October 10, 2021

Forgetting and Remembering

Passage: Deuteronomy 24:10-22, Mark 16:15-18, Matthew 6:25-34

A couple in their late eighties are both having problems remembering things. During a checkup, the doctor tells them that they're physically okay, but they might want to start writing things down to help them remember.
Later that night, while watching TV, the old man gets up from his chair. 'Want anything while I'm in the kitchen?' he asks.
'Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?'
'Don't you think you should write it down so you can remember it?' she asks.
'No, I can remember it.'
'Well, I'd like some strawberries on top, too. Maybe you should write it down, so as not to forget it?'
He says, 'I can remember that. You want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries.'
'I'd also like whipped cream. I'm certain you'll forget that, write it down?' she asks.
Irritated, he says, 'I don't need to write it down, I can remember it! Ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream - I got it, for goodness sake!'
Then he toddles into the kitchen. After about 20 minutes, the old man returns from the kitchen and hands his wife a plate of bacon and eggs. She stares at the plate for a moment and says:
“I told you, you would forget. You forgot the toast.”

It’s a joke, but it has some poignancy in it for me as well, because my memory isn’t quite what it used to be.

I used to be really good at Jeopardy, not good enough to really win a lot of money, but sometimes I will know about 25 percent of the answers and occasionally up to 50 percent of the answers…

But the last couple of years it’s been. I know the answer but I just can’t get it out of my brain. Sometimes in final jeopardy I pause the tv so I can have a couple of minutes to think and remember. Even then I sometimes can’t get it out of my brain.

Or I tell somebody about a book I read and forget the author, or there is some other thing I want to tell you but I can’t remember it. It comes to me the next day.

I have forgotten where my glasses are and found them on my head.
I have gone downstairs to get something and come up with something else entirely.

I have to write all my appointments down.

Oh, it could be that I have a billion things stored in my brain and its harder to find for me than it is for a 20 year old who only has a million things stored in their brain.

Or it could be that my brain is wearing out from all that thinking about sermons I have done in the last fourty years.

Or most likely, it could be that advancing age is having a deleterious effect on my memory.

It has on my mother. I haven’t been able to see her in the last 2 and a half years because of Covid and the last two and a half years has not been good on her memory.

She called me the other day and part way during the conversation she stopped and asked who I was. She had forgotten which one of her sons she had called.
She can remember her three sons, but not the names of her grandchildren or great grandchildren, nor how many there are or whom their partners are etc.

One of the things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving is the strength and courage and love and sacrifices of my mother, but I am losing a little bit of her every day.
She cannot remember.

And Thanksgiving has a real memory component.

Thanksgiving is not only remembering to say thank you.
It is remembering all the mighty acts of God in your life.

It is remembering all the people who have touched your life with love and grace.
It is remembering what and who gives your life meaning.

It is remembering the little things that mean so much.
Like Breathing
Like Laughing.
Like Stories.
Family dinners.
The first time your grandchild called you “Grandad” or Grandma or Opa, or Oma or Pappa or Nanna or whatever.
It is remembering your favourite bit of music, or your favourite meal, or your favourite book, or your favourite movie.
It is that remembering your favourite walk in the woods.
Or that first car you owned, or the first new car you ever owned.
Or your first house.
Or your first job.
Or your wedding day, or your 50th anniversary.

And being overwhelmed with thanks and gratitude for life and living, for love and joy.

And these are some of the traditional things we think about and remember on a thanksgiving…

But I want us to think about and remember our faith today.
And I am going to do that by remembering two scriptures that most people do not remember, that many of you may not have read, or not read that many times. A couple of scriptures I don’t think appear in the lectionary.

And the first is from the end of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16 beginning at vs 17. I quote:
17 Believers will be given the power to perform miracles: they will drive out demons in my name; they will speak in strange tongues; 18 if they pick up snakes or drink any poison, they will not be harmed; they will place their hands on sick people, and these will get well.”

It is an interesting passage of scripture for a number reasons, not the least of which, it is debated whether this is actually scripture.
This is at the end of Mark’s gospel. In the King James Version, it is included, but in more modern versions either it is not included or it is there with something like this in brackets: (another old version) or maybe (the longer ending of Mark)

You see since the King James was written, finished in 1611, other manuscripts were found, older than the ones used in translating the King James version, and they have a shorter ending to Mark’s gospel.

Be that as it may, I included this reading, because when it comes to Thanksgiving Sunday that is what a lot of people wish their faith was about. They wish it was about miracles and power and signs and wonders.
They wish they would be healed from all ills, and that they would be immune to all danger. They wish they would have miraculous powers and their faith would be incontrovertible and God would be beyond doubt.

And there are churches who speak a lot about that kind of thing. Power and Miracles and Protection and Faith that moves mountains.

And for some of us, myself too some days, that is a God one could really be thankful for…

But what happens when you are sick, or have cancer, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, or your loved one drops dead of a heart attack..
Or what if people are really mean to you, and what if you grew up in an abusive home, or you are a victim or racism or some other prejudice…

The reality is for most people, is that even if you have a wonderful experience of God, or God has done something mighty in your life….
It isn’t Hakuna mutata “no worries for the rest of your days.”

For many people there are financial difficulties, emotional difficulties, health difficulties, relationships difficulties, times of spiritual despair or doubt…

So, on a Thanksgiving while it is always easy to find something to be thankful for, some of us are going through some difficult times.

