Oct 15, 2017

“Go And See What We Have” - Deuteronomy 1:1-8

“Go And See What We Have” - Deuteronomy 1:1-8

            A well-known minister was invited to dinner in the home of a very wealthy Texan.  After they’d eaten, the host led him to a place where they could get a good view of all the surrounding area.  Pointing to his many oil wells, he boasted.  “Twenty-five years ago I had nothing.  Now, as far as you can see, it's all mine."  Looking in the opposite direction at vast fields of grain, he said, "That's all mine."  Turning east toward large herds of cattle, he bragged, "They're all mine."  Then pointing to the west and a beautiful forest, he exclaimed, "That, too, is all mine."

            He paused, expecting the minister to compliment him on his great success.  Instead, the minister placed one hand on the man's shoulder and pointed to heaven with the other.  Then he asked a profound question.  "How much do you have in that direction?"  The man hung his head in shame and confessed.  "Oh my, I never really thought of that."

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            Our Older Testament reading is about noticing our possessions.  It’s about taking an inventory of what we have.  It’s about pausing to take a good look at all we’ve been given.  To take a good look at how much we’ve been blessed by our amazing and loving and generous God. 

And the one telling us to do this is none other than God.  So, if God is saying this, perhaps we’d better pay attention.  Perhaps the best thing we can do is to listen.  To listen and to do as God asks.  To follow God’s leading.  After all, God has never and would never steer us wrong.  God wants what’s best for us.  God always has our best interests at heart.

            The first thing that immediately jumps out at us is how specific the writing is.  Just look at all the details.  We’re told who the speaker is.  We’re told who the audience is.  We’re given the location.  We’re given the date.  It seems the only thing left out is what the weather is like.

            Here’s how the book of Deuteronomy opens.  Be warned, the names sound strange.  But names like Hickman Mills and Grandview and Kansas City would have sounded pretty strange to them as well.  Here goes.  “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan—in the wilderness, on the plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab.  In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the Israelites just as the LORD had commanded him to speak to them.”

            We find the Israelites just outside Palestine.  That puts them about an eleven days journey from Horeb.  Remember, it was there on Mount Sinai they received the law.  Now, they’re in no man’s land.  Now, they’re in an in-between period.  They’ve already been through a lot.  And they’ve made significant progress.  Now, they’re nearing the end of their journey.  And it’s all thanks to God.  It’s God who has been leading them and guiding them.  It’s God who’s been watching over and caring for them.  It’s God who’s given them their daily bread.  It’s God who’s given them living water.  It’s God who’s freed them from slavery and fear.

            Behind them is the exodus from Egypt.  Behind them are the many long years of homelessness in the wilderness.  Forty long years of wandering and bickering and restlessness and hopelessness and despair.  Behind them is Horeb where God gave them the gift of the law.  Behind them are recent battles with real kings and their armies.  Sihon of the Amorites and Og of Bashan are cited as examples.

            Now, at last, the end seems in sight.  For the first time, they glimpse the light at the tunnel’s end.  Before them, the Promised Land looms on the horizon.  The land God promised to their ancestors. 

            God now wants to speak to God’s people.  To prepare them as they move into their new lives.  To prepare them as they move from slavery and wilderness and wandering into a land of opportunity and blessing and life under God’s loving rule.  God wants them to know in their hearts that God will be with them.  So God instructs Moses.  God tells him what to say to the people of Israel.  And Moses listens and takes notes.  He asks questions for clarification.  Then, he does as he is told and shares God’s message with the people gathered around him.

            Here’s precisely what Moses shares with God’s people.  “You have stayed long enough at this mountain.  Resume your journey, and go into the hill country of the Amorites as well as into the neighboring regions—the land of the Canaanites and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.”

            Moses continues.  He challenges them to hear God’s word for them.  “See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.”

            We, too, find ourselves in such a place.  We look back to see all God has done for us.  We look ahead to see all God promises for us.  We, too, are invited to move from death to life.  From slavery to freedom.  From the problems of the wilderness to the joy of a land of promise.

In our day and in this place, God’s message to us is the same.  “Open your eyes.  Look around.  Remember what God has already done.  And remember his promises for the future.”  Sure, the future will have it share of challenges.  But God promises the ultimate victory.  The future is God’s gift to us.  And we’ll be given what we need for the journey.

            Leo Tolstoy wrote a story that still speaks to this.  It’s about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot in life.  In spite of all that he already had, he still wanted more of everything.  He seemed not to have noticed or to be thankful for the bounty he already possessed.  He had not stopped to really see. 

One day he received an unusual offer. For a mere one thousand rubles, he was offered all of the land that he could walk around in one day. There was just one catch.  The deal was that he had to get back to his starting point by sundown.  

So, at the crack of dawn he started walking at a rapid pace.  By midday he was very tired, but he kept going.  He covered more and more ground. But well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him quite far from the starting point.  He quickened his pace as the sun began to sink.  Then he began to run--knowing that if he didn’t make it back by sundown, the chance to grab all that land would be lost.  

Just as the sun was dropping below the horizon, he came within sight of the finish line.  He was gasping for breath and his heart was pounding.  He called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared.  Immediately, he collapsed.  Blood started streaming from his mouth.  Within a few minutes he was dead.  His servants dug a grave for him.  It was six feet long and three feet wide.  After all of his efforts, he only ended up with an estate that measured a mere two yards by one yard.  What a shame.

            Let’s face it, that peasant farmer already had a lot going for him.  He was already very successful.  He already had a thriving agricultural operation.  God had already provided for him.  God had already blessed him.   Yet despite all this, the farmer wasn’t satisfied.  He didn’t seem to see, let alone count his blessings.  He just wanted more.  More land.  More possessions.  More success.

            The good news for us this day and every day is that we have and serve a God who loves each one of us.  A God who wants what’s best for us.  A God who provides and cares for us.  A God who blesses us with good things.  All that we have and all that we are comes from God.  Our families, our loved ones, our friends.  Our jobs, our houses, our cars, our money, our possessions.  Every single bit of it comes from God.      

            So, on this day we are invited to go and see.  Like the Israelites, we are invited look at all that we have.  At all that we own.  At all that God has given us.  At all that our loving and gracious and generous God has blessed us with.  We’re to take an inventory and then to give God thanks. 

The words of an old hymn sum it up quite well.  Many of you are familiar with it.  The first verse begins, “When upon life’s billows, you are tempest tossed.  When you are discouraged thinking all is lost.”  The second begins, “Are you ever burdened with a load of care?  Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?”  The third begins, “When you look at others with their lands and gold.  Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold.”  And the final verse begins, “So, amid the conflict, whether great or small.  Do not be discouraged.  God is over all.” 

Then the chorus offers us these wonderful and timeless words of advice.  “Count your blessings.  Name them one by one.  Count your blessings.  See what God hath done.  Count you blessings.  Name them one by one.  Count your many blessings.  See what God hath done.”   Thanks be to God.  Amen.