Today’s Hebrew Bible reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy. The book’s name, Deuteronomy, is a compound word of deutero, which means, “second,” and nomy, which means, nomos, “the law.” So it tells us that the book is about a “second enactment of the law,” or “recapitulation of the law.” Then, why did people give such title to the book? In the Book of Exodus, Moses receives the commandments at Mount Sinai and the people of Israel affirm them for the first time on their way to the Promised Land. Then, in the Book of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel finally reach the Promised Land after their long, long wandering in the wilderness. But here Moses can’t go with the people because he is dying. Before letting the people go by themselves, this great leader and prophet Moses delivers his last sermon to ensure the people of Israel to reaffirm the commandments for the second time. This is why Deuteronomy has such title.
Then, what’s in Moses’ last word? With his love and care for the people of Israel, Moses not only restates the commandments but also asks them to remember what God has done for them. In many parts of Deuteronomy, Moses emphasizes the act of remembrance… of how God has raised a nation from Abraham and how God has tirelessly worked among them and brought them to the Promised Land. Look at today’s Hebrew Bible reading, “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments…. then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness…. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:11; 14; 16-18). “Remember the Lord, your God. Remember what God has done for you thus far. And never forget.” This must be the core message that Moses delivers at the end of his life to the people of Israel and to all God’s people for centuries.
But here is the question. What does it exactly mean to remember? Just recognize and memorize what happened in the past like we do in a history class? I think what Moses meant is more than that.
Last Sunday, I deeply experienced what it means to remember the Lord my God in my life. I was in Boston attending the annual meeting of American Academy of Religion. Boston was the first city that I lived in the US, and I lived there for four years with Jee Hei. Of course I have a full of great memories about Boston, and also memories of struggles and challenges like any other immigrants do. But to me, Boston is like a hometown in the US. Taking advantage of staying there on Sunday, I visited the church that I had visited on the very first Sunday in the US, where I experienced the first worship service in English. It happened to be a Methodist Church.
Union United Methodist Church in downtown Boston, it is. At that time, I went there because of my friend, who is now an Elder in the New England Conference. He preached on that Sunday as a student pastor. And the senior pastor was the late Bishop Martin McLee. It was a beautiful worship service, even though I couldn’t understand most parts.
Anyway, I went to the church quite early (believe me, it was early) and sat in a pew. As soon as I sat down, I felt emotionally overwhelmed. It was a very strange and unexpected experience. There, I encountered my past self who has been long-forgotten…my past self who was sitting there ten years ago, fresh off the boat, confused and afraid, didn’t know how to navigate his life, wasn’t sure where to begin, and was just curled himself up in a corner wishing to be alone. Sitting in a pew, as an Elder in the United Methodist church, I remembered my journey for the last ten years in the US. And it became crystal clear to me that it is no one but God who has guided me thus far, who already had visions and plans for me even when I couldn’t find them, who has shaped my life whether I noticed it or not, and who has raised me to be something from nothing. The Spirit strongly moved in my heart, and I praised the Lord singing with others the hymn, “I will trust in the Lord.” It goes, “I will trust in the Lord, I will trust in the Lord, I will trust in the Lord, till I die, until I die…” That was so powerful and I cried, cried, and cried. Tears of joy and gratefulness sprang up from the bottom of my heart.
In the worship service, I deeply realized what it is to remember the Lord our God. Indeed, the act of remembrance is not just to passively recognize or memorize what happened in our past. But rather, the act of remembrance is to re-member, put our past and the present together in a thread, and see it from the perspective of our faith in God. So this act of remembrance enables us to realize how God has led our ways. We may realize through all those ups and downs, through all those good days and bad days, through all those happiness and miseries in our lives, God has faithfully walked with us and shaped our lives with grace upon grace. And as a result, the act of remembrance leads us to reaffirm our faith in God with our gratitude.
Today we are celebrating our church’s 189th Anniversary. And we want to remember how God has been faithful to our church through all those years and made good disciples for the transformation of the world. Also, today is the commitment Sunday, the last day of the stewardship campaign this year. And we want to remember how God has faithfully cared for us and granted us many blessings even through the vicissitude of the seasons. As we do, let us also re-member, put our history together, and see it through our eyes of faith. Then, we will surely realize the faithful guidance and the helping hands of God. And then, we will gladly reaffirm our faith in God with our deepest gratitude. Hear the message of Moses again for the first time, “Remember the Lord your God and bless the Lord your God!” Remember God’s love and grace in your life. And never forget the presence of the Spirit in your whole life. And all God’s people say, amen.