God’s Selective Memory

“God’s Selective Memory”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (31:34) – March 21, 2021

            One of my favorite Bible commentators – David Lose – attended a large family reunion about ten years ago. One of his cousins brought greetings from her father, David’s favorite uncle. Except – David’s uncle had dementia and was unable to attend the reunion. So, the elder man sent poignant, moving greetings to the gathered relatives: “Tell my family that, although I do not remember them, I still love them.” [1]

            This reminds me strongly of verse 34 from our Bible reading from Jeremiah: “I will forgive Israel’s sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken.” But, just a moment! The Lord – God Almighty, creator of the universe – says God will no longer remember Israel’s sins. Hold it! Does that mean that the Lord gets a huge case of amnesia?  

            We need to go further into the background of our Bible reading for today. The prophet reaches back into the past, into the time of the Covenant made at Mount Sinai – the covenant of the Ten Commandments, and the covenant inscribed by circumcision. That covenant was more of a transaction, intentional and holding by a sense of obligation.

            Do you know anyone who has a relationship built on obligation? Where things are built on transactions? I am thinking of someone I’ve known for a long time. Our relationship is very much a transaction. Quid pro quo. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours – and that’s all.

            There is no real joy in any relationship like this because of the give-and-take nature of the association. You don’t have friends, but simply contacts. If everything is based on dollars and cents, or on what an interaction is worth, or what you can squeeze out of the connection, the resulting relationship is not very joy-filled or full of life. Can you imagine a relationship with God being like that? Where a sober-faced angel in charge of Heavenly Accounts sits at a celestial desk, a number 2 pencil behind one ear, adding up the personal debits and credits each person accrued on some heavenly adding machine? Where would the joy be in that kind of life, where you constantly had to watch your p’s and q’s, lest you might be zapped by God’s lightning bolts?

            Many considered this the life based on the Mosaic Covenant, headed up by the Ten Commandments and continuing with 600 some laws in the Mosaic rule book. That “covenant was conditional and transactional, as stated bluntly in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. Both texts promise protection and blessing as the consequence of obedience, but judgment and ultimately exile as the consequence of disobedience.” [2] For some, this can be a particularly joy-less and somber transaction-filled life.

            We can see the main reason the people of Israel were taken out of the land and sent into exile: because the people broke the Covenant and the Mosaic laws time after time. That’s the big reason for the exile to Babylon. The book of Jeremiah prophecies to the returning Jews, coming back to the land of the Promise. The prophet mentions another Covenant – the New Covenant. The Mosaic and the Abrahamic Covenants did not work as well as everyone hoped.

            The prophet specifically says this new one is not like the old Covenant made at Mount Sinai, with Moses. But, different HOW?

            I can just imagine the prophet writing about the Lord, who gets frustrated and upset about the people of Israel forgetting about God’s mercy and lovingkindness yet again! And then, Israel ignoring God’s positive commands to come before God’s presence with offerings and singing, on a regular basis. Can you just imagine the Lord, doing a heavenly facepalm? “Oh, no! Good grief, I can’t believe you all are doing this over and over again?”

            Yet, just as David Lose reflected, this reading clearly describes the New Covenant, and “God’s intention to take the matter of Israel’s relationship with God fully into God’s own hands.” [3] The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth put it this way: “‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts’ (Jeremiah 31:33). It is the very heart of us, the seat of each of us as emotional beings that God wants to be near! Not the part that is obligated, or the part of us that grudgingly follows the rules.

Yes, David Lose has bittersweet memories; he can remember a beloved uncle with a quick wit, and deep and generous wisdom, slowly sliding into dementia – which is very scary. But, right here in this reading from chapter 34, God says that God forgets. Could it be that God has forgotten our sins? Your sins and mine? Or, is that too much to hope for?

The nation of Israel can’t forget what it’s like to NOT trust God. They can’t forget running to other gods and idols and customs their more powerful neighbors held. And most of all, Israel can’t forget their inexcusable pattern of faithlessness. Is it any wonder that Israel seems hopeless and helpless in the face of forgetting? Or, perhaps, not forgetting?  

            “And so God does what Israel cannot: God forgets. In response to their failure, God refuses to recognize it. In response to their infidelity, God calls them faithful. In response to their sin and brokenness and very real wretchedness, God’s memory has to be pushed and prodded to find any recollection. God forgets.” [4]

            That is truly a blessing for those of us who sin on a regular basis – that is, ALL of us. Thanks be to God that God lovingly chooses to forget our sins. And as Psalm 103 tells us, as far as the east is from the west, so far does the Lord remove our sins from us. Praise God! Thank You, Jesus. Amen, amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/love-and-memory

“Love and Memory,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-jeremiah-3131-34-17

[3] Lose, David, ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Without Hesitation

“Without Hesitation”

Heb 10-23 He who promised is faithful words

Hebrews 10:19 – November 15, 2015

Who here knows the words of the Apostles Creed? Who studied the Apostles Creed before they were confirmed? I know I did. I studied Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, and went over every part of the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Apostles Creed.

Today, we are going to take a closer look at the whys and wherefores of two phrases from the Apostles Creed: “He—Jesus—ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” You—I—all of us have been saying these words for years and years. It’s a part of our church culture. But, what do these words really mean? “Where is Jesus now?

