Lest We Forget
I read to you from the eighth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, beginning to read at the eleventh verse. The people of Israel are gathered together, and Moses is speaking. But this is the Word of God. “Take heed, lest you forget the Lord your God. By not keeping His Commandments and His Ordinances and His Statutes, which I commend you this day, lest when you have eaten and are full and have built goodly houses and live in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied, when all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and test you and do you good in the end. Beware, lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth. You shall remember the Lord your God for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may confirm His Covenant which He swore to your fathers as at this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh, God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
There are two special days which are near and dear to the heart of every American. One is the 4th of July when we declare our independence from every form of human tyranny. The other is Thanksgiving when we declare our dependence upon Almighty God. And that’s why Thanksgiving is so amazing. It is an observance which is unique in the world today for no other nation has an observance quite like our day of national thanksgiving. You see, it’s not a religious holiday set aside by churches and religious groups and organization and people. No. It is a national holiday proclaimed by the president of the United States on the authority granted to him by the Congress of the United States. It is a patriotic occasion, yes. But it is also filled with a deep religious meaning. That’s what makes it so unique. For it is a time when we, as a nation, pause to acknowledge the fact that God’s guidance and protection has been with this nation in its past. And it is a time when we, as a nation, pause to ask God for His continued protection in our nation’s future. There is no day like it anywhere in all of the Earth.
Now, in light of that, I want to invite you today to join me in looking at three statements concerning our celebration of Thanksgiving.
The first statement is this. It is both appropriate and necessary to celebrate a day of national thanksgiving.
In spite of the fact that people like Madalyn Murray O’Hair and the Society for the Advancement of Atheism regularly petitioned the president not to proclaim the day, it is nevertheless appropriate that he should proclaim it because, you see, a day of national thanksgiving serves to remind us that this nation’s greatness has flown from one source and one source alone. It is the pure amazing grace of Almighty God. God, by His creative grace has given us abundant, though not unlimited, natural resources, verdant forests, fertile fields, rivers and streams, mountain ranges and golden strands. He has set two vast oceans at our sides. No enemies live at our borders. He has spared us the ravages of repeated warfare. He has, for the most part, given us honest, God-fearing leaders, rather than tyrants or despots or ambitious demagogues. And even when bad leaders have arisen, He has enabled us to remove them or to replace them without bloodshed. And that is unique on the face of this Earth. And then to add to these glorious blessings, God has given us a civil and a religious liberty the likes of which simply cannot be found anywhere else in all of the world. Oh, yes. It is appropriate then for us to celebrate a day of national thanksgiving. It is appropriate because it reminds us that God has blessed America. Oh, yes, I know and you know that God has not blessed America only. But, yes, God has blessed America.
And that is precisely why a day of national thanksgiving is not only appropriate, it’s downright necessary. You see, the passage of Scripture that I read for you just a few moments ago is taken from the eighth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy. And that passage is set at the time when the people of Israel were preparing to move into the Promised Land. And it was on that occasion that Moses gathered them all together, and, Moses, their great leader, proceeded to deliver himself of a marvelous speech. And in the course of that speech, Moses raised one flag of warning. He said to the people, “Beware, lest you forget the Lord your God. Beware, lest when you have eaten and are full, when you have built goodly houses and live in them, when your herds and your flocks have multiplied, when your gold and your silver has multiplied, when all that you have in your possession has multiplied, beware, lest at that point, you forget the Lord your God and say in your heart, ‘It’s my power, it’s my might that has gotten me all of this.'” Moses then says, “If you forget the Lord your God, you shall surely perish.”
Rudyard Kipling has taken that great truth from Scripture and set it to verse, “God of our fathers, known of old, Lord of our far-flung battle lines beneath whose mighty hand we hold dominion over palm and pine, Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget, lest we forget.”
Oh, my friends, in times like these, in times of constant crisis and tension in the world, in times like these, when just one simple error in judgment could plunge the whole world into nuclear holocaust and reduce the Earth to dust and ashes, in times like these, our leaders needed to be undergirded by the prayers of the people, for if we do not have Divine guidance and Divine protection, then we shall surely fall. We must not forget the Lord our God.
Abraham Lincoln was a man of amazing spiritual sensitivity. And once, in the midst of all the horrors of the Civil War, he was asked, “Sir, is God on our side?” And Lincoln responded, “I am not so much concerned as to whether God is on our side, but I am very, very much concerned as to whether we are on God’s side.” That’s the crucial difference, not the question, “Is God on our side?” No. The question is, “Are we on God’s side? Are we as Americans constantly struggling and striving to be on God’s side in the world?” That’s the real question. And so a day of national thanksgiving is not only appropriate, it’s downright necessary lest we forget the Lord our God because, you see, old Moses was right. If you forget the Lord your God, you shall surely perish. We dare not forget that.
The second statement is this. It is dangerous to celebrate a day of national thanksgiving.