People I know lost a child recently. A friend from PEI died of a heart attack on the golf course last week.
It might be hard to be thankful if you think that faith is about God looking after all your problems, and you still have problems
There are people who are looking for that kind of faith, but I am not sure that is the faith that Jesus offers.

Compare that earlier scripture about taking up poisonous snakes and healing and miracles with this scripture.
10 “When you lend someone something, do not go into his house to get the garment he is going to give you as security; 11 wait outside and let him bring it to you himself. 12 If he is poor, do not keep it overnight; 13 return it to him each evening, so that he can have it to sleep in.
14 “Do not cheat poor and needy hired servants, whether they are Israelites or foreigners living in one of your towns. 15 Each day before sunset pay them for that day's work; they need the money and have counted on getting it.
19 “When you gather your crops and forget to bring in some of the grain that you have cut, do not go back for it; it is to be left for the foreigners, orphans, and widows
When you have picked your olives once, do not go back and get those that are left; they are for the foreigners, orphans, and widows.

These are not scriptures about what you are going to get. These are not scriptures about the amazing things that God is going to do to do to make you happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.
This is not the faith that moves mountains.
This is the kind of faith that moves you to be there for others.
This is a different kind of faith.

Respecting the dignity of the poor. Paying labourers the same day. Leaving fruits and vegetables in the field for those less fortunate.

In fact, some of them are kind archaic by today’s standards.
Bank don’t use clothes for collateral. They take houses and cars and GIC’s for collateral.

But thousands of years ago, sometimes the most valuable thing a person had was their coat. And sometimes people took that coat as collateral on a loan.
And sometimes that coat was the thing that kept them warm at night, sleeping in a tent, or even outside.
So, the instruction was that if the person was poor, give them the coat back at night to keep them warm.

And don’t go in the house, but wait outside. What’s that about? It is about dignity for the poor. It is about treating them as equals. It is about them controlling the situation and not you the wealthy one controlling the situation.

This little passage of scripture with its archaic commands about how to treat people, especially the poor, I believe came into existence as the basic social safety net of society broke down in ancient Israel.

That basic social safety net was family. It was kin. It was extended family. It was the neighbours you had known since you were a child.

The norm was large families. You didn’t have old age security, or Canada pension of company pensions. There weren’t RRSP’s and Freedom 55.
You children looked after you. Your family looked after you. Even your neighbours looked after you, and it was quite common that if you grew up in a village or small town you had the same neighbours all your life.

But things in Israel were not static. Things changed. People moved away from the farms and the small towns and to the cities for work, and people were more isolated from families and their social safety net.
You get the picture and thousands of years later is it that much different?
Most of the really poor that walk our streets today, are isolated, or apart, or disconnected or estranged from family.
We maybe have more social safety nets, but there are still a lot who are not caught by the nets, or the nets are not enough to change the lot of the poor.
And so, on Thanksgiving, what the scriptures ask us, is to remember not only God’s mighty acts…
…but to remember the poor. Remember the poor and the less fortunate.

And one of the more interesting of these little commands is this one:
When you gather your crops and forget to bring in some of the grain that you have cut, do not go back for it; it is to be left for the foreigners, orphans, and widows

It is interesting because how do you command someone to forget? Or how do you fulfill a command by forgetting.
Usually, commands are about remembering do something or to remember not to do something.

Remember, not to kill, or steal, or bear false witness, or commit adultery

Or remember the Sabbath Day.
Or remember to honour your parents.
Or remember to have no other gods than the true God.

But this command… when you forget…
…when you forget…

Why not this instead: Take 5 percent of your crop and give it to the poor.

Instead…when you forget…

Maybe this is a command, for people like me and you, who have what we call, senior moments, and we forget a lot more than we used to…
My son-in-law forget his wallet one day and left in on a plane…

Should he have left it for the poor?
Except the poor wouldn’t be on a plane.

Maybe this is about a holy forgetting. That on Thanksgiving Day and most days, we should forget the barriers that keep us apart…
That we should forget the prejudices we have…
That we should forget to count our money and add up every nickel and dime, and forget to hoard and own and possess, and instead open our hearts in sharing…
That we should forget our differences and just be humans, and just be children of one divine love…
That we should forget denomination and religion and culture and race as our defining characteristic, and let love for one another be our defining characteristic.

Today we remember the mighty acts of God
Today we remember the poor…
and today we forget what makes us better, or worse, or different or unequal and treat everyone with love.

A very wise man said once to forget about what we need to eat, and what we need to drink, and what we are to wear, and instead remember to let love rule our lives.
His name was Jesus.

And it is a mighty act of transformation and resurrection and thanksgiving if love rules your life.

You know crazy as it sounds: I have handled poisonous snakes. I have been bitten by snakes. I have had venom course through my veins.
It’s just that those snakes had human faces, and the venom was lies, prejudice, hate and anger.
And the antidote was to love and forgive and to forget about getting even, to forget about revenge. To forget to hate and strike back.
And to remember to love.

Today we remember and are thankful for the mighty acts of God, the love God has given us, the forgiveness, the grace…
Today we remember and are thankful for Jesus’ death and resurrection and how Jesus is present to us and lives in us.
Today we remember and are thankful for the many ways in which the Spirit moves in us and among us in unity and love.
We remember and are thankful all the gifts of God including family, friends, food and all the things that sustain us.
Today we remember the poor, the less fortunate
But today is also day for holy forgetting.
I hope that wherever you go today, and tomorrow and in the future, you forget, and you leave behind money, or kindness, or love, or grace, or forgiveness, or equality, or justice…
…so that those who come after you, can glean the grace of God that you conveniently forgot and left behind.