Sermon Archives

Sunday, March 13, 2016
The 5th Sunday of Lent (Year C)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Never Forget

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“Never forget.” 

Few words have shaped the 21st century American social and national memory as these two.

In the wake of 9/11, national leaders have implored the nation to “never forget” – never forget the suffering and loss of that tragic day; never forget the terror that struck at the heart of our national community; never forget the perpetrators of such violence.  We live in an age, in fact, in which we are constantly urged to remember the suffering of past wrongs and the perpetrators of personal or national injustice.

We live in an age, as well, in which it is increasingly difficult to forget.  With social media capturing with increasing detail the events of our public and social life, an online reality in which every electronic memory is not only eternal, but easily accessible, and a 24-hour news cycle that is constantly scouring our public memory, it is nearly impossible to forget.  In fact, in the 21st Century, “never forget” has become not only an aspiration of our public memory, but a near fact of our social identity.

Of course, as a Christian community, we are a people of memory as well.  Only weeks ago we were starkly reminded to “remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.”  Each week, as we have come together for Lent, we have remembered together the ancient commandments of God, so that we might faithfully and practically love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves.  Similarly, as we gather each week around the God’s holy table, we are invited to remember again that sacred week from so long ago in which Jesus poured himself out so that the whole world might come within the reach of his saving embrace, and in remembering to make the embrace of Christ personal as we receive him again into our hands, into our hearts, and into our lives.

Set against this backdrop of memory keeping, the words from the prophet Isaiah this morning, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old” inevitably draw us up short!  What could he possibly mean?  The irony and confusion that these words are even more stark as we recall that the prophets as a whole, and Isaiah in particular, are constantly exhorting the children of Israel to remember their story as the people of God – they must never forget the great things that God has done for them.

To add to our confusion, these words of God spoken through Isaiah, are spoken in language that  filled with memory!  “Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick . . . I give water in the wilderness, . . . to give drink to my chosen people.”  Even as God instructs Israel not to remember former thing, they are simultaneously reminded of God’s former action for Israel in the exodus from Egypt. 

Perhaps, the thrust of this command is not to forget all things, but to forget the right things!  As we recall the ancient exodus of God’s people from Egypt, not only their ancient cries under slavery in Egypt, but the 40 years of wandering through the wilderness, we will quickly remember two stories intertwined.  There is, of course, the story of God and all of God’s goodness for the people of Israel – the night of Passover and promise of deliverance, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness and water from the rock, the giving of the Law on Sinai, and the pillars of cloud and fire that guide and protect Israel in their desperate sojourn.  And yet, we will remember, too, the near perpetual stories of Israel’s sin and fear, bitterness and complaint against God even as God constantly provides for them.

Perhaps it is this latter story that we are charged, in fact, to forget!  Perhaps, God is urging Israel to let go of their own failings and blindness, their own lack of faith, in order to remember the glory of God’s faithfulness. 

As God promises to do a new thing, to make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, the children of Israel are reminded to hold onto God’s past faithfulness even as they let go of their own unfaithfulness and wanderings that have brought them into exile again.

And so it must be for us as we begin again our annual exodus in Holy Week, the exodus in which Jesus leads us through the wilderness of sin and death into new life.  Each year, as we embark on the sacred journey of Holy Week, we move with Christ through the winding roads of Jerusalem to encounter again our own sin in the face of his glory, in order that we might die to our old ways and live a new life with Christ.  This Easter, as Jesus emerges from death into new life, we are reminded that God is doing a new thing with each of us, a new thing rooted in God’s goodness and grace, not our brokenness and sin.

And so God says even to us, "do not remember the former things.”

Do not remember all those things that have kept us apart.  Do not remember your fear and your failures.  Do not remember the things you have done that you ought not have done, nor even the things you ought to have done that you did not do.

Do not remember, as well, those things that keep you apart from one another; those things others have done to you, or not done for you.  Do not remember those hates and angers, those hurts and disappointments that keep you from living a reconciled life. 

Do not remember those things that keep you from love – for yourself, for one another, and for God.

For God is doing a new thing.