“Do Not Forget, But Remember”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 19, 2017

Deuteronomy 8:7-18


If you were in church back in September, you might remember that during that month, we heard several scripture lessons from the book of Exodus, stories of the Israelite people escaping from slavery in Egypt and journeying through the wilderness toward the Promised Land.  You might remember that God called Moses from the burning bush and sent him to tell Pharaoh to “Let my people go.”  You might remember that the Israelites fled Egypt in a great hurry, and Pharaoh’s armies pursued them, and just when they thought they were trapped on the banks of the sea, the waters parted and they made their way across to safety.  You might remember that they were running out of food as they traveled hot, grueling miles through the desert, and God fed them with manna from heaven, just enough for each day as it came.  You might remember that they grew thirsty, and God guided Moses to find water from a rock.  You might remember that they were led by visible signs of God’s presence all the way through their 40-year journey.

It was no straight shot, for sure.  There was plenty of quarreling and quibbling; there were plenty of mistakes along the way.  Sometimes it was two steps forward and one step back.  Sometimes it was one step forward and two steps back.  But eventually, they made their way to the eastern bank of the Jordan River.  They could look across to the other side and see the Land of Canaan, the place for which they had been longing for so long.  Moses knew that he would not get there with them, so he gathered the Israelites there at the edge of the river, and he gave a sort of farewell speech—part reminder of all they had experienced and all they had learned, part blessing for what lay ahead, part goodbye to his community, his family and friends.  That speech is recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, and today’s reading is a part of it.

Listen again, and imagine how this would have sounded to a weary, wandering, wilderness people.


            For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.  You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that God has given you.

            Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep God’s commandments, ordinances, and statutes, which I am commanding you today.  When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions.  God made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.  Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”  But remember the Lord your God, for it is God who gives you power to get wealth, so that the Lord may confirm the covenant that God swore to your ancestors, as the Lord is doing today.


“Take care that you do not forget,” said Moses.  “Remember the Lord your God.”


Moses knew that we humans can have a wee little bit of a tendency toward pride, toward self-aggrandizement, toward self-promotion, toward thinking we are bigger and more important than we are.  He knew that sometimes, when things are going well, we humans find it very easy to convince ourselves that we did it all by ourselves, that we earned everything we have, that it was our own hard work alone that got us where we are.

And so Moses said to his people, “Remember.  Do not think that you have achieved what you have through your own might and by your own hand.  Remember that the food you ate was a gift.  Remember that the water you drank was a gift.  Remember that the path you traveled was a gift.  Remember that God’s grace has gone with you every step of the way.”


Moses knew that we humans—especially here in New England—can have a fearsome independent streak.  He knew that we can sometimes prize our own pleasure over the needs of our neighbors.  He knew that we can sometimes hold ourselves apart and alone, even to the point of our own isolation and suffering, rather than ask for help from a neighbor and admit our own vulnerability and need.

And so Moses said to his people, “Remember.  Do not think anyone has ever done it all by themselves.  Remember that you survived the journey by traveling together.  Remember that someone caught you when you tripped, and you caught someone else another day, and it was by holding one another up that you made it here to the edge of the Land of Canaan.  Remember that you are blessed so that you will be a blessing to the world.  Remember that there are people who will help you, and people whom you will help, and this is exactly as God would have it be.”


Moses knew that there is much to be done in this world if it is to become the Promised Land, and that we humans can sometimes try to shoulder more of the burden than any body can bear.  He knew that we can sometimes find ourselves convinced that it all depends on us, that if we fail, all will be lost.  He knew that there would be times of discouragement, times when it seems like it’s all gone wrong, times when bad news feels unrelenting, times when hope is very hard to come by.

And so Moses said to his people, “Remember.  Do not think you have to do it all alone.  Remember that God has helped you before when it seemed like sure destruction was at hand.  Remember that God has promised never to leave you or forsake you, that God will not abandon this world to despair and ruin.  Remember that God made a covenant with your ancestors that carries forth to this very day and beyond.  Remember that God’s promises are trustworthy and true, always and forever.”


Moses knew that we humans have a tendency to forget, both when the going is good and when the going is tough, that we are never alone in this world, not ever.  So Moses said to his people, Moses says to us, “Take care that you do not forget, but remember.”

Remember who gave you life.

Remember who guides your every step.

Remember who journeys with you in every moment.

Remember for whom you are responsible.

Remember to whom you belong.

Remember who is, even now, taking your hand and the hand of the entire world and leading all of us home.

Take care that you do not forget, but remember.






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