Deuteronomy 8:7-20 (CEB)
7 because the Lord your God is bringing you to a wonderful land, a land with streams of water, springs, and wells that gush up in the valleys and on the hills; 8 a land of wheat and barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; 9 a land where you will eat food without any shortage—you won’t lack a thing there—a land where stone is hard as iron and where you will mine copper from the hills. 10 You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless the Lord your God in the wonderful land that he’s given you.
Against wealth and overconfidence
11 But watch yourself! Don’t forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commands or his case laws or his regulations that I am commanding you right now. 12 When you eat, get full, build nice houses, and settle down, 13 and when your herds and your flocks are growing large, your silver and gold are multiplying, and everything you have is thriving, 14 don’t become arrogant, forgetting the Lord your God:
the one who rescued you from Egypt, from the house of slavery;
15 the one who led you through this vast and terrifying desert of poisonous snakes and scorpions, of cracked ground with no water;
the one who made water flow for you out of a hard rock;
16 the one who fed you manna in the wilderness, which your ancestors had never experienced, in order to humble and test you, but in order to do good to you in the end.
17 Don’t think to yourself, My own strength and abilities have produced all this prosperity for me. 18 Remember the Lord your God! He’s the one who gives you the strength to be prosperous in order to establish the covenant he made with your ancestors—and that’s how things stand right now. 19 But if you do, in fact, forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, serving and bowing down to them, I swear to you right now that you will be completely destroyed. 20 Just like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, that’s exactly how you will be destroyed—all because you didn’t obey the Lord your God’s voice.
This is the word of God for us, the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Season of the Saints – Part III – Thanksgiving of the Saints
In these words from Deuteronomy, we hear the voice of Moses speaking God’s words to the people at the end of their forty-year journey in the desert. Moses paints a picture of the promised land that God has in store for them. And what an amazing picture that is – can you picture this land in your mind? Moses says that the land is a wonderful land – there are streams of water – springs and wells that gush up! The land has wheat, barley, vines, pomegranates, figs, olive oil, honey! All the food you can eat, without any shortage. Moses says – you won’t lack a thing there. You will eat, and you will be satisfied. Can you even imagine what such a land might look like if you had been in the dry, dusty desert for 40 years eating manna day after day?
But it is with this picture of hope and promise that Moses also speaks a warning to God’s people. Today we come to be thankful AND to hear Moses’ warning. Today I have four things I want to convince you of. First, we are a nation of prosperity. We have a great abundance in this country of all the things Moses talks about and so much more. We have water at the turn of a tap. We have food abundant in this country. We can literally have all of the things that Moses mentions the Israelites will find in the promised land – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, and olive oil, honey and pomegranates. If we want bananas on our cornflakes, we can import them from another country. If we want blueberries in the winter, they are there in the grocery store. We are rich! We have abundance all around us.
Not only that, but no matter how much money is in our bank account, we are figuratively rich in this country! We have freedom to worship and to work. Our government doesn’t control how many children we can have. We live in a place where the beauty of God is so obvious in the mountains and the forests, in the lakes and the rivers. We live in a place where there are no traffic jams and no smog. We live in a place where strangers say, “Hello” in the store. We live in a place where we don’t usually worry about our safety or crime. We have friends and church family and blood family who love us.
To make sure that I convince you how prosperous we are in this country, I want you to look at a website. Pull out your phone and google www.globalrichlist.com. One very interesting way to see how rich you are compared to everyone else in the world is to go to the global rich list online. You can put in your income and it will show you where you rank on the richness scale. It’s fascinating. It will even compare how much time it takes you to earn the money to buy a coke with how long it takes a person in a third world country to earn the money for a coke. It will show you how long it takes that same third world worker to earn your yearly salary. I put in $20,000 and that salary was in the richest 3.65 % in the world. It would take a worker in Zimbabwe 19 years to earn that much. It takes a person making $20,000 a year 3 minutes to earn the money to buy a coke. It takes a worker in Ghiana 7 hours to earn the money to buy a coke.
We are figuratively rich, but you can see especially compared to people around the world we are literally rich. In general, we have food, clothing and shelter. And most of us have so much more than just the basics – in fact, we have so much that we even have to buy storage buildings to hold all our stuff. And if we do have needs, there are all kinds of ways to find support, and I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
So, have I convinced you that we are rich?
The second thing I want to convince you of is that we are rich because of a good and loving God who pours out these innumerable blessings on us. It is because of God that we live and breathe. It is because of God that we woke up this morning. It is because of God that we have a roof over our heads and food on our tables and family to love. Our jobs are a gift from God, and our ability to work is a gift from God. Our health is a gift from God. Every good and perfect gift is from God.
But with that in mind, we come to Moses’s warning. Third, I want to convince you that prosperity is dangerous. You don’t have to even take my word for this because Moses warns the Israelites about this in the scripture you just heard. In verse 11, Moses says, “Watch yourself! Don’t forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commands.” Listen to verse 12:
When you eat, get full, build nice houses, and settle down and when your herds and your flocks are growing large, your silver and gold are multiplying, and everything you have is thriving, don’t become arrogant, forgetting the Lord your God.
Moses says when you reach the promised land, don’t forget all that God has done for you – Moses reminds his people that God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, led them through the desert and fed them. Moses says, remember that it is the Lord who provided for you – don’t think it is your own strength and ability that has produced your prosperity. Remember the Lord your God and obey his commands.