That’s right. It’s dangerous. There is, for example, the danger of hypocrisy. That’s always going to be a risk any time you set a specific day for a specific purpose. You know what I mean? For example, on the 4th of July, we can wave our flags and sing our patriotic songs and shoot our fireworks into the air when all the while, our devotion to this country may run no deeper than just a one-day holiday from work. Or we can ignore Mother 364 days a year and then try to make ourselves feel good inside by being nice to her on Mother’s Day. Or we can go to church on Easter and maybe even once or twice at Christmas and then dare to call ourselves Christian. Do you hear what I’m saying?
The same thing is true of Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, we can, for a day, go through all of the motions of being grateful to God for all that He’s done for us when in fact, we don’t really feel very grateful at all. That’s hypocrisy. And when that happens, Thanksgiving is transformed from a day where God ought to be honored and thanked into a day where we do nothing more than gorge ourselves on parades and football and too much, way, way too much, food. That’s hypocrisy.
You see, we can never claim to be a God-loving, God-serving nation of people just because we have a day of national thanksgiving. We can only claim to be a nation of God-loving, God-serving people when we are constantly striving to make every single citizen of this great land a full, functioning part of the great American Dream. Only when we are constantly striving to uphold the law of God, not only in our individual lives, but in the life of our nation as well, only when we are constantly striving to deal with one another and to deal with other nations in an honest, moral, and straightforward manner, only then can we claim to be a nation of God-loving, God-serving people. And only then will the stain of hypocrisy be removed from our celebration of Thanksgiving. Don’t you agree, that old Moses was right? That if you forget the Lord your God, you shall surely perish. We dare not forget that.
But there’s a third statement. It’s this. It is an act of great hope to celebrate a day of national thanksgiving.
I love what Phillips Brooks once said. He said, “I’ve never been able to understand how one can be an American even if one is not a Christian and not catch something with regards to God’s great purpose for this great land.” That’s so true. You see, faith in God has been so tightly woven into the fabric of our national life. And that’s been true right from the very beginning.
When the settlers first landed at Jamestown in Virginia, do you know that they carried with them a card with on it a written affirmation that said, “The way to prosper is to love and serve God”? Every one of them carried it. That’s right. That’s the way we started out.
When the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, the history books recorded the first thing that they did was to give themselves in worship with prayers and hymns of praise, that’s what it says. And that devotion to God only grew stronger when the cold, harsh, difficult days of winter began to set in. That’s the way we started out.
Or in 1786 when the Constitutional Convention was called in Philadelphia, called for the purpose of building a new nation on Earth, it was then that Benjamin Franklin stood and addressed that gathering. Among all the assembled delegates there, it was Franklin who stood first to say, “I read in the Bible that it says, ‘Unless the Lord God builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. If a sparrow cannot fall without His knowledge, then surely, a nation cannot rise without His blessing.’ Therefore, I move,” Franklin said, “That all of the meetings of the constitutional convention shall be opened with prayer to Almighty God.” And it was done. And on the strength and the power of those prayers, a new nation was built, a nation which is nothing less than humanity’s last great hope for freedom and justice and equality and liberty and opportunity.
That’s the way we started out. And that’s the way it’s been all along.
We have been a nation and a government and a people who have paid their homage to Almighty God. We even went so far as to change the Pledge of Allegiance to read, “One nation under God.” That’s the way it was in the beginning. That’s the way it’s been all along. And because that’s been true in our past, I take to this pulpit today to declare to you that there is hope for our future. It was John Kennedy who said, “A nation’s future arises out of a nation’s past.” America has always been long on hope. America has always been the land of the future. America has always been moving steadily and inexorably toward a new and a bright tomorrow. America has always been a nation of eternal destiny. And I tell you it still is because we have held fast to God in our past. It is God who holds our future.
Three things I know must ever be to keep our nation strong and free. One is the hearth stone, bright and dear with busy and happy loved ones near. Two is a ready heart and hand to love and serve and keep this land. Three is a worn and beaten way to where the people go to pray. So long as these are kept alive, nation and people shall survive. So God keep them always everywhere, the home, the flag, the place of prayer.
Old Moses was right. If you forget the Lord your God, then you shall surely perish.
So at this Thanksgiving season, I say to you, let us thank God first for the gift of His love that makes us all the children of God. And let us thank God second for the gift of His Son Jesus Christ who, in spite of our sin, makes us to be the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. And let us thank God third for the blessings He has poured out upon this nation in its past. And let us pray God’s continued protection upon this nation for all of its tomorrows.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget. Yes, lest we forget.
Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, because we have held fast to You in the past, we affirm that You indeed hold our future. We claim that, oh, Lord. We claim that for ourselves and for our children and for our children’s children. And may this land be and become a bulwark of freedom, a lighthouse of equality, a ringing bell of justice. And through this nation, let there be peace on this earth through Jesus Christ. Amen.