In Deuteronomy 26, Moses tells the people that when they enter the promised land, they were to bring the first fruits of their harvest to the temple as an offering to God. And then Moses adds something rather strange, he says, and I quote: “When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor,” After that, they were then to recite the story of God taking them out of Egypt and bringing them to the bounteous Promised Land.
When I read that, I wonder where the start came from: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.” I wonder if that was originally a derogatory comment that the people they encountered threw at them: “Who do you think you are? Your nothing but a bunch of low-down good for nothing, relatives of a wandering Aramean.”
So, maybe God decided to use that as part of the blessing, saying, “Yes, your start was that of a wandering Aramean and I’ve blessed you over and over again, and now you have risen to be God’s chosen people.” God knew that his people would be asked, “Who do you think you are?” To help answer that, God had them recite their story of being God’s chosen, so that they would never forget how blessed they were and are.
We too forget who we are, don’t we? And that is why week after week, we are called by God to gather in his holy house and remember who we really are.
Bishop William Willimon talks about this in his book, Pastor. “I was invited to preach in a congregation being led by a friend of mine. The church is a predominantly African American congregation, located in one of the poorest parts of the city. I arrived at the service a few minutes before eleven on Sunday. We did not really begin until a quarter after the hour. Then we had four anthems by the choir, assorted praise songs with the congregation, spirituals, and two offerings. I did not begin to preach until just after noon. After I preached, my friend had “just a few things to add,” which took us until nearly one o’clock. After the service, standing in the parking lot, I asked my friend, “Why do your people take so long to worship?”
He laughed and replied, “Well, I’ll explain it this way. Male unemployment is running about 20 percent in this neighborhood; young adult unemployment is higher. That means that when they get on the street, everything they hear is, ‘You are nothing.’ So, I get them in here on a Sunday and, through the words of the hymns, the prayers, the sermon, the Scripture, I try to say, ‘That’s a lie. You are royalty. You are God’s own people. You were bought with a price.’ It takes me about two hours to get their heads straight … At church we gather and the people find their voice, to stand up and be heard. And when they find that voice in the church, this ordinary, otherwise voiceless people come to believe that if they stand before the throne of God on Sunday and be received by Christ, then they will be able to do the same before the city council, or the Pentagon, or the administration on Monday.”
The Acts of the Apostles, chapter four says the very same thing: as a bunch of “uneducated, common” people, now filled with a proper understanding of who they are through the power of the Holy Spirit, found a voice, found out who they truly were, and they went out and turned the entire world upside down, so that it would get right-side up again.
Who do you think you are? Each Sunday come and be reminded. And each Monday go out and live knowing that you are God’s blessed children, filled with the power of God to make things holy and new in a troubled world.
~ Blessings, Dan