Based on Deuteronomy 6, 4-9. And I again screen shot my art work, so please do your best.
Let’s start with a timeline, and let’s start over here. The world is 13.8 billion years old, plus or minus 0.04%.
And that is a really cool number, isn’t it? I mean, how often do we get to write down the number 13.8 billion?
And the moving on to our timeline, around the 16th century BCE, we have the story of Moses and Exodus. You may know it, where there are a bunch of slaves and then Moses says “Let my people go!”, and then some frogs and gnats come, and Moses leads them out of Egypt. Of course scholars can’t agree on when it actually happened, or what actually happened, but that’s okay. For today’s purpose, we’ll just roll with the 16th century BCE.
And then, after wandering around in the desert for 40 years, we have the Israelites ready to enter the promised land, the land of milk and honey (aka: Kleefeld). They’re about to cross the threshold, put their names on paper, and move in. It’s a big moment, and someone is probably putting a picture of it on Instagram.
And it’s here, before they go and create their new county, that we hear these words from Moses, telling the people that they are to love God with all their heart and soul and strength, and that all these commandments are to be on their hearts, and that they’re supposed to tell their children about them. Not going too much into specifics, he’s telling them to do what they have to do to remember their history, remember their laws, remember their community, remember their God, and pass it on to you their children.
But here’s the thing about the book of Deuternomy. It was probably written down and compiled on paper, as we read it, about 1000 years after Moses said the words.
And knowing that little piece of information is really, really, important.
Here, I’ll use a map to make this as easy as possible to understand.
The Israelites are slaves here. Moses leads them out.
They wander around here for 40 years, eating quail and manna and grumbling.
And then they’re about to enter the promised land here.
And then they set up a kingdom, and sometimes they’re great, and other times, they’re not. And very quickly they hold a national referendum on national unity (we Canadians know all about this), and they split into two kingdoms. And then each was doing their own thing for a while. But then the big bad Assyrians came from here and obliterated the North Kingdom, and then a little while later the Babylonians came and obliterated the Southern Kingdom, and took all the people to live in exile back to Babylon. And it was here, in Babylon, 1000 years after Moses, that they most likely wrote down Deuteronomy as we knows it.
This is really, really, really important to know because writing down their stories about God, their rules, their history, was all about preserving their identity. It was about them remembering who they are. It was here, in exile, where they became a “people of the book.”
“Who are we? No, we’re not Babylonians. We’re Israelites. We believe in one God, who is mighty to save. This God beat the Egyptian God. He’ll beat the Babylonian Gods. He’s mighty to save. We were once a mighty kingdom. And when we are again, we’ll remember how we ruled.”
You can actually think of the Lion King here, where Mufasa is telling Simba, “Remember who you are.” It works as a great analogy. Remember who you are.
They’re writing about the past to explain the present. How did we end up here? Well, there’s a story to that, and we are not going to forget it. Because how we live now is because of our story.
How we live now is because of our story.
Remember who you are.
I’m going to take a bit of a leap now and speak to our present.
I know we’re in an election, and we’re all getting a little tired of all the election signs, but over the past two months, a lot has been said about refugees, immigrants, Muslims, security, and minorities. So let’s talk about how our stories shape how we live now.
And I’m going to speak of our present stories in 3 different ways, as Canadians, as Mennonites, and as Christians.
- Let’s start with Canada. What’s the story of Canada? Well, remember who you are. Unless you are First Nations, someone in your family was an immigrant. Possibly even a refugee. Even if we go as far back as we can, someone came across that ocean. My own story, I can trace my Mennonite side back to one of the founding families of Steinbach, and we even have a bench at the corner of Kroeker and Main. And my French side, well the first Saurette came over from France to fight the English, (he obviously didn’t have a good security check done), and he married a woman who had been in New France since 1650, and her family was one of the first several thousand immigrants to New France. I have deep roots in this place called Steinbach, I have deep roots in this place called Canada, but, somewhere, somehow, in all of our histories, some people moved here from somewhere else.
Remember who you are. Remember your own story. Tell your children. We were immigrants.
- Let’s go with Mennonites. Some of you will know more than I do, but I typed Mennonite Migrations into a Google Image Search, and I came with this. (It’s in Spanish. Sorry. Unless you speak Spanish. They enjoy) From Switzerland and Holland to Prussia to Ukraine to Russia to Canada and Paraguay and Mexico. Sometimes we moved with lots of money. And other times we moved without lots of money. Sometimes we had good working relationships with local people and government. Other times, not so much. But our history is one filled with us being immigrants, us fleeing violence and persecution, us seeking safety, us being refugees, and finding a safe place to live.
Remember who you are. Remember your own story. Tell your children. We were immigrants. We were refugees.
- Early in their story, the Israelites remembered that they were slaves once: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21) And then we have the early church writing down the words of Jesus, “Whatever you did for the least of these sisters and brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) And there are these great stories in our history of Christians where they helped people unlike them, such as French Christians risking their lives to shelter Jews during the Holocaust. But we also have these painful stories of Christians forgetting to care for the least of these, such as the crusades or owning slaves. Telling both the good stories and the bad stories shapes how we live.
Remember who you are. Remember your own story. Tell your children. We follow a God who loves everyone and invites us to do the same. We follow a God who claims us as beloved children, whether we’re deserving of that title or not.
Remember who you are. Remember your own story.
Two weeks ago, here at Grace we had our first information meeting about our church sponsoring another refugee family. I had set up chairs for 20 people. 43 of us showed up. Plus a whole bunch of you emailed us saying that you couldn’t be there but wanted to help. When I think of that meeting, I still smile in gratitude. And our second meeting is on Wednesday, and the MCC refugee coordinator is going to be there, as we begin to move from information to action.
After the first meeting, I had a conversation with one of you. You were one of the younger ones there, under the age of 60. And you told me how, at the meeting, you look with awe and respect at some of the less young people, the ones over the age of 60, who had been helping sponsor refugees for the past 30 years. And this led you to think of your place here at Grace, and how you can continue the work that we’ve been doing all these years.
Ahh… my heart melted. This is a story of us remembering who we are. This is a story of us remembering our own story. This is us knowing that our own story shapes how we live now.
I don’t think that one of my sermons would be complete without me quoting the Franciscan Father, Richard Rohr. So to wrap up, especially since it’s Thanksgiving weekend, here is something for us to share at the dinner table over turkey and pumpkin pie. Someone once asked him, “What’s the point of life?” And he replied “To give back that which we have received.”
The point of life is to give back that which we have received.
Remember your story. Remember who you are.
Grace and Peace.