Sermon text for Sunday, April 25, 2010
There are some moments that change everything. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted the Ninety-five Theses at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany and the Protestant Reformation was born. On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and unanimously declared; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and the flames of the American Revolution took hold. On December 8, 1941 Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood before US Congress and declared; “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” By the time his speech had ended, the United States had officially entered World War II. The writer of Deuteronomy envisions this kind of dramatic moment for the people of God. He calls them to a defining moment when they would stand before God and the world and make a declaration that would define the rest of their lives. In Deuteronomy 26:16 and 17 we hear: 16 The LORD your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in his ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey him.
It is so easy to think about the Book of Deuteronomy as a book of law, after all the Greek name that we claim for the book is “second law.” But it is more much more than that. It is a book of the law that emerges from the living experience between God and God’s people. This passage invites us into a grand assembly when the people of God were hearing and considering what it mean to follow the ways of God. Their leadership lead them to a moment of declaration – a moment when they were to called to unapologetically claim their desire to walk in God’s way, to keep God’s decrees, commands and laws, that they would choose to actively obey God. Sometimes we forget that a declaration of faith is born in the acknowledgement that we need God, that we cannot be who we need to be apart from God. I would have loved to have been there and witness this moment of decision, this moment of active faith. The people stand. They lift their voices. Hear the report; You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in his ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey him.
But this moment was no one-sided affair. God was not, and is not, looking for a blindly obedient people. God was, and is, looking for a people of faith founded in authentic relationship. This is a great “law” passage that identifies a moment when the people declared that the Lord was God and that they would follow God’s commands. Now God responds. In verses 18 and 19 we hear; 18 And the LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. 19 He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised.
In response to their faithfulness God declared that He would claim them and bless them. Did you hear what God declared? Those who declare their faith in God are HIS people! Treasured Possessions! That God would bring fame to their name and make them a holy people! These are terms of endearment and rich with promise of God’s blessing. God tells the people because you have declared your faith in me, I claim you, bless you, and will work in and through you – and in and through us as a family of faith.
God calls us to a whole new place and a whole new attitude and this is reflected in this passage of shared declaration. It is an attitude of faithfulness and obedience emerging out of an authentic ongoing relationship with God. We chose to obey because we love God, have faith in God, and know that we belong to God as a treasured possession. So what does it mean to live as God’s treasured possessions? This is a loaded phrase. Let me turn the question around. What are your most treasured possessions? The reality is that for some their most treasured possessions are things made of paper that can be carried in a wallet, or made of metal and can be driven down the street, or made of brick and mortar and with a street address. They are things that can be possessed. But instead they become possessed by their possession and the unbridled pursuit to hang on to them. The problem is when we measure our treasure in the tangible, we find it gives nothing back and can vanish in seconds with a blip on Wall Street, an envelope with a pink slip, or the stirring of the strong Oklahoma winds. The only treasure that has meaning is a treasure found in flesh and blood – people to love and embrace…..people who can love and embrace. The treasured passions of God are not the things that he spoke into existence like the roaring oceans or the majestic mountains. No, God chooses prize the creation created in God’s image, the one who freely gives faith and love, the one who walks in the way of God out of a relationship of choice.
What does it mean that God has made us a holy people? Note the term here is “holy” not “religious” or “self righteous.” Holy is a word reserved for the divine. We are a holy people because in our declaration of faith God responds and claims us, and chooses to allow us to touched by the brush of the divinity of God that makes us His. We hear similar language in an earlier passage. Hear Deuteronomy 7: 6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. In our declaration of faith we choose to make a life defining declaration that the Lord is our God, God responds and chooses us as His own. Hear again that our obedience is born in relationship, our “chosenness” springs out of faithfulness; being a treasure of God is a reflection of being an authentic child of God.
This idea of chosenness is a concept that has been – and is – hotly debated within and outside of the Jewish community. (1) Some Jewish scholars will tell you that chosenness brings with it the burden of identity in front of others. Our passage tells us He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised. In the Old Testament covenant language speaks to the chosen ones find their identity with God based in their place as the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Christians, when we come to this idea choseness we find it rooted in a faith relationship rather than a genealogical line. Our defining declaration of faith in God and resulting relationship is rooted unapologetically in our faith in Christ. Our choseness brings us the promise of God’s presence and places upon us the responsibility to make sure that the praise, fame, and honor God chooses to bestow upon us as this scripture describes is not for our glory but is given that we might bring glory to God.
One of the questions that have begun to emerge from various voices within our church family is why God has chosen to move among us, to bless us, to stir fresh in the life of our church family? I believe that this passage helps us to begin to hear the answer. I believe that God has moved in our midst not out of our strengths, but because we came to God in a declaration of faith born in brokenness. We were a broken congregation – the facilities were broken, the heart of the church was broken and the cry of declaration sounded out, “We are yours and we will do whatever you want us to do God.” I came as a broken pastor – with a broken body and a spirit broken before God and the cry of declaration sounded out from and ICU bed, “I am yours and I will do whatever you want me to do God.” In our brokenness God reshaped us and remade us – first apart and later together. In faithfulness to obey God, to do whatever God wanted us to do, to seek to be the people that God wanted us to be, to follow God decrees and commands for our lives as a family of faith we found the power of God’s declaration that this day that we are his people, his treasured possession as he promised. God’s movement in our midst is not born in a right of a church or people but rather in God’s response to a boken people who chose to make a bold declaration of dependence and chose to walk in God’s way. God has chosen to let other congregations begin to hear our story and seek to learn more not for our glory, but rather that God might receive the glory of the story of that which was broken is now redeemed.
I invite into a grand assembly where we hear ;16 The LORD your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. We are invited into a moment of declaration where we proclaim in front of the world that the Lord is our God. This is no trivial religious pronouncement. It is a defining moment that invites us into an authentic relationship with God both as a person and as a people. In our brokenness and our acknowledgement that only God can meet the deepest needs of our heart we call out in declaration. We do not have to wonder where the story ends. God stand ready to call us a treasured possession, a holy people, the children of God.
(1)Note articles posted at http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/chosenness-and-its-enemies-13662 and http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/chosen_people.html on April 21, 2010