Thursday, December 04, 2014

Sermon on Forgetting and Remembering, for Advent 1 Midweek, "We've forgotten, but God remembers"

The readings I selected for this midweek service are: Isaiah 46:3-13, Luke 1:67-79, and Psalm 77 spoken responsively.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. How does forgetfulness affect your life? There could be many different answers. Whether it’s our forgetfulness, or someone else’s—forgetfulness can be large or small—major or minor. While forgetting some trivial piece of information might be totally harmless; forgetting an important appointment, a special anniversary, or remembering to finish an important job or task, all might have major consequences.
But what could be even worse than forgetting all these? In many passages through the Old Testament, this refrain echoes: that God’s people have forgotten the Lord their God. They have forgotten His mighty works and wonders. This kind of forgetfulness has much higher stakes. To forget God and His works is to forget our Lord and Savior. Quite often, the reason for this forgetfulness was because the people had forgotten God for the sake of some other idol or false god. Jeremiah (2:32) describes how Israel has forgotten God, “days without number.” It was their habitual sin. Idolatry is the greatest sin or offense against God—to look to some helpless or dumb idol for help—when there is only One True God, who shares His glory with no other. Forgetting God is truly no laughing matter, and brings God’s judgment.
People who need help remembering, use all sorts of memory aids. From the disorganized to the highly organized, systems of post-it notes, alarms, reminders, repetition, and the help of friends or assistants are all employed in helping us to remember. In the Bible, one of God’s foremost commands to help them remember was this: Deuteronomy 6:4–9 (ESV)
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

To learn God’s Word by heart, to teach His commands daily to your children, to talk about them at home, on the road, in the morning and evening. To post them on your hands, between your eyes, and on the door of your house and on your gates. God wanted them surrounded by reminders of His Word, and that God’s Word and commands would infuse their daily life and conversation. This would mark God’s Words permanently on their hearts. Or so it should have been. Forgetfulness and distraction is as much a problem today as it ever was, and we’ve neglected the effort of committing these things to heart.
In Psalm 77, which we spoke responsively, the author, Asaph, is crying out to God during some unexplained day of trouble. He is overwhelmed by the difficulty he is in, and to our surprise, when he remembers God, he moans. Why does he moan? Because Asaph is afraid whether God has “forgotten to be gracious” or that He “in anger [has] shut up His compassion.” He fears that God has forgotten Him, because all Asaph sees are signs of God’s anger and judgment. He’s uncertain of God’s future actions, because at the present, things seem hopeless. But then he’s revived by remembering God’s works and mighty deeds. He thinks back to the powerful miracles of God, and how He redeemed His people. This brings reassurance that God will again act to redeem His people.
We too, are forgetful people. We’d see that our guilt mounts up to the heavens if we could even remember all our sins—which we cannot. The fearful prospect of getting what our sins deserve, or suffering the consequences of our actions, is enough to make us moan before God. If we feel like the Lord’s hand is heavy against us, we might also begin to wonder if God has forgotten to be gracious. And so God calls us to remember. God comes to jog our failing memory. Look in the reading from Isaiah 46 how God calls sinners to remember that He is God alone, and that His purposes and His counsels will always stand and succeed. God will not let His Word remain undone, but He will do it. He calls us to listen—because He brings His righteousness and salvation near.  
“So dear God, help us remember. Help us remember all Your mighty deeds, that we might remember again Your salvation story, of how You redeem Your people!” However forgetful we may be, God does not forget His promises, His covenant, and His love for His people. He will accomplish His purposes and His will. This Advent can be a time of remembering for us. A time to again reflect on God’s salvation story, so that we would be mindful of God and His mighty works, and that we would trust in Him. Jesus came to a wayward and forgetful people—people who were not walking in God’s ways, and did not have them written or impressed on their hearts. To people today who are loaded with distractions, whose calendars and lives and hours and minutes are filled with so much, that God is constantly marginalized. Perhaps occupying only a corner of our thoughts, or always on the verge of falling off our overloaded plate. Jesus came to bring God back to front and center in our lives, to help us see that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus came to fulfill the greatest commandment—that we would love the Lord our God will all our heart, soul, and might—and to lead us in obeying it also. Where we have failed to “take up the pen” and write the reminders of God and His Word on our hearts—God has taken it up and by His Holy Spirit, writes His law within us, on our hearts (Jer. 31:33).

God does this because He remembers. He remembers our weakness and frailty, and He knows that He could not leave it up to us. He had to remember and take action. And thank God that He did! He is the One who said in Isaiah 44:21–22, Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.  I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” God comes near to us in Christ Jesus to forgive us, to blot out our sins, and to redeem us. He does it for His name’s sake, and needs no reminder, because God never forgets, and He’ll always carry through on His Word. When we see Jesus, we see God’s mighty works anew. We see God stretching out His hands to His people. Even stretching them out on a cross, to a wayward and forgetful people. But He invites us again and again to remember, to look back to Him, for He will be gracious. To turn away from idols, from distractions, from all that would try to occupy our memory in place of the one thing needful. “Teach us Lord Jesus—teach us to remember, and make God once again, front and center in our heart, mind, and strength. We ask it by the power of your heart, mind, and strength, which you poured out for our redemption. Amen.”

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