Nehemiah 9:9-15 – Memory and Confession

“You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea. You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees, and laws through your servant Moses. In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them. (NIV)

Memory is precious and valuable. Having once worked as a chaplain in a memory care unit, I can testify that Alzheimer’s and dementia are tragic. The residents and patients for whom I interacted with were wonderful people. They just did not remember much – even their own names, sometimes. It is especially hard for family members. Spouses, children, grandchildren, and friends still remember – and, at times, not being remembered by this person they love is a deep sadness.

I wonder if this is the same kind of sadness which God felt. Having delivered his people from Egyptian bondage and sending them to the Promised Land, over the generations the people of God eventually forgot. With their memories far from them, the people lapsed into living as if they no longer knew who they were anymore.

To make a long biblical story short, God’s people were taken from their homes and exiled to Babylon. Yet, God still remembered them even though many of them forgot him. God sent Ezra the teacher and Nehemiah the leader to remind the people and help make the memories stick.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, we pick up Ezra and Nehemiah’s teaching and leading of the people in a collective and prayerful confession of their sins. At the heart of it all was a failed memory of God’s deliverance. Unlike Alzheimer’s and dementia folks who do not choose their condition, and who experience memory issues through no fault of their own, God’s people allowed themselves to forget.

The people needed to come back to remembrance and recall the mighty acts of God on their behalf in history. Those memories were meant to serve the people well, to enable them to always live by faith and trust in a benevolent God’s all-seeing care.

The path to renewal always begins with awareness and memory.

So, then, that is why Jews remember the Sabbath and the Passover. That is why Christians memorialize the death of Jesus through Holy Communion. We are to always remember the redemptive events of God in bringing us from bondage to liberation.

We can only know where we are going if we are served with full cognitive abilities of memory and history. For the Christian, a failure to remember inevitably leads to a failure of faith. And an ignorance of history will only lead us to an exile of the soul, putting us at risk of listening to hucksters who claim knowledge, but who themselves suffer from major memory issues.

Memory and remembrance are beautiful things, that is, when we have wonderful things to remember. Even traumatic events need to be remembered – not for experiencing re-traumatization – but to unburden the spirit of its heavy weight, and to bring a loving God’s healing power to bear on those memories.

Confessional prayer helps us to do just that: Acknowledge the past, receive grace in the present, and have direction and hope for the future. God still desires to take us from cruel bondage and bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey.

Recollection brings awareness; and awareness allows us the power to make choices of faith, hope, and love.

Blessed heavenly Father, we come to you in remembrance that our Lord Jesus Christ was sent from you into the world to assume our flesh and blood and to fulfill for us all obedience to the divine law, even to the bitter and shameful death of the cross. By Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension he established a new and eternal covenant of grace and reconciliation that we might be accepted and never forsaken nor forgotten by you. Most righteous God, we remember the perfect sacrifice offered once on the cross by our Lord Jesus for the sin of the whole world. In the joy of his resurrection and in expectation of his coming again, we offer ourselves to you as holy and living sacrifices. Amen.

Revelation 3:1-6 – Remember

Sardis
Ruins from the ancient city of Sardis, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia, in present day western Turkey.

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (NIV)

When Christians think of biblical epistles (letters) to churches, the Apostle Paul might immediately come to mind. Yet, contained within the first three chapters of Revelation are seven succinct letters to seven different churches.  What makes these short bursts of exhortation so powerful is that they come from Jesus himself.  Yes, that Jesus – the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church.  So, it seems to me that Christ’s observations about the church carry more weight than anybody else’s thoughts.

And the thoughts of Christ were about how far the church was from completing the work of God. So, Jesus gave a pointed admonition, almost like a parent trying to awaken a teenager in the morning. “Wake up!” said Jesus because he found the church’s obedience incomplete and lacking strength. If this were the Apostle Paul talking, he would likely have framed it this way: “You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Our Lord went directly to the heart of the church’s life… that is, death.  The stark reality is that these statements from Jesus remain penetrating and relevant for today’s church. So, what is to be done about the situation of spiritual death and dryness in the church?  Jesus did not leave the church hanging but in a few compact words let them know exactly what they are to do to remedy their spiritual malady: Remember. Obey. Repent.

The Seven Churches of Asia - York Minster
The Seven Churches of Asia, stained glass window in York Minster, England.

Sometimes, if not many times, we may tend to forget the things we need to remember and remember the things we are to forget. We are to follow God in his pattern of remembering and forgetting. God has said:

I wipe away your sins because of who I am. And so, I will forget the wrongs you have done. (Isaiah 43:25, CEV)

I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins. (Jeremiah 31:34, CEB)

I will forget their sins and never again remember the evil they have done. (Hebrews 10:17, ERV)

When it comes to those who have wronged us, we are to emulate God’s grace, mercy, and kindness through forgiveness. To “forget” does not mean performing a personal lobotomy but simply not to hold an offense against another by continually bringing it to mind. On the other hand, God remembers his promises to his people. Likewise, we are to constantly bear in mind what God has put before us to remember:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, NRSV)

We are to have an abiding remembrance of the Lord Jesus, the very person who spoke to the church hundreds of years ago. It is in those times when we become distressed that we must center our memory on Christ:

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. (Hebrews 12:2, GW)

Remembering Jesus Christ sets us on the path to fulfilling the work of God and completing that which has been given us to do. This is precisely why I choose to follow the Church Year and remember time by having it centered around the life and ministry of Jesus.

