his class do a follow-up study on what had become of the subjects.  With the exception of 20 boys who had either moved away or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 achieved extraordinary success as lawyers, doctors and businessmen.  The professor was astounded and decided to pursue the matter further.  Since most of the men were still in the area he was able to ask each one “How do you account for your success?” And in each case the reply was “There was this one teacher that I had who made a big difference.”

The teacher they named had retired, but she was still alive and living in the area so the professor sought her out and asked the elderly, but spritely, lady what she did to help the boys she taught to lift themselves out of the poverty and crime ridden environment in which they lived.  The teacher’s eyes sparkled and she smiled and said, “It’s really very simple, I just loved them.”

Beloved in the Lord, in the end, it really is just that simple and it should be especially simple for us as Christians, as we remember God’s grace and mercy shown to us in Jesus Christ, and give thanks for all that He has done for us. And then in faith granted to us by God, the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, show that same love toward our neighbors, that they too may remember and give thanks to our God, ( Father, the Son and Holy Spirit) now and forever.  Amen.