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!

Cheerful Givers

“Cheerful Givers”

2 Corinthians 9:7-12 (9:7) – November 15, 2020

            Have you started thinking about Thanksgiving yet? Thoughts of Thanksgiving turkeys full of seasoned stuffing, mashed potatoes heaped high, creamy green bean casserole and tangy cranberry sauce bring sure-fire memories to many, many people at this generous, giving-time of the year. Except – will anything like an ordinary Thanksgiving celebration be possible this year? Can anything save this beloved holiday from the ravages of this pandemic and the stress and anxiety that seem to accompany it at every turn?

            Yet – with all the personal trials and tribulations that were continuing to happen to the apostle Paul, how could he even focus on generosity? Just two short chapters after today’s reading, in chapter 11, Paul talks about the dozens of times he was beaten, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked, and repeatedly denied freedom of religion. Yes, I suspect Paul had a close acquaintance with stress, fear and anxiety. Perhaps he did not allow them to take root and settle down in his head and heart, but I suspect Paul knew these deep feelings pretty well.

What did the apostle Paul write just before our reading for today? In the paragraphs before today’s reading, Paul asks for a collection to be gathered together. This collection of money is to be given to the persecuted, needy church in Jerusalem. The Christian friends in Jerusalem certainly knew what it was like to be in distress, too! It’s then Paul tells more about giving. How to give, and why. How not to give, too.  

            Of course we are preoccupied. Many things are on people’s minds. Not only the coronavirus, and public health, but stress, uncertainty and political upheaval. Is there any reason stress, fear and anxiety would NOT be running rampant in the United States today?

            Who can possibly turn our minds to giving and generosity, with so much going on in our lives? How can each of us follow this command from God to give generously? Paul would remind us that many, many Christians in his day had lots of things going on in their personal lives, too. Many were truly persecuted in a way that would make our skin crawl; many were in trouble with the imperial forces and government, too. Yet – Paul praised his former church members for remembering the faithful believers in Jerusalem – sending them a much needed financial gift.

            There is a clear difference between certain people who give freely and generously, and other people who give like their arms are twisted behind their backs – out of a matter of grudging obligation. And oh! Can we tell the difference!  

            We have a proverb of Paul’s day included here, in verse 6: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Here Paul uses a common saying of the day to illustrate his point. Talking about bounty, about being generous, and about grudging giving out of obligation—being stingy.

            Do you know someone who is really stingy? Someone who is really pained to spend even one dollar of his or her own money? When I was young, there was an older man in our neighborhood who was exactly like this. So stingy he would creak when he walked. So stingy he couldn’t think of putting a penny in a Salvation Army kettle at the holidays.

            I suspect all of us know a tight-fisted person like this. Not at all the generous, open-handed way of giving that the Lord Jesus models for us. God never gives out of an attitude of grudging obligation, and neither should we.

            As each person purposes – or decides in their own heart, that is why we are to give. Did you ever think of giving because you want to give and because God has put it in your heart to give? To give out of the pure joy of giving? Paul had churchgoers remember the church – by sending a much needed financial gift.

One of my acquaintances knew a stingy old woman. So stingy, she would cut coupons and live on the bare minimum in her tiny house. But, she surprised us all after she died. Her will left $50 million dollars to Monmouth College. She never experienced the joy of giving away that money. She never experienced Thanks-GIVING. Don’t miss the joy of giving.
            Our giving “reveals the purposes in our own heart. “If we say we love the Lord more than surfing, but spend all our money on surfboards and do not give as we should to the Lord’s work, then the way we spend our money shows the purposes of our own heart more accurately than our words do. Jesus said it simply: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’” [1]

But, wait! If we have this generous attitude towards giving, being open-handed, positive and cheerful, then God will bless us abundantly with every blessing. Isn’t a warm heart and abundant blessings what we all really want?

What a marvelous promise. What wonderful words. And, this is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” but it is a blessed promise from God! This is not only for our gifts of treasure, for our gifts of money. This blessing is for our gifts of time and of talents, as well.

For the person who comes and volunteers on Sunday mornings to start the coffee, sets out the bulletins, does the pandemic safety checks, or turns on the lights in the sanctuary—thank you. For the person who bakes a cake or makes a table decoration or repairs the church building—thank you. These are the gifts of time and of talent, and God is so pleased with that, too. God is pleased with whatever gifts you sincerely, truly offer with all your heart.

Alleluia, amen!


[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-2Cr/2Cr-9.cfm

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!