The Promise of A Forgetful God
A Meditation on Jeremiah 31: 27 – 34
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church March 18, 2018
In this Book of Compassion, written by the prophet Jeremiah, we hear words ancient and true. Words about human nature and about God’s nature. Here is a brief background on today’s reading:
…God and Jeremiah are particularly frustrated with Israel’s stubborn refusal to keep her part of the covenant God made with her at Mt. Sinai. There God graciously showed Israel how to faithfully receive God’s grace by living as God’s obedient children. God even inscribed that guide to thankful living on two stone tablets. On them the Lord essentially invited the Israelites to remember to love God above all and their neighbors as themselves.
Israel, however, doggedly refused to live up to her part of the covenant. She sampled from a whole buffet line of gods. And even when Israelites did worship the living God, they used images of God to do so. So Israel ignored the very first two words of her covenant with God.
Yet the Israelites failed not only to be faithful to the God of heaven and earth, but also to each other. They neglected to love each other as much as they loved themselves. Israel especially failed to love the most vulnerable citizens among her.
Doug Bratt, Calvin Seminary, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-5b-2/?type=old_testament_lectionary
Sometimes…not always, but sometimes…we are able to forgive almost as deeply as God forgives. I saw that in my mother. After my father died, my mother remembered and celebrated only the good things in him. That’s not uncommon; we are comforted by assigning sainthood to even the most human among us. She was somehow able to lock away the debilitating days she experienced with him when his alcoholism was at its worst. I’m not saying this is a healthy thing to do…I’m just saying it is what she did after he was gone.
And the reality is that the good things about him, the truths he stood for, the way he cared for her and supported our family do outshine the darkest days, the deepest wounds. The years of love she experienced with him outweighed the pain he inflicted upon her. She was fiercely loyal to him, and I now I understand why. I get it now; but I could not grasp it at the time of his death. It is still mysterious to me in many ways. I feared that she would literally lay down her life for him, knowing all the while that even if she did, it would not save him. This way of loving took its toll on her.
This fierce way of loving us takes its toll on God.
I wonder if we ever really consider how dependent we are upon God’s promise to forget all the hurt we cause God when we hurt one another. Forgiving takes enormous energy and a pretty hefty dose of humility. And so, long before Jesus would walk this earth, God humbles God’s self and says, “I won’t remember your sins anymore. I won’t remember your betrayals. I won’t remember that you abandoned me for other gods. I won’t remember the lack of trust. I won’t remember that even when I was faithful to you, you turned away to love another.” God’s love for us is an eternal promise.
What an amazing teacher we have in God. What an amazing parent. We know the best teaching is by example. The best parenting practices are passed on through example. We teach our children to care for the earth by caring for the earth ourselves. We teach our children to love and serve others by loving and serving others. We remember those teachers who were passionate about the subject matter, whether it was history or algebra or French. We remember them because their love and faith were tangible. And so God chooses to set an example for us of how to forgive.
God’s choice to forget and seek a new path is the great flood in reverse, isn’t it? The story of Noah and the washing of the earth is the story of God recreating a world that had gone wrong. God looks around, sees one faithful family, and chooses to erase the rest. And regrets it forever. So this time, instead of erasing all the flawed people, God chooses to erase the flaws of the people. God says, “I will keep you in all your brokenness, and I will forget your mistakes. We are starting over together. All of us.”
And if you are thinking this sounds like a “hate the sin, love the sinner” philosophy, don’t even go there. This phrase has been horribly abused with respect to the GLBTQ community, so don’t think it, don’t use it. Besides, hating sin is easy. Forgetting? That’s not easy. When you hate, you hold on to the object of your hate. When you forget, you let it go. When you hate, you close the door to renewal, when you forget, you affirm your belief in the possibility of new life.
So God chooses not to hate the sins, but to forget the sins. Long, long before Jesus would die on a tree. Because this is God’s way and has always been God’s way. There isn’t a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament. There is one God. We encounter this God in different ways, but it is the same loving God.
This loving God decides that we need another way of experiencing life together so God does something that seems to be counter-cultural to our way of thinking here in Alabama. God decides that putting the law, the Ten Commandments, on stone tablets isn’t such a great idea. God says, “I will place them on your hearts instead.” Ouch!
Engraving on stone? Whether God’s hand or a chisel and hammer, we’re good with that. Engraving on hearts? That sounds rather painful.
And in some respects it is painful. It is actually much more difficult to carry God’s ten best ways for living in our hearts than reading them on a page in our Bibles or on a carved monument. Carrying them in our hearts, means that we have to consider how Jesus interpreted them. Remember what he said? It’s not enough to refrain from killing, to hate another person is to wish that they were dead. It’s not enough to refrain from adultery, to look at someone with lust, is a compromise of your marriage vows. The commandments given to God’s people at Sinai were given that we might know life in abundance. They are our reminders of how to live in loving relationship with God and with one another. They are in invitation to life.
It is significant that God will engrave them on our hearts rather than our minds. In our minds, we know what is right and what is wrong. We can weigh the facts and make healthy decisions. What we can’t always do is live into those healthy choices. No, it is not our minds where God’s law needs to be engraved, not our minds, but our hearts. Our hearts, where compassion is sown and nurtured. Our hearts, where grace is received and offered in gratitude. Our hearts, where the irrational, illogical abundance of God’s love can dwell. Theologian Doug Bratt, says it this way:
God’s Spirit implants God’s law in that mysterious center of people from which our desires flow.
Your heart. That mysterious center from which your desires flow.
What are the desires of your heart? What wilderness did you name on that first Sunday of Lent? What desire did you have to escape that wilderness? How does that desire intersect with God’s desire for your life? Rehabilitation isn’t a straight path. It often loops back on itself. Some days are all uphill. Some days, it is three steps forward, two steps back. But friends, God is on this journey with you.
Whatever it is that you have sought to leave behind on this wilderness journey, God has already forgiven. More than that, God has forgotten. It is probably in our best interest that we don’t forget our own missteps. They remind us of our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. They remind us to ask for help when we face those same monsters again. But the accompanying truth is that we somehow need to let go of the mistakes of others. They do not feed our hearts, our souls.
God knows this truth. Had God not chosen to forget, God’s heart would have imploded long ago.
Let us embrace God’s forgetfulness. Let us soak it up. God is not that parent who promises the moon and then can’t deliver. God is that parent who forgives over and over and over again. Never holding those mistakes against you, but always, always believing that each breath you take could be an inhalation of grace; each heartbeat, the rhythm of forgiveness. What God promises, God will deliver. That promise is the hope of abundant lite. Thanks be to God, whose promises will never fail. Amen.
Call to Hope for Transformation:
• If you are comfortable, close your eyes.
• Call to mind one difficult memory of something you wish that God would forget: an unkind word or deed of which you were ashamed, perhaps. Hold that in your left hand.
• Call to mind one thing you wished you could forget: some slight or hurt or betrayal or disappointment done to you that continues to prey upon you. Hold that in your right hand.
• Hold these two things in mind – imagine literally holding one in each hand, close your fingers around them and hold them tightly. .
• Listen for God’s Word for you about God’s intentional forgetting. As you listen, open your hands and let these things go. Practice forgetting. God already has chosen to forget your missteps. We cannot desire that grace for ourselves, without acknowledging that same grace also exists for the ones who have hurt us. – adapted from David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1508
For further reading, as we move into recovery and promise, consider reading the 12 Promises of AA: https://www.projectknow.com/research/alcoholics-anonymous-12-step/