“Just can’t remember…” – Sermon on Jeremiah 31 for Lent V

We’ve spent the past several weeks examining the various covenants God has made with us throughout history and what they say about our lives of discipleship. But we must always remember that our lives of discipleship are lived in response to God’s promise made to us. As disciples of Jesus, we don’t need to earn God’s love. God gifts his love to us, he graces us with his love in Jesus. This is so fundamental that sometimes it can be easy for us to pass over in an effort to overly complicate something. It can be difficult to accept that God simply loves us and that it’s out of our hands—there’s nothing we can or can’t do to influence that. But at the beginning and the end of the day, that’s the gospel truth. Our lives of discipleship are lived out in response to that truth—that God loves us no matter what.

Living in Christ, living out our baptismal calling, living as a disciple—however you want to speak of it, those are ways that we grow in understanding and appreciation of what God’s free, unmerited gift of love is for us. To know Christ is to know his benefits, and as we grow in Christ, we grow in knowledge and understanding of those benefits. Everything that lives and moves and has being has come into existence in, with, and through Jesus, and so nothing is apart from the love of God. For indeed, as we pray on Ash Wednesday, God hates nothing that he has made. Our lives in Christ, our lives of discipleship, are lived in response to that truth. But nothing can take it away from us. And so, as we go into the sermon today, I remind you once again that even as we are imperfect and fail, try though we might, God is faithful—not on our account, but on account of his unshakeable, unremitting, unyielding love for everything he has made, including you, me, and all people.

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

It’s a neurodegenerative condition that usually starts slowly and progressively worsens. The most common early symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events. It can have a significant effect on affected individuals, and on relationships with other people. You know what I’m talking about? It’s a condition, most commonly known by the acronym CRS, which stands for “Can’t remember…stuff”—you thought I was going to say another word, didn’t you? With time, the different symptoms of CRS become more marked. There’s also the early-onset CRS, sometimes referred to by its more technical name CRmS—“Can’t remember much stuff.” Whatever the case, those who suffer from CRS often can have problems with language, given to profane outbursts in frustration; disorientation marked by forgetting why they’ve come into a room; or general annoyance or apparent aloofness as they wrack their brains for something they know they know but just can’t remember in the moment. CRS, “Can’t remember stuff”—it’s something that many, many people the world over—in fact, everyone likely at one time or another—has to deal with. Some people just more than others…

“For I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.” These are the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, speaking for God, to the Jewish people in their exile in Babylon. We have to understand that one of the reasons that the Jewish people believed they’d landed themselves in exile under the Babylonians was that they hadn’t been faithful to the covenant God had made with them—the covenant of the law which we heard about two weeks ago. That moment, when God handed down the law at Mt. Horeb—we learned that that moment was the moment, the seminal, defining moment in the life of God’s chosen people. God delivers the Hebrew people from their slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt, and as a promise of their special status as God’s people, he gives them divine laws in a cloud of power, majesty, and awe, complete with lightning, thunder, and earthquake. “For what other great nation,” the Hebrews ask themselves after God gives them the law—“What other great nation has a god so near to them as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law?”

These laws that Moses brings down to the Hebrews become the foundation of life for the entire of the people of Israel, who later in their exile in Babylon become known as the Jews because of they came from Judah. When hardship of any nature befell the Israelites, they would often find themselves reassessing their faithfulness to the covenant of the law that God made with them—namely, the first and most important commandment, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” All the other commandments stem from this first one, which begins with the promise of God—“I am the Lord your God.”

It’s in forgetting this promise, and breaking the commandments, or perhaps more consequentially, not keeping the commandments that the Israelites turn their back on God and break the covenant. Jeremiah recalls this unfaithfulness and likens it to adultery in today’s lesson. “I made a covenant with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,” says the Lord. In the midst of their exile, Jeremiah reminds the Israelites—God reminds them that they are his chosen, special, beloved people and he has a covenant with them. And they haven’t been faithful to that covenant as they should be.