Prosperity is dangerous.
When we are rich, Moses says — there is a danger that we will forget who gives us all these gifts. When we are rich, we will think that it is our own work — our own skills and abilities that earned all the wealth we enjoy. And we will forget to be thankful to the Lord our God. And when we are rich, we forget to share God’s gifts with others and we will indulge in all kinds of self-focused behaviors. You see when we experience prosperity, our focus shifts away from God and toward our own desires and feelings.
One writer said it this way: “In the midst of prosperity, people tend to forget the disciplines and the values and the faith that helped to make them prosperous. In the midst of prosperity, people become bored with their easy lives—and become prey to any number of temptations – drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, the list goes on and on, in the midst of prosperity, they are inclined to forget God.” (Richard Donovan.) We are inclined to forget God when we are rich!
Moses’s warning to the Israelites is a warning for us, too. He says: Don’t forget! Listen to the Lord your God and obey him.
And so the fourth thing I want to convince you of is that we are called to remember the Lord or God and to obey God, especially in the midst of prosperity.
It is at this time of the year that we are reminded to be thankful for all the blessings that God pours out on us. But I wonder, how can we be thankful to God every day? How can we keep our focus on God? How can we remember all that the Lord our God has done for us and not fall into the dangers of prosperity? What are some tools of remembrance?
God gave the Israelites some ways to remember God and be thankful – one was to keep the Sabbath holy. God’s people were to teach their children God’s commandments and to remember them by talking about them when they sit down and when they rise up, and to write them on the doorposts of their houses and on their gates! God’s people were taught to care for widows and orphans and to leave potions of their fields unharvested, so that those in need could glean from the fields and eat.
We have those same tools – keeping the Sabbath, worshiping and praying, and caring for those in need. But I want to focus on one very particular thing, and ask you to think about a way to obey God and to remember God, and that is by living a life of generosity – by giving some of the prosperity that God pours out on us to those who suffer. And I want to pinpoint this thought in a very specific way. Because all that I could think of as I read this scripture and as I studied and prayed and poured over these ancient words of Moses – was the description of the abundant and wonderful foods that the Israelites would encounter in the promised land. Pomegranates, figs, barley, wheat, olive oil and honey. Moses paints a picture of a land where food was so abundant that they would never go hungry.
And all I could think of, friends, are those people right here in our community who go hungry. Even living in a country that is so rich, there are families who struggle to put enough food on their tables. Did you know that in Arkansas there are 200,000 children who are considered to be food insecure – that is they don’t have enough food or struggle to find food every day. That amounts to 1 out of every 4 children in our state. The Atkins school district has about 69% of its students who receive free and reduced lunches. The need right here is real. And I believe God’s people are called to make a difference in the world. You see, God’s greatest commandments are to love God and to love people. And I can think of no better way to obey God’s commandments to love God and to love people than to use some of our prosperity, to use some of our riches, to make sure that everyone has enough food on their tables. And we can sure start right here in our own neighborhoods.
There is a lot of generosity in this community, and in a few minutes I want to ask each church to mention some of the ways that you help to feed people who are hungry. My church participates in the school backpack program and we are hosting a free Thanksgiving meal on Thursday. But as I thought about all that the churches do, I realized that we can do so much more. We are generous, but at least for me, I am generous in a pretty safe way. It’s not too risky to give a little money or to bring some food. It gets a little riskier, and we have to trust God much more when we give more generously of our wealth – when we give with radical generosity. But things get really really risky for us when we give in a way that takes up our time and our energy, and when we risk building a relationship with those in need. But that is when miracles start to happen and when we can witness people’s bellies and souls being fed. I want to share an example with you.
My mom is 77 years old. She has a pacemaker and copd. She’s about this tall and she has gray hair. And she has been called to a really unique way of life in the last year. For years, she has attended More than Manna at First UMC in Russellville where a free meal is served followed by a worship service. She also goes every Saturday to All Saints Episcopal Church to participate in Neighbor’s Table, another free meal. She goes to visit and encourage the people there, many of whom have all kinds of needs – some are hungry, a few are homeless, some have physical or mental disabilities, and many are simply lonely. But her ministry has taken a new turn. Now she spends time daily gathering up food that is left over from hotels’ breakfast buffets. She boxes it up and takes it to James Park in Russellville to give to people who are hungry. Last month my mom and a couple of other people fed 300 meals to hungry people with food that was just going to be thrown away. And here is what I think is the really risky part of what she does — she is in the process of building relationships with people she would have never met before. She told me, “I am making all kinds of new friends, and they are so kind and loving.” But here’s what I think is really happening. I think she is the one who is kind and loving. I think she extends love to folks who probably haven’t felt much love in their lives. I think she is the light of Christ that they may have never experienced before. And I think Christ’s love shining through her each week is transforming them into kind and loving people.
My prayer is that we would be so generous that the community would know we are Christians by our love – that they would see the light of Christ in us because we gave so much without expecting praise or glory for ourselves, but just to express the love of God to others.
If we really want to remember God and obey God and be thankful for all the gifts we have been given, it involves more than just saying “thank you” once a year at Thanksgiving. I think the way we make our faith real is by living our faith in the world, not just by thinking about our faith. Moses called God’s people to a life of thanksgiving and obedience to God. We are called to walk the walk as followers of Jesus, especially when we are so rich. May our thanks and praise to God turn into actions and not simply words. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And all God’s people said, Amen.