We are departing from the Gospel of Mark. I’ve been preaching from Mark for the last two months. We have been following Jesus through His discussions with the Jewish leaders about all kinds of aspects of the proper religious life. Today, we make a big jump forward, to the New Testament passage from the letter to the Hebrews. This is after the Resurrection, after the book of Acts, and the Apostles have now been sent out into the world to tell all people about the risen Jesus, and about God’s love and forgiveness of their sins.

This letter to the Hebrews is a circulating letter. That means it and other circulating letters were sent from place to place in Asia Minor, so the small, struggling churches could receive encouragement and teaching in writing from the Apostles and other new church leaders. This particular letter was sent to Jews who lived a long way from Jerusalem. In essence, ex-pat Jews.

To give us some further background into this week’s reading, “This week’s text [from Hebrews] draws together the argument the author of this letter began six chapters ago, namely that Jesus is God’s final and ultimate High Priest. The author can point to the model of Israel’s priests to explain what Jesus does, but His priesthood differs in several fundamental respects. Beginning in verse 11 the author reiterates those differences once again.” [1]

What about those Old Testament priests in the Temple in Jerusalem, anyhow? They needed to keep on sacrificing animals over and over and over again. Why? The people of Israel had a Sin Problem. The priests had to keep sacrificing to cover the Sin Problem, to make it better. To atone for the sins of the whole people. And no matter how hard they worked, or how many animals they sacrificed, or how much they prayed to God, it was never enough. There was always more sin. The nation of Israel and all the individuals in Israel had a Sin Problem.

I know when my mother had a houseful of guests (usually several of her grown children all at once), she would try and try to keep the kitchen clean, the kitchen sink empty of dishes, and the bathroom ready and clean for anyone who needed to use it. Except—there were always so many people in the house. There was always more dirt. More mess. More dirty dishes. It seemed like it would never end! (Except, it periodically did when everyone went to their own homes, in the case of my mom’s house.)

How many people can relate to this example? Dirt, mess, dirty dishes and black marks in a crowded house never end. Just so, in the case of the priests and the sacrifices for sins that everyone commits, the Sin Problem never ends. For real! Never, ever! People are sinful. They keep doing and saying and thinking things that go against God’s laws, and sin never goes away. All the sacrifices ever brought before God could never make one dent in the Sin Problem.

When we look at our passage from Hebrews again, what do we read? Quoting from our scripture today, “As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it!

What was that again?

Jesus Christ was the perfect High Priest. He was a better High Priest than any other of the priests throughout history who ever offered animal sacrifices to God at the Temple. What Jesus did for us on the cross (and I’m quoting again) “… was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, He did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process.”

The whole repetitive process of endless animal sacrifice? Jesus came and broke that process. He ended it. He made that process obsolete, not necessary any more. Instead, Jesus and His death for us on the cross reaches way beyond animal sacrifice.

What’s more, Jesus our High Priest makes the perfect sacrifice once for all time. And then, He sits down. What about those other priests, the ones who continually stand and keep offering the imperfect animal sacrifices for all those centuries? From the Message, again: “As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then [Jesus] sat down right beside God and waited for His enemies to cave in.”

At first glance, some people might think that Jesus did not finish His work as High Priest. But, that is just the point! He did finish the work. The other priests had to continue to stand, because they had to continue to offer sacrifice after sacrifice on a daily basis. Because of the Sin Problem that just wouldn’t go away. Jesus did complete the perfect sacrifice. His sacrifice brought perfect, complete forgiveness of sins. Jesus was all done, and He sat down. The Sin Problem went away, once and for all.

But, wait! There’s more! Jesus doesn’t just sit down any old place. On any old bench, or in somebody’s creaky rocking chair. No. He takes a seat at the right hand of God. A place of great power and great authority. Jesus—the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, incarnated by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary—Jesus takes the number one seat in all of the universe, next to God the Father. The resurrected Lord Jesus is God the Father’s right hand man. It says so, right in our scripture text from Hebrews today.

To finish our passage from verses 19 and 20, “So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of His sacrifice, acting as our priest before God.”

I want everyone to notice that all the pronouns here are plural. That means we—all of us together—can have confidence. We—all of us—can walk right up to God. We can come into God’s presence and boldly bring our requests to God. As I say in our weekly pastoral prayers, we—all of us have free access to God. Not like the Jewish people before the time of Jesus, who were still dealing with the Sin Problem and still needed an intermediary between them and God. But because Jesus, our perfect High Priest, has cleared the way. Jesus has invited us to come. We are very welcome to enter into God’s presence!

Do you have a better understanding now of those two phrases from the Apostles Creed? “He—Jesus—ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

This section from the letter to the Hebrews answers our questions about “where is Jesus now?”  The risen Jesus is with God and is Lord!

Do you have the confidence that your Sin Problem is taken care of? Do you dare accept the invitation that Jesus extends to us? Can we grasp that assurance that God welcomes us? This scripture passage clearly lets us know about that boldness. That “free confidence,” grounded on the consciousness that our sins have been forgiven.

As I say every week after the Confession of Sins and the Assurance of Pardon, believe the Good News of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=142 Commentary on Hebrews 10:11-25 by Amy L. B. Peeler.

(Thanks to Amy for several ideas I wove into this sermon!)

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!