From time to time I have had the privilege of preaching at our home church. Our pastor has been preaching through the gospel readings of the Lectionary, so I decided to preach through the selected Psalm for that week. I’m posting the sermon transcripts from these sermons as I have the time, but in no particular order. These are songs for life given by God to His Church. May their gospel melody be ever in our hearts and on our tongues.
I don’t know how you are at remembering things, but I am often amazed at the ability some people have. My best friend, who I grew up with and often spent a good portion of summer vacation with once we moved away, has a mind like a gigantic playlist. He has this ability to measure the passage of time by popular songs on the radio. I can mention something we did together, and he will say something like, “Oh yeah, that was the summer of 1990 when M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” was on the radio.
I had another friend in high school who would spend his free time reading the newest edition of the Baseball Almanac. You could give him any year and he could tell you who played in the World Series, that one team won the series 4-3, and sometimes even give you starting pitchers in the series. Not me. I often fold under the pressure of having to fill in all my kids’ birthdays on a medical form.
We all know people with what we would call good memories and bad memories. Some of us know what it is like to see that ability diminish as we get older.
But most of us also know that there is a deeper meaning to the act of remembering than simply storing bits of information. We know it as parents when we walk into our child’s room after telling them to do something, find them reading a book or building Legos, and get the response of, “Oops, I forgot!”
We don’t say, “That’s alright, buddy! We all have different mental capacities. It’s not your fault your brain lacks the ability to retain and recall information that was passed on to you more than 5 minutes ago.”
Remembering is more than mere brain function. Forgetting is more than that as well. As we come upon another Thanksgiving holiday, I want us to look tonight at two ways in which remembering and forgetting are essential to life in the Kingdom of Christ.
- First, remembering as a means of gratitude.
- Second, forgetting as a means of grace.
Remembering that Leads to Gratitude
In our text tonight, we find King David asking Yahweh to remember. And what he asks him to remember first is striking. He asks God to remember Himself.
v.6 Remember your mercy, O YAHWEH, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
If we are to understand what it means for us as Christians to remember, we must first look at what it means for the Triune God Himself to remember.
When David asks God to remember, he is calling upon Him to remember who He is. It is significant that the name Yahweh is referred to by God as His memorial name.
Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. – Exodus 3:13-15
It’s as if David is saying, “Yahweh, remember what it means that you are Yahweh. Remember who you are.” And God’s remembering is a commitment to act.
David says, “Remember your mercy and steadfast love” because David is expecting God to act in a way that is consistent with who He is. God is committed to Himself. God is faithful to Himself. The love that exists within the Trinity is first and foremost an unwavering, unchanging, undiminished, loyal love between them.
So God’s remembering is the act by which He sets before Himself the reality of who He is and responds in a way that is consistent with that reality. We see this displayed throughout the Scriptures. In Genesis God establishes a memorial so that He will remember His covenant with Noah and all of creation after the flood.
“I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant.” – Genesis 9
As has been rightly said from this pulpit many times by Steve and others, memorials such as this are established by God that He may remember and act. God does this for our benefit. We receive the blessings of God’s remembrance.
But think about the nature of the memorials He established. He chose to give memorials that we could see, touch and taste. I think He does this because we need to remember that God remembers. We need to have set before us on a regular basis the absolute certainty that as God remembers, He also acts in ways consistent with who He is, what He has done, and promises He has made.
So how does all this help us to remember in a way that produces a life of gratitude?
1. First, we must learn how to set before us a vision of God that enables us to see and interpret the world around us rightly.
I am currently reading through George MacDonald’s excellent book, Phantastes, with the tenth and eleventh graders at Geneva. In the story, the main character, Anados, gains the ability to enter into Fairy Land on his 21st birthday.
We discussed some of the significance of this. Macdonald has his character enter into a world of wonder and beauty and delight at the point in which he becomes a man, an adult. He now has eyes to see the world around him differently, more accurately.
We tend to think of imagination and wonder as something strong in a child that gradually diminishes as we mature into adulthood. When actually the imagination and wonder of childhood should mature and grow as it is mixed with, not replaced by, wisdom and experience.
That’s because the imagination is not the ability to make something up that’s not real. It is the ability to see a reality beyond and often in spite of the perceived reality of our senses.
For us, as Christians, to remember rightly, we must grow in our ability to see the greater reality behind what we see and experience every day. This means living more self-consciously before the face of God.
