Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me [Moses], “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you [Israel] out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me [Moses] at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.
–Deuteronomy 4.9-14 (NIV)
If you spend much time reading the Bible, you will probably notice that there is a recurring theme related to remembering. The psalms, for example, are full of cries to God to remember us (see, e.g., Psalm 25). On the cross, the repentant thief asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingly power (Luke 23.39-43). And as we see in today’s passage, God implores his people not to forget him or his mighty deeds. Why is that?
The primary reason we see God reminding his people constantly to remember him is because we forget so easily. We tend to forget the important things of life because most of the time we are so easily distracted. Life gets in the way. We get distracted over our work, over family problems and issues, over relationships, over sports, over current events (take a look at the statehouses in Madison, WI and Columbus, OH if you don’t believe me), and a million other things. Besides the big things in our lives, we also have the ability to let the littlest things distract us and when that happens we forget to keep the Main Thing the main thing, and that is never good.
Take today’s passage for example. Here Moses is reminding his people to keep the Main Thing (living as God’s called-out people; think about the Summary of the Law, which summarizes the 10 Commandments) the main thing in their lives. God understands that we are easily distracted and need constant reminders to focus and refocus on the most important Thing in life (God). That is why Moses urges his people not to think for themselves but to learn the ways of God and to teach these things to their children. Why is that?
Because God chose Israel to be his agent of redemption for his fallen world. That is the meta-narrative (the Big Picture) of the entire Bible, the story of how God used Israel and ultimately through Israel, Jesus and his body, the Church, to bring about the redemption of his sin-sick world. When God’s people get distracted they lose sight of their calling. For example, when we get distracted we quickly forget that God is active in his world and still fully in charge. We forget that we were created to have a relationship with him, to love and enjoy him so that we could be a blessing to those who do not.
We see this sad reality repeated over and over in Scripture. When God’s people forget to keep the Main Thing the main thing, they do all kinds of goofy stuff. In the context of the OT, God’s people quickly fell into idolatry–they worshiped other gods instead of the one true God. They forgot that God called and blessed them through Abraham so that they could be a blessing to others so that God could use them to redeem his broken world (Genesis 12.1-3). Consequently they forgot to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6.8), and God called them to account because of that. This is why we see God sending his prophets to remind his people not to get distracted. They were to remember God’s mighty acts of power so that they would remember they had a God who is adequate for anything life could throw at them. They were to remember that God led them through the desert wilderness and brought them safely to the land he promised to give them. They had the pillars of cloud and fire as tangible reminders that God was with them but they still forgot, at least partially.
As a sidebar, I often wonder if this partial remembering, at least by the faithful remnant in ancient Israel, isn’t one of the main reasons why they missed the Messiah when he came to live among them. Were God’s people expecting him to come to them in power and great glory the way he had in the desert and therefore missed him completely when he was born to them as a poor infant and itinerant preacher and prophet? Did God’s people remember just enough about God’s power that this blinded them to the reality of God in Jesus as he began to bring about the Kingdom through his acts of healing, mercy, and love?
Regardless of whether these were possible reasons why God’s people missed his coming to them in the person of Jesus, the same thing happens to us in our historical context. Clearly God’s plan of redeeming the world in and through Christ is not yet fully realized. Hence, God still calls us to participate in his redemptive plan. Since Jesus is the culmination of God’s eternal plan to redeem his broken world through Israel, we who follow Jesus must be willing to obey his call to us to follow him. We don’t do that as individuals but collectively as part of his body, the Church.
But this is where we get distracted just like God’s people originally did. We may not be wandering through a literal desert but we are wandering through our own deserts, nevertheless. We get distracted by technology that interconnects the world instantaneously and often in a bewildering fashion. In America, we get distracted by our toys and our narcissism. We get distracted by money, sex, and power. We get distracted by rampant consumerism and individualism. We get distracted by the frantic and frenetic pace of our life, and a host of other things.
All these things keep us from doing what is necessary to help us keep the Main Thing the main thing, disciplines like taking purposeful time for quiet reflection and prayer before God, studying Scripture, or gathering together with other faithful people to worship God, partake in his sacraments, and encourage each other so as to build up each other. These distractions also delude us and make us believe we really are in charge of things–until life smacks us in the face, that is. Then we remember how very little we control and how precarious is our mortal life. Only then are we more readily open to commands like we read in today’s passage. Only then are we willing to consider making the Main Thing the main thing because we realize the Lie that we are not the Main Thing.
And when God calls us to follow him, he gives us a code of conduct to follow if we heed his call. We cannot act like God’s people on our own power, of course. We need his indwelling Spirit to help us overcome our broken selves. But follow him we must if we ever hope to be his people. This is hard work but if you are looking for meaning and purpose in life and living, here it is. What an honor and privilege it is for us to have God call us to be agents in his Kingdom work brought to its climax in Jesus! We can be agents only and precisely because Jesus was the One to initiate the work in his Incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus can use us because we follow him, not because we are special. It is costly work and living. But it is living as God intended life to be and you cannot go wrong doing that.
Make no mistake. It is only God who can (and will) ultimately redeem his world. But he calls us as his body, the Church, to follow Jesus to help him bring about the completion of his work. When you accept God’s gracious invitation to keep the Main Thing the main thing, you will find power, meaning, purpose, and joy that nothing in this world can rob you of–as long as you remember to keep the Main Thing the main thing, and to do that you will need the active help and Presence of Jesus himself.
If you have not done so already, what’s holding you back from following Jesus? You will find out what it means to live life to its fullest and not even your mortal death will be able to rob you of that fullness. Why? Because you have the very promise of God himself that you will be part of his New Creation that will last forever, a New Creation that you helped bring about by your humble obedience to Christ during your mortal existence. Is that not just the coolest thing?