Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 – Being Confident

Our Lord, I will sing
    of your love forever.
Everyone yet to be born
    will hear me praise
    your faithfulness.
I will tell them,
“God’s love
    can always be trusted,
    and his faithfulness lasts
    as long as the heavens.”

You said, “David, my servant,
    is my chosen one,
    and this is the agreement
    I made with him:
David, one of your descendants
    will always be king….”

In a vision, you once said
    to your faithful followers:
“I have helped a mighty hero.
    I chose him from my people
    and made him famous.
David, my servant, is the one
    I chose to be king,
    and I will always be there
    to help and strengthen him.

No enemy will outsmart David,
    and he won’t be defeated
    by any hateful people.
I will strike down and crush
    his troublesome enemies.
He will always be able
    to depend on my love,
    and I will make him strong
    with my own power.
I will let him rule the lands
    across the rivers and seas.
He will say to me,
‘You are my Father
    and my God,
    as well as the mighty rock
    where I am safe.’” (CEV)

I wonder where the world places its confidence. I also sometimes wonder where the church places her confidence. Poverty, injustice, starvation, human rights violations, and war have existed throughout time. We all recognize these and the awful problems they are for so many people. It is, however, quite another thing when it comes to our confidence in addressing them and how they will ever be eradicated.

If we view these great humanitarian issues as a matter of ignorance, we will pursue education as the means of tackling them. If we discern them as political issues, we will seek to elect officials who will take them on, and we will lobby to make things different. If we understand them as moral issues, we will agitate for change and speak prophetically into what we believe to be the sources of the problems. In truth, each of these approaches have merit and are necessary components to a full orbed attention of their multifaceted and complicated nature.

For the pious and devout, the ultimate confidence comes in basic faith and trust of the Divine. God’s faithfulness and steadfast love are the solid foundation from which the believer constructs her hope and confidence.

The psalmist is not one bit bashful in reminding God of divine promises. God swore to King David that his descendants would rule forever. At the time the psalmist crafted these words, it was not looking much like those promises were having any attention from the Lord.

The David spoken of in the psalm is interpreted in the Christian tradition as Jesus. King David of old was certainly no perfect man, and the psalmist presents an idealized version, looking ahead to messianic qualities of a coming Ruler. Those qualities include a concern for the common good of all persons without striving for personal power or being aloof; and an ability to be victorious over foes.

Advent, much like today’s Psalm, calls on people to rely upon and have confidence in divine promises – even when those promises seem far from being realized. It is the trust and hope of the faithful which perseveres in prayer for a coming redemption and a day when wars shall cease, the rights of people are thoroughly met, starvation eradicated, injustice turned to justice, and poverty done away with once for all. In other words, a sinless world free from the machinations of evil.

It is no small thing holding on to our confidence as believers when circumstances all around us are askew and askance. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews had this to say to a struggling church who had a hard time seeing future promises fulfilled:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,

“In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.”

And,

“But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.”

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:32-39, NIV)

We keep going by remembering God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, and our past joy of committed faith. Then, like psalmist, we allow a song to bubble up and be sung about divine goodness. Never underestimate the power of memory and music to keep us on track toward living each day in faith and confidence.

May you be able to sing of God’s love forever.

May you give voice to God’s faithfulness.

May you express daily affirmations of faith in God.

May you bank on the promises of God.

May your faith be strengthened for the rigors of this life.

May your hope overflow.

May the love of God work in and through you to the glory of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I Could Sing of Your Love Forever by Encounter Worship Band.

Joshua 4:1-24 – Remembrance

When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Pick twelve men from the people, one man per tribe. Command them, ‘Pick up twelve stones from right here in the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests had been firmly planted. Bring them across with you and put them down in the camp where you are staying tonight.’”

Joshua called for the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one man per tribe. Joshua said to them, “Cross over into the middle of the Jordan, up to the Lord your God’s chest. Each of you, lift a stone on his shoulder to match the number of the tribes of the Israelites. This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you will tell them that the water of the Jordan was cut off before the Lord’s covenant chest. When it crossed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan was cut off. These stones will be an enduring memorial for the Israelites.”

The Israelites did exactly what Joshua ordered. They lifted twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, matching the number of the tribes of the Israelites, exactly as the Lord had said to Joshua. They brought them over to the camp and put them down there. Joshua also set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan where the feet of the priests had stood while carrying the covenant chest. They are still there today.

Meanwhile, the priests carrying the chest were standing in the middle of the Jordan. They stood there until every command that the Lord had ordered Joshua to tell the people had been carried out. This was exactly what Moses had commanded Joshua. The people crossed over quickly. As soon as all the people had finished crossing, the Lord’s chest crossed over. The priests then moved to the front of the people. The people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh crossed over, organized for war ahead of the Israelites, exactly as Moses had told them. Approximately forty thousand armed for war crossed over in the Lord’s presence to the plains of Jericho, ready for battle. The Lord made Joshua great in the opinion of all Israel on that day. So, they revered him in the same way that they had revered Moses during all his life.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Command the priests carrying the chest containing the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.”

So, Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up from the Jordan.” The priests carrying the Lord’s covenant chest came up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of their feet touched dry ground. At that moment, the water of the Jordan started flowing again. It ran as before, completely over its banks. The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month. They camped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.

Joshua set up at Gilgal those twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask their parents, ‘What about these stones?’ Then you will let your children know: ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ This was because the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you until you crossed over. This was exactly what the Lord your God did to the Reed Sea. He dried it up before us until we crossed over. This happened so that all the earth’s peoples might know that the Lord’s power is great and that you may always revere the Lord your God.” (CEB)

I like coffee. I like coffee mugs. I like buying a coffee mug from places I visit. Although it drives my wife nuts, the mugs serve as a continual reminder of a certain place or event I have experienced. As we journey with the Israelites in the Old Testament book of Joshua, we experience with them the significant places and events of their taking the Promised Land. God did a miraculous work by causing the Jordan River to congeal so that the Israelites could cross over on dry ground in entering the land.  Once they were across on the other side, God instructed them to take twelve stones, one for each tribe, and pile them up together.

Crossing Over the Jordan River by Yoram Raanan

The purpose of the heap of twelve stones is made clear in the story and had a twofold purpose: to educate future generations inside Israel that God kept the promise to bring them into a land of abundance; and, to educate those outside Israel that God is mighty.

It is important to be tethered to the past and aware of why and how we are here. Yet, there are many families and faith communities in which the children know little about how God worked in previous generations. So, having tangible reminders of God’s past actions serves everyone to remember, and especially enables children to know the past actions of God. Just as people ask me about why I have certain coffee mugs, so having reminders of God’s grace in prominent visible places serves to aid kids and others to ask why those mementos are there.

It is good to have reminders of faith and the faithful people who influenced us around our homes, places of work, and communities so that others may know the redemptive acts of God, that the Lord keeps promises. And it is a whole lot more important than a coffee mug.

Almighty God, we praise and magnify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in faith and patience. May we remember them and their service well. We humbly pray that, at the day of resurrection, we and all who are members of the mystical body of your Son may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen

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.