(For some reason the formatting is being grievous! I apologize and have tried to fix it as much as I can.)
bad memory, then a strange memory. I can remember a license plate number from the
mid-1970s: P64 519. But I can’t remember a speech I gave at high school graduation. I
can remember a phone number from Grand Rapids in the mid-1980s: 454-8830. But I
can’t remember most of my seminary classmates. I see them at synod sometimes, and I
don’t know who they are. I can remember the priest turning on a cheap Sony cassette
player at my father’s funeral in 1997. But I can’t remember standing by my father’s
There are lots of times I wish I had a better memory. But I don’t think there’s much
of anything I can do about it. When I go to Kroger, I make a list. That doesn’t help my
memory. It just compensates for it. When Jan gets off the phone after talking with Katie,
she can give me a detailed account of the conversation. When I get off the phone after
talking with Kristi, I can only give Jan a general outline of what we talked about. I feel
like a failure, like a bad person. I don’t like this forgetting. But I wonder if that’s even the right
word. Am I forgetting something if I haven’t remembered it at least for a little while to begin
NONE OF US LIKE FORGETTING. That’s one of the things that worries us about
Alzheimer’s. If we get Alzheimer’s, we’re going to forget who we are and we’re going
to forget the people we love. And we know that if we forget those things, then there
won’t be much of us left. Not enough of what matters. That’s what scares us. We’ve
seen people, people we love, hollowed out by Alzheimer’s. We don’t want to go there.
None of us do.
But here’s what I think. Worse than forgetting is being forgotten. None of us wants
to be forgotten. Not unless we’re in the witness protection program. And even then we
don’t really want it. It’s a hard thing to be forgotten, to be lost to all you’ve known and
loved. But in that kind of situation, there’s no choice.To be forgotten by the woman you
pledged your life to twelve years ago, forgotten when she runs off with another man? That
hurts. To be forgotten by your son, the son you made so many sacrifices for, and now he
won’t even pick up his iPhone to give you a call? That hurts.
We watched the movie Precious the other night. Precious Jones is forgotten. Her
mother and father have forgotten she’s their child, their flesh and blood. They treat her
like a pest or a toy. When she finds out she’s HIV-positive, courtesy of her father,
Precious writes in her journal, Why me? At that moment, with a story like hers, Precious
feels forgotten by the universe. And who wouldn’t? The filmmakers don’t address the
obvious next question. But has God forgotten her? Has God forgotten?
THAT’S THE QUESTION THAT HANGS OVER this world every day. When a fifteen year
God forgotten? When people rising up to protest an oppressive government are
bombed and burned into submission, has God forgotten? When Haiti, the poorest
country in the western hemisphere, is devastated by an earthquake and a hurricane, has God
forgotten? When a traveler responds to the call of the Gospel to take risks to be servant and
winds up being assaulted by the hitchhiker he picked up, has God forgotten? When
Palestinian Christians are caught in the middle between Muslims and Israelis and the
whole world has forgotten their plight, has God forgotten too? When the Christian
community in Iraq and in Egypt and in Nigeria is under constant threat, has God
That’s the question, the aching, agonizing question, that hangs over this world every
day. And that was the question hanging over the world in the first century, hanging
over Judea and Samaria and Galilee. When Jews have returned from Babylon, when
they’ve rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple, but they have no king and the divine
presence is missing, has God forgotten? Has God forgotten? That’s the question, then
and now. Has God forgotten?
ONE OF THE BIBLE’S BIG CONCERNS, ALL THE WAY THROUGH, is to show that God
remembers. Take the rainbow. We know that the rainbow is a covenant sign. It’s
connected with a promise God makes, a promise God makes to every living creature on
the earth, a promise that the waters of chaos won’t win. We know that the rainbow is a
sign of that promise. And we usually think that the rainbow is a sign so we can
remember the promise. But the rainbow is not so we can remember; it’s so God can
remember. God says, I will see the bow and I will remember. I will remember my promise. I
don’t know for sure, but I imagine there’s always a rainbow somewhere in this world. That
means God remembers. Always God remembers.
When the family of Israel is enslaved in Egypt, God remembers his promise to
Abraham and sets Israel free. Later, when Israel is beset by enemies, God remembers his
promise to David and turns the enemies aside. God remembers. That’s a foundation
stone of biblical faith.
When the psalmist prays to the LORD, it’s a prayer about remembering. LORD, don’t
remember the mess I am and the mess I’ve made. LORD, instead of remembering who I
am,remember who you are. Remember compassion. Remember faithfulness. Remember love. And
that’s what God does. God remembers. Always God remembers.
OUR COVENANT SIGN IS BAPTISM. It’s a sign we can hardly see when it’s on us. It’s not
like the ashes of Ash Wednesday that even when they’re removed leave a smudge. No,
with baptism in no time our skin is dry and the sign is invisible. But not to God. God
sees. And God remembers. God remembers the promises. I am your God. You are my
people. God remembers.
I told you I remember strange things. But it’s not so strange, not really. You see, I
have a habit of rehearsing those strange things. I’ve been telling people for years about
that old license plate number. Every time I tell someone, the number gets fixed more
firmly in my memory. I imagine that’s how it is with God and our baptism. God sees the
sign, the invisible sign, of our baptism and God remembers. Again and again God sees.
Again and again God remembers. God remembers and there is no forgetting.
GOD REMEMBERS. THAT’S THE BEGINNING of the Gospel. As Mark tells the story, Jesus
begins his work by saying, The time is fulfilled. In other words, There has been no forgetting.
This is where the story has been leading. It’s time, time at last, time for the kingdom! Jesus comes
as the embodiment of God’s memory. God has not forgotten the promises. God is as good as
his word. God remembers a world in torment. God remembers a world fractured by abuse
and injustice, by disease and despair. God remembers and sends his Son to save the world
from slavery to fear and death. He does it by facing the fear. He does it by dying a
horrible death. He does it by remembering. Jesus, his companion on the next cross said
to him, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus told him, Today
you will be with me in paradise. In other words, I will remember. I will remember you. You will
suffer. You will die. But you will not be forgotten. I will remember you. That’s the heart of the
Certainly we’re longing for and waiting for a world in which girls aren’t abused and
kind travelers aren’t assaulted. We have our eyes set on a world where peace and justice
reign and tyrants have been sent packing. And while we wait, we look to Jesus, to his cross,
to his suffering, to what he was not spared. We look to our own calling to suffer with him. And
we know that God remembers. God remembers. Always God remembers. I may forget a lot
of things. There may be a lot of things that never once take root in my memory. But God
remembers. Always God remembers. And that will be so even if I forget.