“Remember Our Story”

Lent 1

February 14, 2016


Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; Romans 10:8b-13


          Let’s have a show of hands to start off with—how many of you are at least somewhat into genealogy? (pause for hands to go up) Although I don’t claim genealogy as one of my hobbies, I do know quite a few of the stories about my ancestors going back 3 to 5 generations (depending on which branch of the family tree I’m talking about), because my parents, especially my dad, talked a lot about the generations that came before them when I was a child. For instance, I know that my great-great-grandfather Schoening came to the United States in the early 1860’s to avoid being conscripted into the Prussian army (for those of you not familiar with that segment of European history, Prussia eventually became part of Germany). However, he did serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. His wife and children (including my great-grandfather) came over in 1867 to join him. I won’t bore you with more of my family history, but I will say my parents apparently felt it was important that I know the stories of those in my family who came before me. And since history is one of my interests, I picked up on a lot of it. On the other hand, my children don’t seem to have much interest in their family background. The only time I can recall any of them asking about it was when my oldest son had to make his family tree for a school assignment.

          Our lesson from Deuteronomy describes the ceremony the Israelites were to perform once they had entered and settled in the Promised Land after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They were to bring some of the first crops they harvested, put it in a basket, and take it to the priest. Part of the ritual called on the person presenting the offering to recite the Israelite people’s history, as follows:

          “My ancestor was a wandering Aramean (this is a reference to Jacob). He went down to Egypt, living as an immigrant there with few family members. There he became a great nation, mighty and numerous. The Egyptians treated us terribly, oppressing us and forcing hard labor on us. So we cried out for help to the Lord, our ancestors’ God. The Lord heard our call. God saw our misery, trouble, and oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with awesome power, and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land full of milk and honey. So now I am bringing the first produce of the fertile ground that you, Lord, have given me.”

          The book of Deuteronomy is the second statement in the Bible of the commandments and teachings God gave to Moses (the first, of course, appears in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers). God gave the people the ritual just described to help them remember their story--who they were, where they came from, what they had been through, and what God had done for them. To remember in this way is more than just calling something to mind. This kind of remembering means claiming “this is my story”. The person making the offering was doing just that.

          The story of God’s people in the Old Testament also tells us what happened when the people forgot their story, which they often did, forsaking God by worshipping idols and failing to live according to the standards of justice and righteousness God had given them. Repeatedly this led to bad outcomes for the people. Eventually it led to captivity and exile in Babylon for a time until God restored a remnant of his people to the land to rebuild.

          When Jesus faced temptation in the desert, he had to remember his story and who he was because of it. His story was not only the story of the people Israel. In addition, his story included being identified as God’s chosen one, God’s Son, who God sent to save his people. The tempter kept referring to that story, saying, “If you are the Son of God, turn this stone into a loaf of bread,” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple, for it is written that the angels will take care of you and not let you get hurt.” The tempter even tried to get Jesus to forsake his identity and his story, saying, “Worship me, and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world.” Because Jesus knew his story, knew who he was and what God wanted of him, he was able to say no to the tempter and yes to the mission to which God had called him. That mission continued God’s story in Jesus through his life, his ministry of teaching and healing, his death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven, and the gift of the Holy Spirit to his original followers and to all who place their trust in Christ for their salvation. The first Christians picked up that story and spread the news, and more and more people claimed that story as their own as the church developed and grew.

          God’s story is not just something that happened thousands of years ago. As the Apostle Paul reminded the Romans: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” Claimed by faith, God’s story, the story of the Hebrew people, the story of Jesus, the story of the church, is also the story that continues to live and be told in and through you and me. Paul tells us that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and trust in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, claiming for ourselves the central truths of the Christian story, we will be saved. We will be delivered from our sin and alienation from God and welcomed into right relationship with him. Although God’s story began as the story of a particular people, the Jewish people, in Christ this story is for everyone who calls on him. Everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved.

          Sometimes, the church, too, has lost sight of that story. Sometimes Christians have acted more interested in serving their own interests and preferences rather than doing God’s work in the world. Sometimes the church has gotten more wrapped up in seeking wealth, power, and influence in the world than in loving and serving the least, last, and lost people of the world that Jesus loved and served. One contemporary author, Robin Meyers, has been so blunt to suggest that the church needs to quit worshipping Christ and start following Jesus. I find that to be a false contrast. I would instead suggest that we cannot truly worship Christ unless we truly follow Jesus. Worshipping Christ and doing the work of Jesus in the world go hand in hand. Worshipping Jesus without following him is empty piety—as the letter of James reminds us, “faith without works is dead”; doing Jesus’ work without worshipping him is unsustainable in the long term because worship helps give us the spiritual power to keep going. Worship helps us remember God’s story and helps us to claim our place in that continuing story.

          Remembering our story helps us to be faithful to God. It roots the good that we seek to do in the world in the work of God in the world, and helps us to stay focused on the mission God has given his people. It gives us the power to keep doing God’s work even when it becomes difficult, when we run into opposition, and when we wonder if what we do is really accomplishing anything. It is God’s story; by faith, it is our story. Let us remember and reclaim that story for ourselves, that we may know God’s power to sustain us in doing his work in the world.


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