Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ,
Does anyone have their Christmas tree up?
You don’t have to be ashamed, no one’s here to judge.
Anyone? Anyone start decorating? Maybe some lights outside when we had that beautiful weather a few weeks ago?
We have entered the high season of tradition. This year, I’ve heard so many people talking about putting up their tree a little earlier than other years. They tell me they need something joyful in their lives. Especially with the election, the atmosphere has been angry and divisive. People are longing for the holiday more than ever because they want that cheer and goodwill. Maybe it will be good year for the Hallmark Channel- everyone wants a good story with a happy ending. We need to be reminded that we are people who care for each other.
Tradition and good stories call us back to what’s important. They remind us who we are. They renew us so that we have the strength to keep going.
In the Church, we are people who understand that. We need the foundational rhythm of worship and the Biblical stories that teach us who God is and who we are, so that we can face the next day with love and hope.
Today we read from Deuteronomy instruction for how to remember and respond to God’s action through the retelling of the story of God’s salvation and a worshipful action of living in response to God.
God has done something wonderful. The people were slaves in Egypt and God has freed them. Long before, the people had been promised their own rich land. But they did not receive it. Instead, they wandered as foreigners, sometimes living prosperously in land that was not their own, sometimes living as oppressed people, crushed by those who were more powerful. But now, they are about to enter this promised land. And they will soon have the richness of great harvests. They have been waiting for the day of that first harvest for generations. It will soon come. And when it comes, they will need to remember all that they have gone through. They will need to remember that it was God who made it all possible.
They are called to perform an act of faith. The first fruit of the harvest is to be dedicated to God. It’s not safely stored away in case a hailstorm comes or locust eat the rest of the harvest. It’s given to God. In giving it to God, the person offering remembers that it doesn’t belong to him in the first place. The harvest has always and only belonged to God.
The story of God’s freeing the people from slavery, leading them through the wilderness, and bringing them to a prosperous land is an identity forming narrative that shapes the way God’s people understand themselves, God, and how to live their lives. What we don’t hear enough of is all the ways this foundational story is used throughout the Bible to remind the people of how God wants them to act towards other people. It flows from the command, “Remember, you where once immigrants in the land of Egypt”
Listen to this:
9You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
21You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
34The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
There’s a direct relationship between the people’s history, God’s interaction with them, and God’s call for how they are to interact with others. You were immigrants. I saved you. There are immigrants among you. You know what that’s like. Treat them well.
The ritual retelling of the story of God’s saving the people out of Egypt reminds them of their moral and religious imperative to live justly with those who might be easy to oppress.
What is the story, ritual, and imperative in our tradition today?
We come together at church to continue to tell each other our story. The salvation story remembered in Deuteronomy is our story. It is repeated in God’s action through Jesus. We were once enslaved to sin and death, but God sent Jesus to lead us into freedom. Jesus has welcomed us in to a new kingdom, where every person is much loved, where the hungry are fed and souls are nourished. Through baptism, God unites us to Jesus and washes away our sin and destroys the power of death to hold us captive. At the Table, we receive Jesus’ body and blood as we claim our place at the table, make room for our neighbors, and are nourished by Jesus’ forgiveness.
We tell each other that God saves us, we do things like baptism and communion that enact God’s forgiveness and claiming of us, and we are called out in the world to serve.
Jesus’ call for our lives begins with “remember you are a baptized child of God…” We have received life freely, based only on God’s love for us through Jesus. It is a gift of great joy. We are called to increase our joy by living as Jesus does for the sake of the world.
In Freedom of a Christian, Luther writes that “the Christian individual is a completely free lord of all, subject to none.” He continues, “The Christian individual is a completely dutiful servant of all, subject to all”
When it comes to sin and death, we have been made perfectly free, because Jesus has given us his own victory. We are righteous, holy, and good, because that is what Jesus is, and he has made what is his, ours. When it comes to our neighbors, we are bound to them, responsible for fulfilling their needs.
If we remember that what we have has always and only belonged to God, then our care for others, our giving of resources, isn’t a burden but a cause for celebration. It’s a cause for celebration because our story reminds us that God is good and generous and has given great things to us.
We’ve been working to grow gratitude in this congregation. The fruit of gratitude is generosity. Look at what our gratitude has grown!
There will be lived changed because of your generosity. A child will go to bed with enough food to be able to sleep soundly all night. A student will be able to focus on school because she is not wondering where her next meal will come from. A marriage will be stronger without the stress and shame of not being able to provide dinner once again.
We’re a church remembering that we’re called to serve not because we want to make each other feel guilty. We’re not about badgering people into giving more because they better show God they’re grateful. We are a people alive in God’s story of salvation- filled with love and grace- letting that flow out of us in ways that bring life to others. Our tradition is about giving life. We are seeing God give life to the world. We are joining God by joyfully doing God’s work. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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