(A sermon based on Isaiah 49:8-16a & Matthew 6:24-34 for the Eighth Sunday after Epiphany 2011)
Under the best of circumstances our ability to remember is flawed and limited. It takes a while for some fact to come back to us. The password we have used for a particular internet account for years suddenly escapes our memory. We see someone that we usually see in a particular setting in a different setting and we know the face but can’t put the name with it. We told someone we would do something but the next time it occurs to us the opportunity has passed.
Another unfortunate characteristic of our limited mental capacity is that we tend to think of God in human terms. That is inevitable and it is not all bad; the Bible itself if filled with what we call anthropomorphisms, by which we mean depictions of God in human terms—for an example, think of the image of God “walking” in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day. Moreover, in God’s grace God the Son actually came to us as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ so that we would be better able to think of and to understand God.
Still—too often when we think of God we fall into the trap of assuming that God thinks and talks and feels and acts like we do. Let it be understood: God does not.
To the point for today: we forget; God does not forget.
Even more to the point for today: we forget God; God does not forget us.
God, through the prophet of the Babylonian Exile whose words are preserved in the second part of the Isaiah scroll, offered wonderfully reassuring words to the exiles, culminating in these: “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his suffering ones” (Isaiah 49:13). Then, very realistically and understandably, the people (identified with the name “Zion”) said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me” (v. 14). And to those words God replied, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?” (v. 15ab).
These days we would have to answer that question with a “Yes” because we hear all too often of mothers and fathers abandoning or abusing or otherwise showing no compassion for their children. But the Lord was ahead of us: “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…” (vv. 15c-16a).
We may forget. We may forget each other. We may forget to care. We may forget to help. We may forget to be there for each other. But God does not forget. God does not forget God’s children. God does not forget you; God does not forget me; God does not forget us.
And so in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). He also said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow…. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” (vv. 28b, 30).
God loves us. God cares for us. God remembers us.
But we forget to remember that God remembers us. Maybe some of us never knew it to begin with, but others of us who have believed in God, served God and worshiped God for years or even for decades sometimes forget to remember. We forget that God is God and that God in God’s compassion, grace and love is in control and will take care of us. In forgetting we open the door of our minds to anxiety and worry and fear.
We need to remember. We need to remember all the time that God is God and that God is for us and with us.
We have to choose to remember, though, and having chosen to remember we have to practice remembering.
Unfortunately, all too often we who are professed followers of Christ live with divided or misplaced loyalties. We choose to forget or to ignore what Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (v. 24). The word “wealth” is the Greek word “mammon” which means the whole range of material things.
What sits at the center of our worldview? Is it God or is it the accumulation of stuff? Is it God or is it our possessions? Is it what only God can give us—salvation, eternal life, righteousness, a heart, access to the full range of human experience both now and for all eternity—or is it things that we can, if we try hard enough and get the right breaks, get for ourselves? On what are we building our lives? On what are we focusing our lives?
Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly: what do you find yourself craving? What do you find yourself desiring? For what do you find yourself longing? Our appetites say a lot about us, after all.
Jesus said, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). We who are disciples of Jesus have the wonderful opportunity to put first things first, to have knowing, loving, and serving God constitute our primary craving and desire. Jesus elsewhere said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”; the reverse is also true: “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.”
The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ show us, among many other things, that the essence of living in the kingdom of God is in dying to self and rising to new life in Jesus Christ. And when God has done that in you, it is God that you want above all else because you come to see that God is really all there is; everything else comes to us as part of our relationship with God.
As we practice living that way we will grow more and more to remember that God remembers us, that God will be with us and take care of us all the way through this life and into the next one.
If we practice instead putting others things first, then I guess we’re counting on them to remember us and be with us and take care of us all the way through.
Which way befits children of the Kingdom of God? Which way is our way?