Evening Prayer Homily – Pr. Smith
Homily on Deut 7, for 7/26
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Every Lutheran knows that Paul writes to the Ephesians and reminds them, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—.” It may surprise you, this is not a new idea for Paul. This is not some new idea with the New Testament. God’s pure grace, His lovingkindness, His loyal love, is pure gift. He does all this out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. Luther’s idea was not new just like Paul’s idea was not new. It was completely consistent with the Scriptures, in this case, Deuteronomy, chapter 7.
7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
These words apply to you. So, dear Christian, the other words apply to you as well. “You are a people holy to the Lord your God.” “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” It may seem a little odd to think of yourself as part of God’s chosen people. You may have a category in your head for who God’s chosen really are. But the words from this passage apply to you. “You are a people holy to the Lord your God.”
The ancient people of Israel heard these words as the Lord was preparing them to enter the Promised Land, that is, after 40 years of wandering, of suffering in the wilderness. They heard these words of encouragement after 40 years of oscillating between faithfulness to the Lord’s instructions and receiving the benefits of being His people and their unfaithfulness and living in a state of being cursed by God and separated from Him. After 3600 years, and into a new covenant with God by the blood of Jesus, God’s people still oscillate back and forth, remembering and forgetting the Word of the Lord. It’s why we’re here. To remember again, to remember daily, the Word of the Lord our God and His forever promise to us in the death and resurrection of His Son, our brother, Jesus Christ.
In this chapter of Deuteronomy, Israel was given instructions on how to live differently from the peoples and tribes of the Canaanites. They were instructed to separate themselves from the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. It’s a scary thought for them. Those seven nations are far more numerous than they are. In any conflict with them, they have the advantage. How could God’s people, as few as they are, think they were going to measure up against them? It’s not different today. As the culture around us tips further and further away from what we were raised to think was the right way to live, I ask you, ‘how are we separating ourselves from people who would cloud our thinking, question our motives, and undermine our worldview?’
In the fall of 2020, right at the height of Covid, my family and I went camping in Amish Country in Pennsylvania. By camping, I mean tent camping, so plenty of distance from others and plenty of fresh air. I was struck by a number of things I learned about the Amish. They have and use cell phones. I’m not talking about some Eurolib version of an Amish person either. They use cell phones. They just keep them in a box at the end of the driveway so they aren’t completely tied to them, so they don’t interrupt prayer time or family time or meal times. They are a culture that proudly separates themselves from the surrounding culture.
Part of what’s become central to my thinking and my preaching over the past several years is this idea. That the people of God need to acknowledge the fact that the people around us follow false and selfish gods. They might not use that language. They may not show up to a temple like ancient religious followers did but the behaviors and beliefs are the same. It should be easy to recognize. People talk about their children, their families, their jobs, their hobbies, their homes with the kind of language that used to be reserved for religious ideas. We should not be like them. I’m not saying we should be like the Amish, I’m saying we should be thinking about things that take our focus away from God and doubt His Word, His loyal love for us.
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,” Pure Good News. Thanks be to God!
In the name of Jesus. Amen.