Timothy C. Ahrens
The First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
February 20, 2000
Isaiah 43:18-25; II Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
Remembering is one of the aspects of our humanity that we cherish most. We remember childhood, we remember people who impacted our lives, we remember ideas, books, and inspirational thoughts, concepts, laws and texts. When our Savior broke bread on his last night with his beloved disciples, he compelled to "remember me" in the breaking of bread and drinking of wine. On the cross, one thief cried, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!" Remembering is central to creating and enlivening our histories and also to building relationships and trust between people. I call this re-membering, that is, piecing together the significant relationships and memories of our lives to create a whole picture of life and faith.
In one of his dialogues, Plato talks of all learning as remembering. The chief job of the teacher is to help us remember all that we have forgotten. This fits well with Carl Jung's belief of memory that when we are enabled to dip into the intuitive, subconscious self, we remember more than we know. One of the great sorrows which came to human beings in Genesis was the loss of memory experienced by Adam and Eve when they left the Garden and forgot how beautifully each had been created to be and meant to be.
How many times to remember hearing from this pulpit, "remember who you are and whose you are?" It seems that we, in essence, are always being called to remember our roots, our heritage, our learnings, our faith, and our deepest values. The first time my oldest sister went on a date, I recall (as the youngest child) overhearing my mother tell her, "remember everything that your father and I have taught you about how to behave and what to do." As a 12 year old, that seemed like a daunting task. I remember thinking, "Wouldn't it be easier for her just to carry a reference notebook in her purse filled with all the gems from mom and dad rather than try to remember everything?" When my turn came for dating, I knew what my mother was talking about! Yes, remembering is essential to our daily lives and our walk of faith!
Why then would our God tell the Chosen People of Israel to forget their past?
Isaiah 43:18 begins, "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old." Continuing, Yahweh proclaims:
I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert... (Isaiah 43:19)
I, I am the Holy One who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins. (Is. 43:25).
Calling his people to forget the things of old, God also promises them that he will forget their past sins and transgressions. Forgiven and forgotten!
Although remembering is crucial to our lives, so is forgetting - particularly forgetting which is tied together with forgiving. God knows that there comes a time in life and in faith communities when people are called to forget and to forgive and out of the energy generated by forgetting and forgiving - God calls people to do a new thing, to go to new places, to create new visions!
Written to exiles in Babylon around 539 B.C., Isaiah 43 calls people to stop focusing on the Exodus from Egypt in 1446 B.C. and begin to focusing on the salvation at hand - their deliverance from Babylon. God will deliver his people from their exile and return them to the Promised Land. God will make a way through the wilderness between Palestine and Babylon just as God made a way through the sea when the Hebrews came out of Egypt with Pharaoh's army close behind. The desert will be transformed. Wilderness wildlife will acknowledge and honor Yahweh! Once again, God will make a way where there is no way!
To make the move from remembering to forgetting must involve forgiving. In the late winter, thirteen years ago, while serving Bethany United Church of Christ, Cleveland, Ohio, a couple came to me asking to be married. They had both been married once before - to each other. Now, they wished to be re-married. I explained that in order to be re-married by me, they would have to go through an all day experience of forgetting and forgiving. They agreed.
One Saturday, we met at 9am and commenced. I placed a stole on my shoulders - a stole I have always worn to hear confessions. Then, we began. First, I met with the couple together and then we met separately. I asked them to bring up everything from their past - all the hurt - all the woundedness. I listened to confessions from each of them in two hour blocks of time while the other was reading scripture and praying on their knees for themselves and for their once and future partner.
As the sun was moving to the western horizon, we came back together. Each one speaking directly to the other, while holding the other's hands had to now confess and ask forgiveness. After almost another two hours of this experience, I asked if there was anything else to be said. The once and future husband knelt before his once and future wife and said, "If you will have me as a newly forgiven man, I would be honored to marry you." She got down on her knees and held him saying, "Yes, I desire to have you and hold you as my new husband." Exhausted, but rested in their souls, I served the two holy communion as they committed themselves to be newly married! As we stood to leave the room, with tears streaming down all of our faces, I reached for my stole and told them, "Once I take this off, I will forget all that you have confessed and I will turn it over to the memory of God. I suggest you do the same." They nodded in agreement. And it's true! I have forgotten all that I heard that day. I have turned it all over to the heart and the mind of God. Forgotten, forgiven, and ready to do a new thing.
