Rescued and Grateful
March 10, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Luke 4:1-13 Romans 10:8b-13
How many of you watch cute cat videos on the internet?
How about stories about dogs that almost make you cry?
I saw one of those this week. It was about a long-distance truck driver who had recently lost one of his favorite dogs and he simply wasn’t the same afterward. He said that his heart was no longer whole. But his wife sent him a photo of a dog that was about to be put down, and somehow, in a way that he couldn’t explain, he connected with that dog. The problem was that he lived in California and the dog was on the east coast. No matter, he called the pound, paid a deposit so the dog wouldn’t be put down, asked his boss for a haul to New York, and set out, driving over 1,500 miles, to rescue that dog. And, as strange as it may seem, it appears that the dog knew exactly what that man has done for him. That dog simply adores his new human and his new life. He rides in that truck every day, loves on his owner, and gives kisses and hugs to anyone and everyone that he meets. He is, or at least as much as is possible for a dog, truly joyful and truly grateful.
Now, I know that some people will accuse me of anthropomorphizing, which is attributing human characteristics to an animal that can’t necessarily “feel” the same emotions that we feel. Maybe. But as a life long animal lover who has lived with eight dogs, at least six cats, and a whole pile of other animals, it seems obvious to me that even if they aren’t the same as ours, animals clearly feel emotion. In any case, this is about us, and not my dogs.
Why is it that we do things for our parents and grandparents for free? My brother and I once drove from Akron to East McKeesport, Pennsylvania (which is just outside of Pittsburgh) because our grandmother needed to have her garage painted. The two of us were willing to spend an entire day, drive three hours one-way, spend the day in the hot sun scraping and painting an old garage, get home in time to go to bed, hot, sweaty, and tired. And we were willing to do it all for nothing (but of course grandma insisted on giving us “gas money”). Why?
Why were we willing to do this for free, when ordinarily we probably couldn’t be persuaded to do that same thing if someone was willing to pay us? And the answer is threefold: relationship, love, and gratitude. We were willing to go to all that effort because of the relationship that we had with our grandmother, because of the love that we had for her, and she for us, and because of the gratitude that we had for all the things that she had already done for us, for our parents, and for our entire family.
And its those same three things that I want you watch for this morning as we read and discuss today’s scriptures for the season of Lent. We begin in Deuteronomy 26:1-11, where we hear these directions for the people of Israel as they entered the Promised Land:
26:1 When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. 5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
This entire passage is about gratitude. Gratitude for a God who keeps his promises and brought his people into the land that he had promised to their ancestors, gratitude for their rescue from slavery, gratitude for a new nation and a new home, gratitude for a successful harvest, and gratitude for the abundance of the land. And out of that gratitude the people bring to God an offering of the first fruits, the initial and beginning of the harvest, and then, having given a gift of gratitude to God, the priests and the foreigners, the insiders and the outsiders alike, rejoice and give thanks for the things that God has done for them and the gifts that God has given to them.
And with that in mind, we turn to the story of the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4:1-13, where we hear this:
4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
There is a lot that we could learn within these verses, but considering what we’ve been discussing already, we can see that Jesus knew who had given him everything that he had. And with that knowledge, every time that Satan tried to tempt him with food, power, authority, fame, fortune, greed, other human lusts, Jesus remembered who it was to whom he should be grateful. And his gratitude to God led him to honor God by living for him, and returning to God his gratitude, thankfulness, love, respect, relationship, and honor.
But what does that mean to us?
And we find a part of that answer in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome as we read Romans 10:8-13.
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Paul says that the word of God is as near to us as our own mouth and our own heart. If you declare with your mouth, and believe in your heart, the message of Jesus Christ, then you know without a doubt, that you are a saved, rescued, redeemed, child of God. It doesn’t matter if you are an insider, or an outsider, God welcomes all of us, and blesses anyone who puts their faith in him. Paul wants to give us assurance and confidence that our future is secure, and that we are loved and welcomed into the family of God.
But with that assurance, there is a question that we ought to be asking ourselves.
The people of Israel showed God their gratitude by bringing gifts of the first harvest to the altar of God and by celebrating together and giving thanks for the things that God had given to them.
Jesus showed God his gratitude by faithfully following God and honoring him by living a life that reflected the instructions and the teachings of God without being distracted or led astray by all the temptations that Satan and the world had to offer him.
Paul and the apostles showed God their gratitude by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the people in the world around them so that others who hadn’t heard, the outsiders, could know the joy, comfort, and assurance that was to be found in knowing that we are rescued, redeemed, secure, loved, and welcomed into the family of God. We can’t really lick God’s face, or drive over and paint his garage, but the question that we still need to ask ourselves, is…
… “How am I showing my gratitude?”
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