The First Sunday in Lent (C)
“Long Term Grace, Short Term Memory”
March 10, 2019
Sermon Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Peace be unto you from the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Christ Jesus. Amen.
The text for our consideration this morning is our Old Testament lesson, as well as some of the verses before it. In fact, Deuteronomy 26 begins with Moses declaring to the people,
“When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 26:1‑4) This is the word of the Lord.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Firstfruits” – here in our text they refer to an offering… an offering which, by its very nature, is a “sacrifice” because what is given is not “second fruit”… “third fruit”… or the last of the fruits… that which is left over, that which will not be missed and may very well be in a state of rot and decay…. but rather the “firstfruit” … the best of the fruit… the best of the best. This is what is given up…. lifted up… offered up.
By whom? … God’s people. For what? In thankfulness, praise and adoration for what they have received from the Lord their God and in deep appreciation of what… also… they had not received and, in fact, been spared from… saved from.
Indeed, the Israelites were keenly aware of the salvation which had come to them. Moses, God’s servant… Moses, God’s messenger and spokesman… saw to that… always reminding the people of what had been done for them… just as God’s servants… God’s messengers and spokesman still do today… to this very day with God’s people. Why? Because even though God’s grace is LONG TERM… that is to say, it thankfully, wonderfully continues on…. our memory of the same… is SHORT TERM.
We so easily forget… in our case… that God has saved us not from the hand of Pharaoh, but rather He has saved us through Christ Jesus from the very hand of Satan. We have not been freed from physical oppression, but spiritual oppression. We have not been spared from temporal death in Egypt, but rather… eternal death in hell.
Indeed, in the life of God’s people… in our very own lives, if we would but stop and consider (which is exactly what we will do now in this penitential season of Lent)… we will see… we will realize again and again… God’s long term grace shown toward us in Christ Jesus… But also… sadly… our short-term memory of the same.
It has to be our memory… short term memory… clouded by Satan… seduced by the world and confused by our own sinful nature. Otherwise… otherwise, quite frankly, we would not be doing what we are doing as individuals and as a congregation.
If we remembered and had at the forefront of our minds what our Savior, Jesus Christ, did for us… won for us…
If we remembered how “the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression” and how “with a mighty hand and an outstreteched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders” He and He alone brought us to this place… His place…. and to this state… the state of grace under which we now live eternally…. we, too, would say with our text, “Now I bring the firstfruits… that You, O Lord, have given me.” We, too, would fully heed God’s Word to “Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before Him.” (Deuteronomy 26:7-10)
Thanks be to God that many do. That there are those who regularly, faithfully, place in the basket their offering… their sacrificial gift… the firstfruits of what they have received from God’s gracious hand.
Thanks be to God for those who give generously, freely, from the heart as they have been generously, freely given by their Lord… from His heart.
And thanks be to God that some people… some men, women, teenagers, children do regularly, faithfully “bow down before Him.” That is to say they bow down in worship… in repentance, reverence, honor and adoration of the Lord their God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But you and I know, more than ever before, there are dear brothers and sisters, likewise members of this congregation, whose faithfulness to the Lord and to this, His Body… the Holy Christian Church… has waned and in some cases, is no more.
As for bowing down before the Lord, there are so many who have not even set foot in this holy house for a long period of time, let alone regularly… let alone every Sunday… let alone every opportunity afforded them to do so.
Though they live under God’s grace and enjoy His bountiful blessings every second of every hour of every day…. these people find no time in their so-called “busy” lives to come and worship the Lord… to give Him thanks and praise and to stay connected to their Savior… their Lifeline… through Word and Sacrament.
Oh, they have convinced themselves that they have good reason… a good excuse for their absence from God’s House – from the hearing of His Word, the studying of His Word and the receiving of the blessed Sacrament of the Altar… but in the end… that is all that it is… an EXCUSE…. an excuse, a reason that does not hold water now and will not certainly on the day of judgement.
Are we the only congregation experiencing this… having adults who can take or leave the Lord and the worship of His Holy name and in more and more cases, are leaving it… leaving Him?
Adults who to your face will say, “Don’t worry, my faith is still strong?” To which we say “I am not worried, but you should be. You are only kidding yourself and if you only knew what spiritual peril you are in.”
Are we the only congregation that has dwindling financial resources?
Are we the only congregation that does not know from week to week how many children will be in Sunday School… the only congregation that has precious ones whose attendance and involvement in the same is so sporadic and in some cases, nonexistent?
Are we the only congregation that has individuals and even groups that have a beef against the church, its leadership, its pastor, but instead of doing something about… instead of resolving anything and everything in a God-pleasing way, would rather perpetuate the situation and stew in their own beef?
Are we the only congregation where, more and more, the faithful few do the majority of the work, serving the Lord, serving others, while most enjoy all of the benefits and blessings of the church and leave it at that? Put another way, are we the only congregation where far too many of its members come to be served and not to serve?
The answer to all of these questions is no… sadly no. What is going on now at St. Paul’s is likewise the case in the vast majority of Christian congregations.
The decline is real. The exodus… real. And Satan is loving it. Ah, but things will get better here at St. Paul’s. Just wait until the new pastor is in place. As if he will be the answer… as if the solution lies apart from you… YOU… each of you because, guess what? You ARE the church… you ARE this congregation.
For all of the things that are so wonderful here at St. Paul’s… and there are so many… what part did you play… do you play in it with the help of the Holy Spirit?
For all of the things that have waxed and waned and the serious issues now facing this congregation… what part did you play in bringing it about and in perpetuating its presence?
If we all take a good, hard look at this… if we are honest with ourselves… we will see that in more ways than we want to think, each of us has been, to some degree, part of the problem… that each of us has fallen short of our calling, our responsibility… that which has always been for us a wonderful opportunity.
God has given much… the greatest of treasures to His Church as found in His Holy Word and the blessed Sacraments. We all too often have an incredibly short-term memory of this for which we, especially now in this penitential season repent. We ask for forgiveness. We plead for God’s mercy and we rejoice in the same. We rejoice in His long-term grace… His never-ending grace upon us and all His people.
And we rejoice that God’s mercies are new every morning and that every day may be a new and brighter chapter in your life and in the life of this church. The Lord our God is here to help us. He who loves us so! Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
“Long Term Grace, Short Term Memory 3/10/19 The Rev. Mark H Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL.