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Sunday Service, 23rd August 2020

Opening prayer

Lord God, we acknowledge you as God of creation, a God worthy of our worship and our praise, a God faithful in all your dealings with us – there at all times and through all of life’s circumstances – our rock and a present help in times of trouble.

Strengthen us in our weakness and as your people have done across the centuries of time, help us to build our lives around the sure foundation of Christ our Lord.

In adoration and with gratitude we turn to you, thanking you for creation, for the mountains and the glens, the lochs and the rivers, for the glory of the sunsets in the western skies.

We also record our thanksgiving for the way that you have led us through every stage of our lives, from birth and childhood, through adolescence and our teenage years, through our years of work and employment, and for at least some of us, not only through our three score years and ten but beyond to the present day.

As we look back on our lives, we thank you for your faithfulness to us across the years and through all the situations and circumstances we have faced. We thank you too for the folks who have influenced us and encouraged us through the early years of our faith journey, some of whom are now in your presence.

But in the process of looking back over the years we become aware of our humanity and, at times, human frailty. On occasions we have not loved you in the way we know we should, nor served you with the enthusiasm that we ought. At times we have ignored the signs of need around and have walked by on the other side. Forgive our lack of faith, our lack of insight, our lack of sensitivity and renew us in spirit.

Journey with us into the days and the opportunities of the new week and help us give you central place in our lives and in our living.

Amen

Hymn 739 – The Church’s one foundation. Listen here.

Scripture Reading

Deuteronomy 8: 1–10 (NRSV)

This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe, so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you. Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 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 he has given you.

Sermon by Rev. Robert Gemmell: The Leading of God – Deuteronomy 8:2

“And you shall remember ALL the ways the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness.”

The Israelite people had reached a momentous stage in their history. For a period of forty years after their exit from slavery in Egypt they had been wandering in the ‘wilderness’. Now they found themselves standing at a crossroad in their history, at the threshold of a campaign that would eventually open up their land of promise, a land that they were assured was ‘flowing in milk and honey’.

The vast majority of the nation had known no life other than that of slavery to the Egyptians or being desert nomads: here today, gone tomorrow. However, their experience was about to change forever; they were about to become a people of a land, with homes they could call their own.

They stood on the threshold of taking possession of what they understood as a land promised them by God. Battles would still have to be fought, possession would be a gradual process.

It is against this background of excitement and yet uncertainty that Moses, their leader, takes this opportunity to deliver a series of messages of encouragement and warning, a small segment of which we have chosen as our Scripture reading today.

In our passage, Moses from his base in Moab, east of the River Jordan, reminds his people of the different ways in which the Lord had guided and led them throughout their wilderness experience. Perhaps at the back of his mind was the thought that the best way to tackle any future problems they might face (when he would no longer be there to lead them) was for them to be reminded of the Lord’s presence with them in the past. “You shall remember…”

I have often wondered exactly what Moses had in mind as he delivered this particular part of his message. I would like to make three suggestions to which you can add your own thoughts.

As they looked to their past, it was a past that had contained certain promises, promises that had been fulfilled, and others that were as yet outstanding. Out of their dim and distant history I am sure they would have been able to recall the promise that had been made to Abraham, the promise that his seed would equal in number the specks of sand on the sea shore and that one day the land of promise would be theirs to inhabit and enjoy. As the sons and daughters of Abraham they were now standing at the entrance gate to the land. The Lord had taken them and led them across the centuries to this moment in time. Certainly they had experienced times when their vision had become clouded through bondage and slavery, suffering and uncertainty. They had been guilty of creating obstacles of apathy and apostasy that had to be dealt with along the way. Despite any temporary waywardness on their part many of the Lord’s promises had been fulfilled and they were about to experience the fulfilment of another gracious promise from the Lord. “You shall remember…”

Secondly, I am certain that Moses, through this passage, was encouraging the people to remember the ways in which the Lord had also, over the years, met the physical needs of his people. There had been periods in their history when they had been dependent on the Lord’s intervention and provision. Jacob and his family had been close to starvation. That particular need had been met when Jacob’s sons were reunited with their brother Joseph, betrayed by them into slavery but now enjoying a position of power in the Egyptian court.

