When everything is going along great, it’s easy to just keep on going and act as if nothing could possibly go wrong. Listen to this story I found as I was working on this sermon.
Among the thrilling stories told in connection with the search of gold in the Klondike, in the northwestern region of Canada in the late 1890’s, there is one which I think is fitting for us now.
A prospecting party, penetrating far into the country, came upon a miner’s hut. As they approached, they noticed the stillness of the area. Everything was quiet, nothing was stirring, not even a mouse, oh wait, that’s from a Christmas story. Sorry, wrong holiday.
Anyway, upon this prospecting party entering into the cabin, they found the skeletons of two men, and a large quantity of gold. On a rough table was a letter telling of their successful search for the precious ore. In their eagerness to get it, they forgot about something. They forgot about the early coming of winter in that northern Canadian land. Each day they went out, more and more gold was found. That is until one morning ….
One morning, they awoke to find a great snowstorm had moved in upon them. For days the wind blew and the snow kept on falling. The blinding snowstorm soon was cutting off all hope of escape. Their little stockpile of food was soon exhausted, and they laid down and died amidst a large pile of abounding gold! Their folly was not in finding and gathering the gold, no, their folly was in neglecting to provide against inevitable winter. These men forgot one of the most valuable things when they headed north.
In our reading from Deuteronomy 8, Moses sits the Israelites down in the plains of Moab. They are literally across the Jordan River from the Promised Land. But before they go in and take possession of that good land, Moses wants to remind them of a few things, lest they too forget and perish.
“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years” (Deut. 8:2a). Moses is taking them all the way back to when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. After the tenth plague, after the death of Pharaoh’s first born son, the Israelites were told to get out of Egypt, to pack up their things and leave as quickly as possible. They went some ways, zig-zagging across the desert which gave Pharaoh the impression that they were lost. Upon this, Pharaoh decided to attack the Israelites. They find themselves trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s approaching army. God once again delivers them by parting the Red Sea for the Israelites, only to close it up to drown the Egyptians. From there, God led them through the wilderness for forty years, protecting them and providing for them.
But don’t think this wandering through the wilderness was easy on them. If you remember, it seems like at every turn of a page of Scripture, the Israelites are grumbling and complaining about the harshness of their conditions. They grumbled about not having food and water. At different times, they found themselves facing battles against kings who don’t want them passing through their lands. Also, because of their own self-centered, stiff-necked ways, the Israelites brought a lot of problems upon them themselves.
But yet Moses reminds the Israelites how it is that God took care of them. He fed them with bread from heaven in the form of wafers called manna. God made water gush from rocks out in the middle of a desert. Also, we heard Moses tell them, “Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years” (8:4). Try to imagine that for a moment. Forty years of sun, dust, sand, wind, and rocks and yet they never had to go shopping for new clothes. Even with all that walking, no plantar fasciitis to worry about, no bunions, and no swelling.
And if that sounds great, the list of God’s blessings continues as He is about to do something absolutely amazing. Moses says, “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills” (8:7-9). Not only has God taken care of them these past forty years, but now He is giving them access to what seems like an all-inclusive five-star resort. God is truly blessing these Israelite people and He is doing it simply out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.
You know, you can take all of this that we have looked at with the Israelites and very easily transition it to your life. As we observe Thanksgiving, however that looks like for you and your family, take a moment to grab a piece of paper and a pen and stop. Stop for a moment, go ahead and sit down, wherever you are, and remember. Remember by writing out how it is God has, is, and will take care of you.
Yeah, I get that our hardships are different than the Israelites, but we still have them. We have loved one with physical disabilities, others with cancer, others suffering from mental health problems. We have or know of people with financial hardships as they wonder how they will make ends meet this month or afford to buy their loved one Christmas gifts.
And then there is the big one which we are living in called Covid. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how odd and unnatural it feels to be preaching to you through a camera instead of seeing everyone’s faces, seeing kids bouncing between mom and dad, and people sipping their precious coffee. This hardship we are living through prevents us from seeing our loved ones who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. It prevents us from visiting them in their hospital rooms. Schools and teachers are trying their best to teach through computer screens instead of being able to walk around and look over their student’s shoulders to see if they are getting it. Our family celebrations also have a totally different look to them.
But yet in the midst of these different hardships, God, just like He did with the Israelites … God is taking care of you. Martin Luther very eloquently puts it this way, “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” (1st Article Meaning). God does all this for you, for me not because we deserve it. We are far from deserving all these blessings from God. But He gives them to us, just like He did with the Israelites, out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.
And as great as all that is … there’s more. God granted the Israelites access to the good Promised Land by parting the Jordan River and letting them walk through to the other side. God also grants to you access, access to His good Promised Land. He grants us access not by splitting the waters of any river, but by the splitting open of our graves. By Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan through is perfect life, excruciating death, and victorious resurrection, Jesus will come again to rip the lids off our caskets, He will reach out his hand toward you, and he will call you by name. At the sound of your Savior’s voice, you will wake up, grab his hand, and rise from your grave in a perfectly restored and glorified body. Jesus will take you and lead you by the hand into the good Promised Land of the new creation.
Just as everything was established and provided for the Israelites as they entered into their Promised Land, the same is true for you. Everything will be provided and nothing will be hastily be forgotten. For you will never again hunger, never again be thirsty, never again suffer any of the hardships of this fallen and broken world. In the new creation, you and I will, as we just sung, we will sing praises to our great and wonderful God. “With voices united our praises we offer And gladly our songs of thanksgiving we raise. With you, Lord, beside us, your strong arm will guide us. To you, our great redeemer, forever be praised!” Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.