The people of God are a peculiar bunch. I really mean that, and I think it has always been so. The people of God, whether Christians around the world today, or ancient Israelites during their wilderness wanderings, are a strange bunch. They don’t behave like everyone else. They don’t respond the same way to things as the rest of the world, or at least they have unusual ways of viewing things. But I think that makes sense. If you believe that the Creator of the heavens and earth, the Almighty God has called you by name, has made you His own and has promised you His gifts, that will have ramifications in how your life your life. It will impact how you carry yourself and how you react to things around you.
Now a big part of what makes the people of God peculiar is that they have a habit of being a bit backwards. Not that they’re not progressive or understanding or sensitive to modern cultural trends or something like that. No, they literally spend their days looking backwards first. Their faith doesn’t begin by looking forward to some dream some magical thing out on the horizon, but by looking back, by remembering what has happened. Remembering what God has already done.
Take the children of Israel, as we find them in the book of Deuteronomy. Here they are having finished their wilderness wandering, having been delivered form the house of slavery in Egypt, and they stand poised to enter the Holy Land. Moses is recounting for them where they had been and what God has called them to do. And as they get ready to enter the land he says, “Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness. Remember your trials and testing. Remember how you were fed with manna. Remember how your clothing did not wear out and your foot did not swell these forty years.” Remember the deliverance and the care of your Father in heaven. For by looking back to what he has done, you are ready to go in and live: really live.
The Israelites looked back to their deliverance, to their time in the wilderness, and so they are given the strength to go forward and to continue to walk in the ways of the Lord. So it is with you, my friends. You go forward by looking backwards. You look back, not to Egyptian masters and tireless wanderings. No, you look back to a greater deliverance, to a more perfect fulfillment of all the promises of God. You look back to a cross and an empty tomb, to a day when God became flesh and did what was necessary to save you. He bore you sins. He paid the price. He conquered death and the grave. He burst forth from the tomb on Easter morning, and by looking back at all that, by taking in the majesty and wonder of what God had done for you, you are prepared to go forward. Forward in that assurance, in that hope, in that confidence.
I love that this is the text that we usually read on Thanksgiving Day. Because this isn’t directly a church holiday, and it isn’t the feast or the Reformation or the celebration of Easter of Christmas. No, this is a national day of prayer and thanksgiving, established by the Congress of the United States and not the historic lectionary of the Christian Church. But how fitting it is to think of Israel poised to enter the promised land. The land, as he says, “Of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and hone, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing.” For that is a fitting description of this great land, this wonderful nation that you and I are blessed to be a part of.
As I child, my older brother and I would often spend time down and my grandparent’s home during the summer and of course for Thanksgiving. My grandparents had a large 25-foot flagpole in their front yard. But they didn’t have the means of lighting the flag at night. So, my older brother and I would have to go out in the morning and raise the flag and every evening lower it and fold it properly until the next day. My grandparents were true patriots and imparted that to us. I love this country, I’m proud to be an American. And the more I travel, the more I have the ability to get around, the more I am convinced that we have a lot to be thankful for in this country.
But, these days there seems to be a great amount of fear and concern about our land. We see the deep divisions that are constantly on display; from our congress, to the news sources we rely on, to the causes our communities may rally around. We get concerned about Twitter fights, and contested elections, and the loss of civil discourse. But through it all we can forget to give thanks. We can forget to rejoice in the blessings we have. Or, and perhaps this is even worse, we can tie all our joy and happiness to the politics of the day. We forget to live in the joy of the blessings of our God. We cease to walk in his ways in this rich land because it isn’t playing out the way we had hoped it would.
Which is why this day is so important. It is why we need a day of Thanksgiving. A moment in time to lift up our heads and take a deep breath, to look around and take it all in. A day, especially for you and I to remember. Remember what your God has done for you. Remember his love and forgiveness. Remember his passion and victory. Remember that he did this all for you, for your future, for your salvation. You have been placed here at this time in this place, in this great land of incredible freedom. A place where we can worship in freedom and joy, where we can hand on the gifts we’ve received.
Looking back, you find the promises of your God, promises rooted in the gifts of Christ. Promises that then give you freedom and joy to live in this good land your God has provided. Today you can give thanks to your God for his rich blessings. You can give thanks for this nation, for a representative republic, for election cycles and debating candidates. You can give thanks for the veterans who fought to preserve this way of life, for the sacrifices of those who went before you. You can give thanks for our property rights and our right to gather together to receive the gifts of Christ. We look back and we give thanks for all those who went before us, who worked sometimes unbeknownst to them in service to our God, to bring us here today, to gather us around his Word, to fill us with hope and joy, to be reminded once again that you are forgiven. You are forgiven all your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.