The Parish Church of Connersville, Indiana

The Fifth Sunday after Easter 2024

Sermon Date: May 5, 2024

Passage: Deuteronomy 8

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee… (Deuteronomy 8:2).

To be a Christian is to be the people who remember. Throughout history, it has been Christians who have sought to preserve knowledge in a fallen world too distracted by pursuits of pleasure or cruelty to care. Euclid, Homer, and Plato were preserved by Christians in the Middle Ages, along with the Bible and the works of the early church fathers, because the people of God know the past is a theatre of God’s grace rather than a court of judgment for people who excel at doing nothing as loudly as they can.

A disdain for the past does bring with it some advantages for the modern societal arsonist, for the ‘democracy of the dead’ as G.K. Chesterton called it, or put another way: the life and example of all those people who came before us, can be inconvenient if one’s goal is to build a heaven on earth according to one’s own design. After all, what could be more freeing than casting off the shackles of history from our dreams? But, of course one can’t stop there, after history the next enemy is reality itself (the kids will be fine if we get a divorce or I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body), and finally, drained of all his purpose and meaning, the human person can die in spiritual filth and misery choking on the lies and sins which never made him free.

The first creature to sign up for this mad way of living was Satan, and he is quite successful in convincing others to join him in the broad path which leads to destruction, and so it is the church’s work of a lifetime to remember the mighty works of God and to help others see the mercy of the God who made them, sustains them, and desires that they live in perfect freedom and truth.

We see in Deuteronomy 8 that it is has always been this way for the people of God. Let us be sure not to make the terrible modern mistake of imagining these commands of Moses are directed only at the Israelites preparing to cross the Jordan. As Paul writes, ‘Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). These men are our fathers: saved by grace and to whom we are everlastingly connected through the covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We read the Old Testament on Sundays not because it is a useful history lesson; no, we read the Old Testament because it was written for us and should be shaping us into better followers of Christ.

Moses commands the people of God to remember the mighty works of God in history, but he specifically wants them to remember the forty years of wandering in the wilderness: an exile from the promised land born of faithlessness and fear. A people who said they were not strong enough to defeat God’s enemies. But, this perverse reaction to being freed from Egyptian slavery was not a surprise to God, nor was the forty years of suffering without purpose: ‘…the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no’ (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Could God have just placed them in the promised land? Yes, of course, but the value of the journey derives from how it shapes and forms a person to be fit for the destination. It was fitting for the Israelites to be humbled and proved because there was no better way to be prepared for the promises which awaited them. Of course, the same is true for we who are their children, for as Paul makes clear, the journey of the people of God from Egypt to Canaan was a living illustration of our journey from the slavery of sin and death to the perfect freedom of the New Heaven and New Earth. We are being formed and shaped by the good and evil we encounter in this life and all of it will be applied by God to prepare us for the grand work of eternity. We must remember that eternity is not going to be spent sitting around on our backsides playing harps on clouds; no, we will need to be the sons and daughters of God for which the creation has been longing since Adam and Eve betrayed their great calling. We will need to take dominion as only God’s image bearers can. The easy way would have been to stab that lying serpent in the throat; the hard way will require us to follow Christ through the valley of the shadow of death until He puts evil down like the sun-crazed jackal it is.

A reasonable question to ask here: Is it right that the God who loves me is teaching and testing and chastising me? How can the accumulation of my suffering, and the suffering of the whole world be worth it? Or put more bluntly, how can all the dead wives and children and friends, how can all the pain and sadness harvested from the children of men possibly be fashioned into anything other than a disfigured idol—mocking us as we await the doom we deserve. Countless religions and atheistic philosophies ask you to sacrifice yourself for that idol, and men and women line up to do it because they long for their lives to have meaning. The Buddhist and the Secular Humanist and the Muslim and the Communist all the way down the person whose worldview is simply a jumbled mess of things they read on the internet, all of these people add pieces of themselves and others to the idol and then worship the creature which stares back at them. This way is madness, and in our moments of clarity, we are right to be repulsed by it. When people say they hate religion, they are right when they mean these things.

But that isn’t what we are talking about today. No, the God who formed us and knows us better than we know ourselves, the God who chose us from before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) knows what it will take to transform us from the sum of our worst failings into vessels fit for glory. But, our trust is not just in a baseless theory or abstract hope; no, the assured hope of our salvation and restoration and resurrection lies in the Man who we must remember. We must remember the Man who said, ‘These things I have spoken unto you that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (St. John 16:33). It is He who must be remembered by those who call themselves Christians, not as we imagine Him to be, not as the still dark spaces in our hearts wish Him to be; no, we must remember the Word of God incarnate who meets us in the infallible Word of God and in the Supper from His Holy Table. We must remember His triumph over pain and death to know the only possible place from which our triumph can come is by following Christ in the humility and suffering and hunger preparing us to rule and work and love in the land of promise. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled’ (Matthew 5:3-6). Our hope is not in us, but in the One who blesses: the One who became human to show us what it means to be human. We will fail and He will go on succeeding; we will fall and He will keep picking us up until we will no longer need to be treated as the fallen creatures we are; no, there will come a day in which we will stand beside our Lord, our Savior, our Brother, and we will show the world what it means to be Human; we will break through the noise and darkness to hear evil shudder and cry out for the last time, for the Sons and Daughters of God are coming, and the gates of Hell will not prevail.