Always think about Jesus Christ. He was brought back to life and is a descendant of David. This is the Good News that I tell others. (2 Timothy 2:8, GW)

I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NLT)

Let us remember together in prayer:

Awesome Lord Jesus, your words penetrate to the core my being.  Strengthen me by the continuing presence of yourself through the Holy Spirit so that my every thought, word, and deed is done in your holy Name. Kindle in my heart a vision of your love and shine the light of your victory over sin, death, and hell over this dark world. Continually take me to yourself; keep me in your wounds and mindful of your presence so that I shall fulfill all the will of God for my life through your divine enabling. Amen.

Psalm 105:1-11 – Remember

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Give thanks to the Lord and pray to him.
Tell the nations what he has done.
Sing to him; sing praises to him.
Tell about all his miracles.
Be glad that you are his;
let those who seek the Lord be happy.
Depend on the Lord and his strength;
always go to him for help.
Remember the miracles he has done;
remember his wonders and his decisions.
You are descendants of his servant Abraham,
the children of Jacob, his chosen people.
He is the Lord our God.
His laws are for all the world.

He will keep his agreement forever;
he will keep his promises always.
He will keep the agreement he made with Abraham
and the promise he made to Isaac.
He made it a law for the people of Jacob;
he made it an agreement with Israel to last forever.
The Lord said, “I will give you the land of Canaan,
and it will belong to you.” (NCV)

I have a daily habit of reading the psalms. There are two reasons I do this: first, the psalms are the church’s prayer book; and, second, I need their reminders – a lot! Remembering is a major theme throughout the entirety of Holy Scripture.  Part of our human condition, fallen and forgetful as we are, is to lose sight of what has taken place in the past.  Today’s psalm invites us to seek the Lord through remembering all the good and wonderful works he has done.

For Israel, remembering means never forgetting Passover and keeping it on the front burners of their minds.  God redeemed his people out of Egyptian slavery and into a good Promised Land.  They were to always remember God’s miracle through the Red Sea, his protection over them from other nations, and his provision of food and necessities in the desert.

We are to remember because God remembers. The Lord has an ongoing reminder in his divine day timer: fulfill the promises I made; keep the covenant I initiated with the people, even when they are stinkers and forget who I am.

God does not forget. He keeps his promises. For the Christian, all God’s promises are remembered and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Deliverance from sin, death, and hell; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and, ongoing presence and provision are given to us graciously and freely by the God who loves and cares for his people.  For Christians everywhere, remembering means coming to the Lord’s Table, entering into the once of for all loving sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

One of the reasons I write and journal about my life and Scripture is to remember.  Sometimes I forget.  There are times when I become overwhelmed with life and it feels as if God has forgotten me.  In such times, I look back into my journal and see what God has done.  And then I peer into the psalms and see that God is active in his big world, always attentive to working what is just, right, and good in his people.

May your journey with Jesus cause you to remember his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, and his ascension and glory for us who believe. And may you continually have Christ before you, at the forefront of your mind as well as deep in your heart.

We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts.

Living, now we remain with Jesus, the Christ.

Once we were people afraid, lost in the night.

Then, by your cross, we were saved;

dead became living, life from your giving.

Something which we have known, something we’ve touched,

what we have seen with our eyes;

this we have heard; life-giving Word.

He chose to give of himself, become our bread.

Broken that we might live.

Love beyond love, pain for our pain.

We are the presence of God; this is our call.

Now to become bread and wine; food for the hungry, life for the weary,

for to live with the Lord, we must die with the Lord. – “Now We Remain” by David Haas

Genesis 9:8-17 – I Will Remember

Rainbow

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So, God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (NIV)

The older I get the less I remember.  I tell my older parishioners when they have a “senior moment” that they have a lot more to remember from a lifetime of experiences and memories than everyone else does. My memory is now such that, if I do not write stuff down, it likely will not happen. On some level, I’m sure you can relate. We all have the common human experience of being forgetful.

Even though God is old, I don’t believe he has a problem with remembering. Yet, even God puts reminders in front of himself to remember. Most people, whether knowing much about the Bible, or not, are familiar with the story of Noah. You remember the story. The world was evil.  God decided to destroy the creatures of the earth because humanity was rife with wickedness. God sent a flood, but spared Noah and his family. Afterward, God made a covenant between himself and all the earth: He would never again send a calamitous flood, stating, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you.”

Maybe memory has less to do with actual forgetfulness and more with priority, commitment, and keeping something continually in front of us.  God did not set a rainbow in the sky because he was worried about a senior moment someday; he put a sign in the sky because having symbols that point to significant events are important, even for God.  We put pictures of our kids on our desks not because we will forget what they look like, but to keep them in front of us throughout the day because we love them.  We keep tokens from travels or vacations in prominent places at home not because we will ever forget the experience, but because something significant happened or was decided in that time that was important to us.

The objects and symbols we place around us have significance. Our predilection for having objective symbols comes from bearing the image and likeness of God. And, in some sense, we are all living icons, flesh and blood reminders of God’s creative work. When we choose to use our bodies and minds for good, we are living into our original design and tapping into the wondrous image within.

God wants us to remember – the Word of God, divine actions of old, and, most of all, the Son, which is why we have tangible symbols of bread and cup to remember the redemptive events of Jesus. Christ is to be continually in front of us, our priority, and our love as we live from day to day.

Soli Deo Gloria

Gracious God, you have made covenants with your people to remember and be committed to them.  I desire to remember you in everything I do and say, especially the Lord Jesus who loved me and gave himself for me so that my priorities will reflect your goodness, and your mercy will be shown. May I continually remember: churches everywhere throughout your world, that they may proclaim the risen Lord; creation, that the people of the earth may meet their responsibility to care; those in despair and darkness, that they may find the hope and light of Christ; and, those forgotten by others, but not forgotten by you; through Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.