There are two types of annoying rich people in the world who flaunt their wealth. The first is the guy who simply was born in the right place at the right time, and then he managed to live long enough to inherit the incredible wealth that existed even before he was a spark in someone’s eye. The second annoying type is the one who talks incessantly about all his hard work, but seems to forget the strength and good health God allowed him to have and all the infrastructure around him that helped facilitate the rewards of his labor.
It was this second category of person that Obama was seeking to address in his ill-advised campaign remarks when he said, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. … Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” This, of course, offended the bulk of business owners who are not actually wealthy, and rightly saw that their conscientious hard work was devalued. Yet, apart from the unfortunate categorizations, the President did have a legitimate point that the ability to work hard and succeed is built upon the shoulders and inter-connectedness of others who have done the same—before us and around us.
When standing at the front door of a successful business, it is easy to forget and overlook both the diligent work over a long period of time that went into it, as well as the surrounding infrastructure that likewise contributed to making it possible. And so, in our reading today, Moses reminds the people that when they would soon be standing successfully in the towns and countryside of the Promised Land, that they should remember that the buildings, wells, and vineyards were not of their construction; rather, it was God’s strength through them and by his provision that these riches existed for them to enjoy. They needed to have an accurate “remembrance.”
That is the big idea today – remembrance. It is not a stretch whatsoever to state that whatever we have is due to God’s grace and provision. Life itself is from him. Our health and ability to succeed is from him. We stand upon the generations of others before us who have done much to make anything we enjoy possible – including the passing down of timeless truth to us.
By nature, our reality goes as far as our personal remembrances and experiences. The rest of true reality needs to be taught to us; and in turn, all we know needs to be taught by us to those coming after us – to our children in our homes and in our church family.
Here are some formulas for success and failure …
Remembrance + trust + obedience = success.
Forgetfulness + independence + disobedience = failure.
Left alone to our own devices and natural drift, we will tend to forget and devalue the work of God in the past. That is the problem Israel had, and it is a problem endemic to all generations apart from the older folks reminding the younger about these truths. An illustration is given in today’s passage in verse 16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.” This story from the time of the Exodus from Egypt was one the Israelites would rather not recall, though it was an event they needed to remember. The people under Moses were in a position where they were out of water. And though they had previously seen God’s incredible provision for them, in a lack of faith and trust, they grumbled and rebelled. Essentially, they had forgotten – failed to remember. So the story of Massah is recalled here (and in a number of other places in the Bible) as “exhibit A” of unbelief; and the exhortation is, “Don’t be like that!”
That’s the lesson! Don’t be like that! But that is how people will be – our children and youth especially – if we don’t help them remember! And it is my role as the lead pastor in this place to remember to remind you to remember and help the rising generations to remember! Don’t be like the annoying rich person who forgets the source of his success. I’m writing this in advance of the first sermon, and you’re reading it after it has been done, but I’m likely to have yelled a little bit at this point! But it is the main thing that I believe God has told me to tell this church … so I’m doing it.
Love the Lord Your God – Deuteronomy 6:1-26
6:1These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.
20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”