If we are only grateful for those things that have the appearance of blessing or good in our lives, then our gratitude will be shallow, occasional, and oftentimes misplaced.
For Anodos, it was only in those times when his shadow, a symbol of his sinful self, fell on an object of wonder did he see it as common, childish, cheap, and of little interest.
2. Second, we must respond to the world around us in the light of that vision of God.
I say this because we often think, feel, respond, make decisions, and act in ways that are contrary to who God is, what He has done, and the promises He has made. We forget God.
We don’t normally struggle to remember things about Him. I don’t struggle to remember the verse, “Children are a blessing from the Lord.” Believe me, I’ve quoted it and had it quoted to me many times.
But in the midst of life together, there are many times that I look at my children and do not see little blessings. Why? It’s not because I forgot what God says about them. It’s not because they have ceased being those blessings.
It’s because, in that moment, the shadow of my own selfishness has fallen over my children and I no longer see them as God sees them. Gratitude is swallowed up with grumbling.
I know that Proverbs tells me that an excellent wife is worth far more than precious jewels. But how easy is it to see time alone, or a late night at the office, or my favorite show as the more valuable of the two? My shadow has fallen over my wife and I no longer see her as God sees her.
No, we just don’t always keep God’s unchanging goodness and wisdom and love before our eyes as we watch and experience life unfold. We lose our imaginations to see a greater truth, a greater reality.
And if we cannot remember rightly, then we cannot give thanks rightly. And into our hearts come ingratitude, grumbling, self-pity, escapism- all are indications that we have forgotten God.
Forgetting that Leads to Grace
After David asks God to remember one thing, he turns right around and asks God to not remember something else.
v.7a Remember not the sins of my youth nor my transgressions;
The two are not unrelated. In fact, I would argue that it is the very act of God remembering who He is that enables Him to not remember who David was. To forget, as Scripture defines it, is not the same as forgetting where we put the keys or how many times 5 goes into 60. Obviously, David was not asking God to forget who he was. So what was he asking God to do?
God forgets by remembering. As He remembers who He is, what He has done, and the promises He has made, this greater reality eclipses the lesser realities.
How can God look at me with all my sin fully exposed and not remember my sin? How can He, as David prays, remember not my sin, but remember me? Well, with a little help from the Nicene Creed we confess weekly, let me remind you what He remembers.
- He remembers who Jesus is: He is begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father)
- He remembers what Jesus has done: Who, for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father;
- He remembers the covenant that has been made: the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, one holy catholic and apostolic Church, one baptism for the remission of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen!)
God remembers not our sins because He remembers us in Christ, those sins are eclipsed by His grace. They no longer define us. They are no longer our reality. The light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ has dispelled the shadows through which we once saw the world.
So we also forget by remembering. When we forgive one another, the reality of that sin is eclipsed in the reality of our own forgiveness. We see that person the way that God sees us. We cannot put those sins, especially those hurtful sins, out of our memory. But we can put before us the greater truth, the greater forgiveness. This is grace.
Grace sees beyond what’s right in front of us. Grace comes in the remembering of the gospel in a way that covers the offense. Love covers a multitude of sin.
How do we live lives of gratitude and grace? We remember. But how do we remember in the midst of a life that compels us to forget?
From the rainbow of Genesis 6, to the memorial stones of Joshua 4, to His very name itself in Exodus 3, God’s memorials have been a call for Him to remember and He has called His people to remember in the same way. We as the Church have been given the means to live in that greater reality all around us.
We have a rainbow that proclaims the peace of God. James Jordan, in his book Through New Eyes, says that “Christians are the rainbow war-bow of the Prince of Peace, bringing peace to the world of humanity in the gospel.”
We have memorial stones that proclaim the victory of God. 1 Peter 2:5 says that we, “as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
We have been given His name in baptism that proclaims the faithfulness of God.
And we have been given His table each Lord’s Day that proclaims the kingdom of God.
As we talk together, let us be ever mindful to hold up the gospel light for each other. We need to see His glory and goodness spilled all over our crazy lives. I don’t simply need to be reminded that children are a blessing. I need fathers and mothers who talk to their children and about their children in a way that shows it to be true on their worst days so I will remember on my worst days.
As we walk together, let us be forgetful of one another’s faults as we remember the grace we ourselves have received. As Steve mentioned this morning and will continue to emphasize in the coming weeks, let’s be gracious and hospitable and welcoming to others because we cannot get over the reality that we have a place at the King’s table.
We as the body of Christ are the memorials, both to one another, and to the world.