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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

You Will Forget What This is About

2014-04-06 You Will Forget What This Is About
Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 12:20-33


We're talking about memories today. Our memory. And God's memory.

I want to test an idea. I think I know how this is going to turn out, but help me out. 
Raise your hand if you've ever gotten in trouble for forgetting something.
And all the husbands are like, "Wow, how did he know that?"
(Dude, it doesn't take a rocket scientist.)

Isn't it funny - well, not funny in a ha-ha way - more like funny in a comically tragic way - Isn't it funny that when WE forget things, it's bad? It gets us in trouble.

Why? Because when we forget stuff it's usually the GOOD things - birthdays, anniversaries, which day the trash man comes. We forget the good stuff.

OK, here's another test. Raise your hand if the INABILITY to FORGET something has caused you trouble.

We sure do remember the bad stuff, don't we? You remember the lazy teacher who gave you an "F". You remember the boy who called you "four-eyes." The really, truly tragic events of life? You KNOW we remember those. We WISH we could forget. We remember where we were when we got that phone call. We remember the look on the doctor's face when we got the news. Yep. Memories of bad stuff are like scars and it doesn't take much to get us picking at them and reopened. We remember the bad stuff.

Memory is such a problem. Memory causes us problems both ways. We can't remember the things we need to. And we can't forget the stuff we want to. Our memory (or lack thereof) holds on to trouble or gets us in trouble, either way.

Did you ever think that God might forget stuff, too? God does. It's in the Bible. And all the guys are thinking, "See? I'm just modeling myself after The Almighty." The switcheroo is that God's memory issues work backwards. We forget the good stuff and can't forget the bad. God forgets the bad. And God remembers the very, very good. God, and God's memory is what rescues us from trouble.


Today's Old Testament lesson is a story of divine forgetfulness. 

The Prophet Jeremiah speaks of how a long time ago, God made an everlasting covenant. God made a covenant with human beings and swore to always, always, always remember it. It's very simple. God kept it to one sentence because God knows our memories weren't his finest work. 

Here it is: "I will be your God and you will be my people." 

Sounds simple enough. I would think I could remember that. You'd probably think I could remember it, too, but you're wrong. 

"I will be your God and you will be my people."

I'd think you could remember that. I'm optimistic that way. I'd think anybody could remember God's covenant, everybody from us here today all the way back to ancient Israelites, but I'd be mistaken. Don't take my word, the Bible's full of examples of how people forgot God's covenant. As it was in the beginning is now and every shall be, forgetfulness without end, Oh big oops, Oh big oops.

We forget God's very simple, one sentence covenant. And while our un-covenant forgetfulness might not be the immediate cause of all our problems, it gets very close to - if not right at -  the core. "I will be your God and you will be my people." I forget that. You forget that. We all forget that. We will all lose sight of God's covenant. And we will suffer for our loss.


Are you a head-smacker? I'm a head-smacker. When I forget something important, and then realize what I've done, I go [smacks forehead]. Often, I say words I can't repeat in church. And then I call myself names. Do any of you do that? Don't raise your hand, it's just embarrassing. Why do we do that? Because we know we should suffer. We're punishing ourselves for our sin.

A lot of us think of God that way, too. God the Great Head-smacker in the sky, who smites us and speaks judgment upon us. But that's not what Jeremiah heard the Lord say.

Jeremiah wrote: "The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke."

How did they break the covenant of God's love? They forgot. Or, they remembered, but pretended they forgot. Same difference. They forgot - they put out of their minds - they broke - the covenant. They forgot God's covenant of love and all its benefits. 

So, you'd expect some head-smacking - BUT - God says,

"But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity...." 

...and hang on because here it comes...

"... and remember their sin no more."

"I will remember their sin no more."

God. Promises. To forget. Does that strike you as amazing? It should. 

We're just people. We forget. We forget the good. That's bad. That's the problem. 

But when God forgets, that's good. God's promise to remember our sin no more is our hope. Not that we magically become model citizens but that God promises to forget that we're not. That's very, very good.


Here's another idea. Memory is a creative act. And this comes not only from the Bible, but also from the scientists who study brains. (Radiolab http://www.radiolab.org/story/91569-memory-and-forgetting/). 

Most of us tend to think of our brains as storage units. Or filing cabinets. Or computer hard drives. Something happens and you store it. Whether you can actually find it underneath the piles of what we've collected is another issue. Maybe your brain is organized like the Library of Congress. Maybe it looks like that show about hoarders. Our brains are storage. When we need to know the capital of Serbia, we reach in and pull it out. But that's not how it works.

People who study brains have have now learned that our minds are less like storage systems, and more like works of art. It's not like computer memory, a bunch of ones and zeroes. Memory is more like a kaleidoscope, a dance, a Julia Child casserole, a brilliant sunrise, a symphony. Memory's an electric swirl of proteins and chemicals and who knows what else going on up there. Memory isn't storage and retrieval. It's not a thing. Memory is a creative, artistic act and just like the rest of our bodies, it's alive, and growing, and changing, and moving. Remembering is a creative act.

Memory is a creative act. We pray to "Creator God," not "Rememberer God." "I will be your God and you will be my people." When we forget this or act as though we've forgotten, we sacrifice our connection to the One in whom we are made.

"But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.... for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

God creates a new kind of remembering. A memory not of the head but of the heart and soul. But even for God, this new kind of memory comes at a cost. It will cost God something terrible.


Do me a favor. Think of the last time somebody did you wrong. Now forget about it. "Let it go, let it go." You can't, can you? Why? Why do we cling to the wrongs done us? The people who've never apologized. The unforgiven acts of stupidity and unforgivable acts of evil. God, what we'd give to forget them. And yet, not to have those memories, however awful, would be like giving up a piece of ourselves.

"I will forgive their iniquity," says God. "[And I will] remember their sin no more."

The day will come, God says, when I will forget. But at a cost.


Before his death Jesus said, 

"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it.... it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name."" He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die."

In order to remember our sin no more the creative God gives up a piece of himself. The memory dies. But so does God's son. It sounds tragic and it is. But it's also glorious beyond belief. God's fulfilling that promise made in the prophets to write a new covenant, a new testament, a new memory that descends from the head to be written, painted, breathed upon the heart.

God's creative love rewrites even the most crucifying memories into a new covenant of life. We know from the scope of scripture, it takes time. It's hard. A new covenant of life always is.

God remembers God's promise by forgetting our forgetfulness. God remembers to forget, and that's good. But we still forget to remember.


"I will be your God and you will be my people." You're going to forget that. Oh, you'll remember the words, maybe. But you'll forget the covenant. You'll forget who God is. You'll forget that you're one of God's people. You'll forget that the world around you is God's, too.

You'll forget in the line at the grocery store. You'll forget when you're at home. You'll forget when you're remembering how much other people owe you and how much better they ought to be and how wrong and stupid and clumsy they are with your heart. You'll forget the creative license God has given you to make new memories, memories unchained from the past. You'll forget to live in the Resurrection, instead of at the tomb. 

As hard as it might be to believe, God will forget that, too. Because that's the covenant God always remembers.