Is there something you clinging to in your life which you can neither forgive or forget? Is there anything which you need to let go of and allow God to heal before moving on to a new thing? With whom do you need to be reconciled so that you might move into a new creation and do a new thing? Perhaps it is personal. But perhaps it is communal. Are you carrying a load from past experiences here that may be holding you back from future vision and hope? You will hear me say it again, but, as people of faith we must remember, it took the Lord God, working through Moses a matter of months to get the people out of Egypt, but to took the same Lord God over 40 years to get Egypt out of the people!
In his book FaithQuakes, Leonard Sweet, President of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio introduces vision and processes for the church in the last days of this century to step forward into a future of hope, vitality, and vision. In his always provocative and evocative style Dr. Sweet writes:
Artemus Ward once said, "the trouble with so many people is that they know so many things that aren't so." There is a massive confusion in the church today, primarily because a lot of things simply aren't working and we know too many things that simply aren't so....As Peter Drucker (organizational guru) is fond of saying, "the most difficult thing to do is to keep a dead horse from stinking." The church is frantically flailing horses that died in the 1960's. It is time for the church to bury the carcasses and break-in new vehicles. (Because) when the horse you are riding is dead, it's time to dismount." (Sweet continues...) (The church) must rethink some oldthink notions about the decentralization of power, the place of and tolerance for unorthodox and innovative thinking, the employment of new skills and new technologies, the use of new information in the church, the role of risk-taking, community leadership and shared ideas and information - not to mention the entire larger atlas of largely unknown and unexplored intellectual territory and theological terra incognita." (FaithQuakes, Abington Press, Nashville, TN, 1994, p. 18).
Perhaps the image of a stinking dead horse is too extreme when considering the state of the larger church or especially our own beloved congregation - it is for me - but the greater issue Dr. Sweet engages here and throughout FaithQuakes is the question of the church's faithfulness and trust in God to lead us through the desert days of our lives into future hope! To do a new thing - here and in the larger church - will mean believing in a God who historically and personally makes a way where there is no way.
In II Corinthians 1:18-22, our Epistle Lesson for today, the Apostle Paul presents Jesus Christ as God's "YES!" In Christ Jesus, our "yes" to God in Prayer meets God's "yes" to us in Christ. God's unambiguous affirmation is met by our unambiguous prayer offered in faith. God has done more than speak. God has acted and acted decisively in confirming the "yes" of the divine promises. We should not conclude that it was a begrudging "yes," a qualified "yes," or a muffled "yes." The "Yes" God gives us in Jesus Christ is an "Amen" a "So Be It" with an exclamation point! As God is uncompromising in his love and commitment to us, we must be uncompromising as we move into a yet unknown future!
In one of his final books, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community written in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. states, "Nothing could be more tragic than for people to live in these revolutionary times and fail to achieve the new attitudes and the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. (Found in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. p. 619). Dr. King goes on to retell Washington Irving's story of "Rip Van Winkle." What most people remember is that Rip slept for 20 years. But what people almost always overlook is that when he falls asleep the picture of King George III of England is on the sign outside the tavern. When he awakes the picture of George Washington, the first President of the United States is on the sign. He slept through one of the greatest revolutions the world has known.
But today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenges of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers (and sisters) or we will be forced to perish as fools. (Dr. King, Where Do we Go From Here, p. 620).
God is saying "Yes" to us as God said "yes" to the people of old! Whatever we face in our personal lives or this community's life, our God will make a way for us where there is no way. We must stay awake! We must not allow fear to shake our faithfulness!
The great "I AM" is saying to us: "I am about to do a new thing, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert!" (Is. 43:19). Amen! So be it!
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