And yet—God is faithful. Even as God reminds the Jews in exile that they have forsaken their covenant made at the foot of Mt. Horeb on the plain of Sinai, God is once again promising to renew a covenant with his chosen, special, beloved people. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” It won’t be a repeat of the covenant he made with their ancestors who he delivered from Egypt. This is a brand-new covenant. God will put the law within them—write it on their hearts—and once again renew the original promise from the very first, most important commandment at Sinai, the commandment from which all the others proceed—to be their God. Added to that, God reinforces the promise by saying, “And you will be my people.”

That’s all well and good, but the fact of the matter remains that the Israelites were unfaithful, and God recalls that here. And he doesn’t recall it in the most glowing of terms. He, more or less, calls the whole Jewish people—his chosen, special, beloved people—a bunch of disloyal cheaters. They’ve been unfaithful, even as God has remained faithful. And so God does something beyond writing the law in their hearts. God promises them that their wrongs are forgiven, and what’s more, God will forget their sin. He’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them, make as if it never happened—obliterated.

Oblivion—the state of being forgotten, the state of being unaware or unconscious of something. Oblivion is one of those things that for us is hard to achieve when we set our mind to it, when we will it. Forgetting something isn’t something that we consciously choose to do. In fact, the more we try to forget something, the more we likely remember it. Forgetting something is more often than not something good—unless of course we want to forget it. And then we can’t. “For I do not do the good I want,” St. Paul writes, “but I do the very evil I do not want!” When something becomes long forgotten, we’ll say that it’s fallen into oblivion—into a state where no one remembers it anymore, forgotten, disregarded, ignored, left behind.

But still, with us, there’s that off chance that something can be remembered, that it’s not completely forgotten. Things might lie dormant for a time, but at some point, something might trigger us to recall a long-lost latent memory or someone might “re”-discover something that once was well known and had fallen into obscurity. But true oblivion, to be truly forgotten, as if something never existed, wiped clean off the slate of time—the more we consider it, that’s what it means to be removed from God’s memory—to be forgotten, disregarded, ignored, left behind by God. That’s what it means to be banished to hell. Removed eternally from God, separated from relationship with God.

And today, God promises his chosen, special, beloved people that their wrongs are forgiven, and what’s more, that he will forget their sin. Today, God not only promises the Jewish people in exile that their wrongs are forgiven and that their sins are forgotten, but God more importantly tells us, here at Emanuel in Fitchburg, that our wrongs are forgiven, and our sins are forgotten. God forgives our wrongs and banishes our sins to hell—to be truly forgotten, as if they never existed, wiped clean off the slate of time.

Every week, we hear those words God promises through Jeremiah come true for us when God becomes intimate with us—so intimate that he becomes incarnate, becomes body and blood, and is truly with us. Jesus, our Lord and our God, says: “This is my body, given for you”…“This cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of sins.”

This promise, this new covenant that God makes with his chosen, special, beloved people—this promise God makes with us—it’s not a repeat of the one made at Sinai. God writes the law on our hearts, the law of liberty, fulfilled in Jesus for our sake on the cross, inscribed on our foreheads and sealed by the will of the Holy Spirit when we die with Christ and rise again with him in baptism. In those waters, God declares, “I am your God, and you are my chosen, my special, my beloved child.” And every week we hear anew, afresh that for us and for salvation, God gave up everything to bring us into the fullness of life with him in his body given for us and his blood shed for us. That’s the new promise, the new covenant God makes with us as foretold by Jeremiah.

This covenant isn’t like the one at Mt. Horeb because in Jesus at the Mt. Golgotha, we are freed from the law’s harsh penalties. What other chosen, special, beloved people are so intimate with their God as our God is with us, always ready to listen to us, to be with us—even to die like us? And this new promise Jeremiah tells us God makes with us—that’s a testament, a witness to God’s love for us, a testament that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, not even long-long latent memories of past wrongs done, or sins committed.

Because of Jesus, God chooses to forget anything and everything that will stand in the way our full and abundant, our endless and faithful life with God. Because of Jesus, God can’t remember that stuff. God chooses to forget. No matter how much God might search his mind for our wrongs, for our sins, for whatever would separate us from his love—because of Jesus, God has chosen that he just can’t remember that stuff. God forgetting whatever stands in the way of our fullness of life with him is more than something good. It’s glorious, magnificent, and most of all, indescribably merciful and unforgettably gracious.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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