Years later, in the midst of their wilderness wanderings, when once again their food supplies failed, the Lord had rained down daily supplies of manna, and when pangs of thirst had tortured them, water had gushed out of the solid rock.

God had failed neither them nor their ancestors. “You shall remember…”

Central within Moses’ message that particular day was I am sure a strong desire to remind his people of the Lord’s protection over them along all those perplexing paths they had travelled. Right from the outset the Lord had promised a future for his people, a future that many must have doubted amidst the years of slavery when they had become the butt of Egyptian cruelty or on the occasion when they were hemmed in between the Red Sea and the pursuing Egyptian Army. But on those occasions, as in others, especially during those ‘wilderness years’, the Lord had indeed protected them, and now as they stood on the banks of the River Jordan about to write a new page in their history – a message of hope  and encouragement: “You shall remember…”

However, I am certain Moses wanted not only to remind the nation of the part that the Lord had played in their past and recent history, he was equally concerned to remind the people of their responses and reaction at different times during their journey. “You shall remember…” Remember the occasions when they had allowed themselves to be influenced by the ways and culture of other nations; remember the times when they had misunderstood the silences of God and had then been tempted to turn to other gods, gods they could see and touch; remember their construction and worshipping of the Golden Calf; remember their petty squabbling and complaining; remember the occasions when in physical danger they had questioned the faithfulness of God; remember the occasion when in the midst of uncertainty they had sighed for a return to captivity and slavery in Egypt. “You shall remember…”

Moses encouraged his band of nomadic wanderers to look to the past, to acknowledge the Lord’s presence with them during those wilderness years, the provision and protection he had offered, and use those experiences as the ground of their confidence in the present and as the base for building their future as they contemplated crossing the Jordan and beginning the process of occupation of the land of promise.

Is there a word of encouragement for us today from this particular passage of Scripture? I am sure that we can all testify to how the Lord has journeyed with us throughout our lives, how we have found his promises being fulfilled within our lives and how he has provided for us and protected us through all the changing scenes of life. I am sure that we can also testify to the fact that through the testing times in life we have been conscious of the Lord’s arms being around us and underneath us supporting us, strengthening us, guiding us.

And a word of challenge? Like the Israelites of old, there have no doubt been occasions when we have questioned the wisdom of God, and have taken an alternative path in life, when we have turned our affection to the gods of our present world. But like the Israelites we eventually found our way back to God, a God whose arms are always outstretched and welcoming.

By looking to the past and acknowledging the Lord’s presence and influence in our lives we too, I suggest, can gain confidence for the present and hope for the future.

“And you shall remember ALL the ways the Lord has led you…”

Hymn 167 – Guide me O thou great Jehovah. Listen here.

Prayer of thanksgiving and intercession

Loving God,
in Jesus Christ You taught us to pray
and to offer petitions to You in His name.

Guide us by Your Holy Spirit
that our prayers for others may serve Your will.

You made all things in Your wisdom,
and, in Your love, You save us.

So we pray for all creation,
that evil powers might be cast down,
that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness might be fed,
and that all Your children might enjoy in equal measure the fruits of Your world.

We pray for the Church.
Keep us one in faith and service,
so that Your Good News might be proclaimed,
and so that Your love and light might be a beacon of hope and purpose
in the darkest places.

We cannot love You fully unless we love our neighbours as ourselves.
So we pray for our enemies and our friends;
we pray for all those in need, in body, mind and spirit;
we pray for all who suffer from pain and sorrow;

God of compassion,
bless us and those we love, that,
drawing close to You,
we may be drawn closer to each other.

Amen

With thanks to Rev Tom Gordon

Blessing