Thursday, December 18, 2014
Sermon on Forgetting and Remembering, for Advent 3 Midweek, "Fears and Comforts in Forgetting and Remembering"
The readings I selected and preached on for this midweek service are: Psalm 9, spoken responsively; Psalm 25; Luke 12:4-7; and Isaiah 49:15-16.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In the past couple weeks we’ve seen how God’s people have a sinful tendency to forget both God and His Word, and how God remembers His people and forgets our sins. We’ve seen how great the cost is to forget God, or to live with the illusion that God forgets or ignores our sins when we think we’re getting away with it, but how God is patient to call us back to Him, and that when we repent, He does truly forget our sins.
No doubt most of us have unintentionally forgotten countless things. Our human memory is not so good. But on some occasions when we wish we could forget—we find it nearly impossible to forget something on purpose. Perhaps bad memories we wouldn’t wish to keep—physical, mental, and emotional scars in our life. And then there are the good memories we want to keep, remember, and cherish. The prospect of losing those to aging or memory-related problems might also create fear or anxiety. Why can’t we have better control of our mind? What will happen to us if we can’t remember those things that are most important to us?
In the Psalms we see other memory-related anxieties—over whether God will forget the afflicted and the needy, or if He will remember the sins of our youth. But if we have memory trouble, and can’t be in 100% control of our mind, to remember everything most important to us, or even to forget something we want to—God has no such memory issues. Nothing escapes His notice or slips from His mind, but all things are before Him (Ps. 33:13-15). And the only thing that God forgets, is what He wills to forget, as He does with our sins, when we confess them to Him. God forgets and forgives these, according to His promises. And the Psalms remind us that God will not forget the needy or the afflicted.
Tracing through the Old Testament, and who it is that God “remembers”—a pattern emerges. God remembers His faithful, even and especially in their times of discouragement, loneliness, or trial. During the destruction of the Global Flood, God remembered the covenant He made with Noah; He remembered Abraham and Lot after destroying Sodom and Gomorrah; He remembered Rachel when she was barren, and opened her womb; He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when His people were suffering in Egypt; He remembered Hannah who also was barren; and in the Psalms we hear how He does not forget the cry of the afflicted or the needy or the hope of the poor. The patterns is that God remembers His faithful, and that He acts to deliver us from our enemies, from our fears, and our troubles.
So what of your enemies, fears, and troubles? You can have confidence as did the saints of old, that God will not forget you. He remembers you on the day that you are broken and in despair, wondering if God has forgotten you in your trials. He remembers you when all your friends and family seem to have forgotten you. He remembers you on the day when the guilt of some sin washes over you, and you are filled with sorrow for what you’ve done, and wonder if God could ever forgive you. He remembers you on the day you are diagnosed with some memory-related disorder, and you fear the oncoming loss of your memory. He remembers you on the day when you suffer or are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, or for His name’s sake. He will not forget His saints; He will not forget His covenant with us.
Psalm 9 reminds us that “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” The fact that God is a stronghold, a fortress for us, is great security and peace for times of trouble or fear. When we place our trust in God, that trust is well-placed in the One who can save and redeem us. It is the enemies of God who should be afraid, because God comes to judge in justice.
The reading from Luke 12 echoes this, and says that we should not fear mortal enemies, but God who holds all judgment and authority over life and death in His hands. Yet it goes on to add that God doesn’t even forget something so insignificant as the death of five sparrows, worth two pennies. “Not one of them is forgotten before God. Why even the hairs of your heard are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” So we are to fear God’s power for judgment, and yet not be afraid because we are far more valuable to God than many sparrows. In other words, God cares a great deal for us, and if He doesn’t forget the little things, how much more does He remember us, who are very valuable to Him? So it is safe to say, that the fear of God forgetting His precious children, is an unfounded fear.
The prophet Isaiah takes up this theme in a remarkable passage, in chapter 49:15-16, where he expresses the fear of the people that God had forsaken them and forgotten them in their affliction. Then God replies, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”. God admits the possibility, though highly unlikely, that a mother could forget her own child. But even if these forget…God will never forget you. We are engraved on the palms of His hands. I tell you that in the scars of Jesus’ nail-pierced hands, there stands proof that God will not, and has not forgotten His people. Not even in a time of forsakenness or affliction. Not even when it seems as though heaven is closed to our cry of distress or our prayers. Even when Jesus hung forsaken on the cross, God did not forget. And when He raised His only Son from the grave—those marks still proved His love for His people. God’s love for His people cannot be erased or forgotten. But your sins can be forgotten, and they are forgotten when Jesus died and buried them in His own body.
What then of our lingering bad memories that we wish could be forgotten? What of the pain of a loss, or a grief that will not go away? What of the Psalmist’s prayer, Psalm 25:16–18? “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.” Joseph in the Old Testament is one hint of a person who experienced the “forgetting” of his affliction, as he named his son Manasseh, he said he chose this name because “God made me forget all my hardship” (Gen. 41:51). When God pours down His blessings on us, if we experience rescue and relief in this lifetime, that merciful healing can already begin to erase those memories of hardship and grief. Even terrible wounds can begin to heal in this lifetime, by God’s grace. But even if we don’t yet experience it fully in this lifetime, the promise of God in Isaiah 65:17–19, is that our healing will be complete in heaven, where there will no longer be a memory of our former weeping and distress. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”
I began by posing these questions that flow from our fear and anxiety about our memory: “Why can’t we have better control of our mind? What will happen to us if we can’t remember those things that are most important to us?” Even though we may not have the full control of our minds to remember or forget as we wish—we can nevertheless have the comfort of knowing that God is in full control. And, by the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of the new creation, Jesus will fully restore of His creation to its original goodness, free of the guilt and taint of sin. Furthermore, when our memory fails us, God remembers not only the “minor details”—but He also remembers what is most important to Him. That is, He remembers His people, His children. So take heart, child of God, you are not forgotten! Jesus remembers you! See, it is written on the palms of His hands. Amen.