Download or listen to Thanksgiving Day, “The True Land of Blessing” (Deuteronomy 8:1-10)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hmm. This is a problem. Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America, but Deuteronomy 8, it probably does not need to be said, is not about the United States. This is not the land that Yahweh swore to give to the fathers of Israel, and He did not lead us in here from the wilderness of Sinai. Although this is a good land, this is not the good land of brooks, fountains, and springs; valleys and hills; wheat and barley, vines, fig trees and pomegranates, olive trees and honey; a land of bread without scarcity, a land abundant with iron and copper. The simple fact is that the United States is not the land of Israel and we are not the Old Testament people of God. So we have to sort out what in Deuteronomy 8 belongs to them, and what belongs to us, and why it would even apply to us at all, since we are not them.
The people of Old Testament were both a political and a religious nation. They were both a Church and a State. They were a true theocracy. We should recognize that we, as the people of God, are not tied to one particular nation (although the national flag of this country in the sanctuary might say otherwise). Christians live in various nations, but the Church of Jesus Christ is not a national church. We are a Church of every language and every people and every nation. Israel was a people of one language and one nation. The Church has no single piece of land to call home; Israel had the land between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Syrian desert to the east, between Egypt in the south and Euphrates River in the north. Israel’s hope was tied to that land; all the promises of God to her looked to the land which God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But after Jesus, we know that those promises were tied to that land because from that land would come their Messiah and the savior of the whole world. “Salvation is from the Jews,” Jesus says (John 4:22). But Jesus’ reign will not be tied to any national borders. He is the King of all nations, and His reign is over the whole earth.
So what does Deuteronomy 8 have to say to us on our national day of thanksgiving? Well, this is not the land of Israel, the land of promise. But this land is indeed a gift to us from the Father of all nations. He raises up nations and puts them down, and He has raised up this one. This land has many blessings in common with the land of Israel, and they all come from the hand of our Creator. The people of God cannot give thanks only on a single calendar day established by the president of the United States in 1789 (Washington) or 1863 (Lincoln). For all of the blessings of both body and soul, it is continually “our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey” God. It is a symptom of unbelief when we give thanks in general, as if we had gotten what we have with our own hands. It is a symptom of unbelief when we give thanks, but refuse to hear God’s Word to us or fail to realize that what He has given us is not only for our own benefit. But the warning to Israel in the verses immediately following our section from Deuteronomy 8 remain a warning to everyone, since we have all received abundant blessings from the Lord of heaven and earth: “Take care lest you forget Yahweh your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…” (8:11-14). Now I know why the lectionary committee stopped at verse 10! And we are not excused because we are not Old Testament Israel. This is as much a warning to the Church of God as it was of Israel. Have we not eaten and gotten full and had the gifts of God multiplied in our midst? Are we not rich in the things of this world, at least compared to most of the world? Have we forgotten God, who is the giver of everything we have? Repent. Don’t call on the world to repent. Why would they worry about shopping on Thanksgiving Day? Why would they worry about being thankful. It is time for repentance to begin with the household of God. The mercy of God is far more abundant even than the material blessings of this land. The mercy of God is far more abundant than our selfishness, our thanklessness, our gluttony, our materialism, our idolatry. If not, He would have wiped Israel from the face of the earth, because they were all these things. “Know, therefore,” Moses said, “that Yahweh your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people” (9:6). Instead, “it is because Yahweh loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that Yahweh has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (7:8). He has mercy on us because He is faithful, not because we are. He is so faithful to His promise that not even the rebellion of Israel could get in the way of His keeping a remnant of Israel throughout the generations. From that cut-down stump of David’s line, a Savior was born, whose name, Jesus, means “Yahweh saves.” Through Him the whole earth is blessed. He has blessed us, but the proof of that is not how many things we have, not how much food is on our table, not how many members of our family are around our table—though of course He blesses us there, as well. But what if we don’t have all those things? What of those who can’t afford to max out their credit cards tomorrow morning? What of those whose family is broken or those whose loved ones have died? What of those who cannot have a nice, home-cooked meal around a beautiful centerpiece in a Norman Rockwell setting? No, the sole indisputable proof of God’s mercy is a man hanging on a cross, offering His Body and Blood for your salvation and the salvation of the whole world. He is the land of our promise, and it is through Him alone that we enter the eternal new creation, the true land of blessing, which will be rich with the blessings of the Lord, but, even more, will have no hunger or thirst, no sickness, no broken families, and no death. For this we give thanks most of all, today and every day.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/26/13