Sermon Reviews: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Sermon Reviews: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
American novelist and minister Frederick Buechner links this text to Matthew 11:28-30 in a sermon entitled Deliverance.1 He begins by quoting the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty, and claiming solidarity with those exiles of the American past. We, too, are homeless and tempest-tossed, Buechner claims. To read the story of those exiles is to read our story.
So it is with scripture. This text is "...is the story of the birth of Israel's faith, out of which comes our faith. It is the story of the journey that lies ahead of us with all its dangers and longings, with all its high and holy hopes." Like Israel, we are slaves, even though this land of America is in some sense our home. We are slaves, however, "precisely because we are our own master."
Buechner uses as an example of modern enslavement our life lived under the threat of nuclear war. "As men and women, a nation, a world, we're so enslaved by all the old patterns of fear and self-seeking, self-doubt, self-torment, so shackled by old habits of indifference that we don't know how to get the hell out, which is much of what hell means in the first place: Hell is the place you can't get out of." "Exodus," he says, "is getting the hell out."
The next major "move" of the sermon is to Christ. Christians have experienced enough deliverance to know that there's more where that came from, Buechner claims. He summons his hearers to the Christ who beckons "Come to me . . ." (Mt 11:28). "Through hell and high water we have been delivered as far as this day, this place, with faith maybe not much bigger than a mustard seed but having it on highest authority that that is faith enough."
In what might be termed a "sermonic essay" Roy L. Honeycut writes of the Crisis of Chaos.2 Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? These questions frame the quest for identity which is common to all humanity, Honeycut says. He retells a story about Carl Sandburg. When Sandburg finished his famous biography of Abraham Lincoln, he was asked what he next intended to do. "I think," he replied, "I'd like to find out who this fellow Sandburg is."
For the deuteronomist identity is found in Yahweh as the Lord of history. In God can be found both beginning and end. "The quest for meaning was thus quenched for Israel in the undying conviction that what they were, they had become because of the purposeful leadership of God," writes Honeycut.
From this sense of past the deuteronomist finds a sense of destiny. Despite ambiguity in the present, the sense of past gives meaning and purpose for the future. The text appeals to the memory of the exodus experience to undergird God's people in time of crisis.
Summing up, Honeycut answers the eternal questions of human identity from the biblical, especially the deuteronomical point of view (with a little help from Isaiah): Who am I? "I am one of the people of God." Where do I come from? "I came from a land of bondage, set free by the redemptive act of God, delivered by his mighty hand and outstretched arm." Whether am I bound? "My life has been caught up with the purpose of God. I am destined to mount up with wings like eagles, to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint."
David H. C. Read entitles his 1977 Thanksgiving season radio sermon Expanding Our Sense of Gratitude.3 The Bible charges us to rejoice in "every good thing," Read points out. He suggests that modern people tend to separate the every day occasions for joy and thanksgiving from the "spiritual" life. He suggests that the thanksgiving festival recalled in the text was not a solemn, somber ritual, like the reception of offering in a modern church service, but a spontaneous, riotous affair. He pictures baskets heaped with the fruits of the fields, but also with trinkets, toys, and the things that really made God's people glad. The physical is not the enemy of the spiritual. The Bible speaks of a God who poured the riches of creation into the human lap.
This affirmation of the physical is a necessary precondition for appreciating the incarnation. "It was in the real, human Jesus, who ate and drank, who laughed and wept, who slept and woke, who sang, and who sang and suffered . . ." that we humans beheld God's glory.
In the spirit of psalmody we are summoned to expand our gratitude to encompass every good thing that we can see, or hear, or touch, or taste, Read maintains. He ranges widely through the psalms and the book of Job for examples of Godly wonder and thanksgiving. Nothing is too material or too sensuous for inclusion in our thanksgiving. All things are to be enjoyed with the knowledge that they are the free gifts of God and with compassion for those who are in need.
"A man shall have to give an account on the judgment day of every good thing he refused to enjoy when he might have done so." This is a saying from the time of Christ which Read remembers jotting down in a note book during Read's days as a prisoner of war. He also relates the story of a fox terrier he once owned—an intelligent dog except in one aspect. When the dog found a patch of sunlight on the floor, in which he loved to bask, he would try to expand the sunlit area on the floor by scraping around the edges with his paws. "Foolish if you like," Read admits, "but still an act of faith and hope, and not after all as foolish as we are when we decide that our own little area of sunlit thanksgiving cannot be expanded."
1. Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces (New York: Harper and Row, 1984), pp. 104-114.
2. Roy L. Honeycut, Crisis and Response (New York: Abingdon Press, 1965), pp. 125-142.
3. David H. C. Read, Expanding Our Sense of Gratitude, from an audio tape, Union Theological Seminary Library, Richmond, VA.