A Message on Deuteronomy 28:1-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 6, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (NRSV)

1If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; 2 all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God:
3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
7 The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. 8 The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. 10 All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. 11 The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you. 12 The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. 13 The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom—if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today, by diligently observing them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I am commanding you today, either to the right or to the left, following other gods to serve them.

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Today we are celebrating something pretty special. Today we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the founding of this church.

Now to put this in perspective, this church was founded in 1846. Texas became a state in 1845 and was all of one year old when this church was founded.

Since then it has gone through some changes. The name of the denomination has changed several times, from the Methodist Episopal Church, to the Methodist Episcopal Church South, to Methodist Church, and then in 1968 it became the United Methodist Church.

I don’t know about you, but 175 years is a long time if you ask me. A long, long time.

Like many organizations, who we are as a church today has been shaped by the roots of our past. And our roots go very, very deep in the red dirt of the Cherokee County soil. I think I can confidently say that this church has made a difference in the lives of people not only in Jacksonville and Cherokee County, but also all over the world.

In the scripture we read today from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we find Moses, who is credited with writing not only the book of Deuteronomy, but the first five books of the Bible, reminding the Hebrew people of the promises God has made for the Jewish people. We find that their roots go very, very deep as well.

Here’s a quick history. (Take deep breath, then read quickly.) If you go back several generations we find God promising Abram (later to become Abraham) that his relatives will live in what is called the Promised Land, and that he will have more descendents than the stars in the night sky or the grains of sand on the beaches.

Abraham and Sarah have Isaac, then Isaach and Rebekah have Jacob, and then Jacob has 12 sons with four different women. One of those sons, Joseph, is Jacob’s favorite (thus the coat of many colors), causing his brothers to be jealous enough to sell him into slavery. Joseph ends up in Egypt where he works his way through the ranks twice to become the second most powerful person in the land. When a widespread famine hits the Holy Land the brothers go to Egypt looking for food, and after some deception Joseph reveals who he is to his brothers, who go back and bring all their families and their father Jacob to Egypt.

But then Egypt gets a different pharaoh, one who turns the Hebrew people into slaves and mistreats them. The Hebrews are in Egypt for 430 years until God calls a guy named Moses to lead them out to the promised land. The then-pharaoh is stubborn and it takes 10 plagues to convince him to finally let the people go, but he finally does. Moses leads them through the Red Sea and then out into the desert. Then, at Mount Sinai, God gives Moses the 10 commandments and the rest of the laws we find in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus.

Today’s scripture is where Moses is telling the people, these people who have just come out of slavery, what God promises them. Good things are coming. Lots of good things.

But… yes, there’s a but. Over and over Moses tells them that these things will happen only if they follow God’s commandments and laws. “If you will only obey the Lord your God…”

While Moses lived thousands and thousands of years ago, I believe that same holds true with us today. Good things–great things!–will happen not only to this church but to Jacksonville and Cherokee County “if we will only obey the Lord our God.”

As Christians we have the benefit of our history having the Holy Bible that tells us about Jesus Christ, the messiah, who came to earth in human form, taught and performed miracles, and then willingly went to the cross so that the chasm between God and humans could be bridged. We have his teachings, his words, available to us through the Bible, forming not only our history but also our future.

But, to quote Moses, “If you will only obey the Lord your God.” God will not bless sin. He forgives it, that is true, but

You see, our history is really “His Story,” the story of Jesus. His Story is one of compassion and grace, yet firmly standing for what is right and holy. “His Story” is about putting others before ourselves, about loving God with all that we have and loving others. It is about living for God rather than living for ourselves. “His Story” is our story.

So my challenge for you today is to remember “His Story.” Live knowing our history as a church, and our history as Christians. And always remember that our history is “His Story.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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