Sermon: “Remember the Marvels God Has Done” (August 31, 2014)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Remember the Marvels God Has Done” (Psalm 105:5)
August 31, 2014
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Many years ago I officiated my first wedding. It was held in the chapel at the University of Virginia on a crisp April afternoon—newly green grass, blooming azaleas bursting in purple and pink, everyone dressed to the nines.

The wedding ceremony went off without a hitch…so I thought. After following the wedding party down the aisle and back outside, relieved it was over, I was accosted by several upset people from the wedding party. “How could you forget the most important thing?” one of them asked me.

I had no idea what they were talking about—“I’m sorry, what did I forget?”

“The kiss!” they said. “There was no kiss! How could you forget the kiss?”

And they were right. I had sailed through the wedding liturgy in The Book of Common Prayer but forgotten the kiss—oops! Later that day I added my own handwritten rubric in my prayer book: “You may now kiss the bride” so I would never again forget the kiss ☺.

And of course that is not the only time I have forgotten things. I have forgotten to bring my passport to the airport, forgotten I had a paper due, forgotten an anniversary date (although that only happened once ☺). I have forgotten why I went to the grocery store late at night only to arrive home and have Steph ask me if I remembered the milk…that’s why I went to the store! “No,” I reply, “but I did remember to get some Little Debbie snack cakes.”

I have a recurring stress dream that I have forgotten to set my alarm on a Saturday night and then awake to find myself late for church. I hurry to church and forget my vestments and then step into the pulpit and forget my sermon notes, only to realize that it’s the Sunday of the annual bishop’s visit and I had forgotten that too! “Nice of you to show up,” the bishop says, and I go to respond but can’t remember the bishop’s name and it goes on and on.

And I’m not alone. Each of you can think of times when you’ve forgotten something. Perhaps some of you have similar stress dreams. The fear of forgetting can run deep.

Sometimes being forgetful is funny, but sometimes it’s hurtful.

In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) and Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) are high school roommates at an exclusive New England prep school. One evening Neil is walking across campus and notices Todd sitting by himself on a bridge, downcast, back against the rail of the bridge.

“Todd?” Neil asks, “Hey, what’s going on?” “Today’s my birthday,” Todd responds. “Is today your birthday? Happy birthday!” And noticing an unwrapped gift on the ground Neil continues, “What’d you get?” Todd replies, “My parents gave me this,” and he points to a desk set. Neil comments, “Isn’t this the same…” “Yeah,” Todd interrupts, “They gave me the same thing as last year.” Neil, seeing the sadness in Todd’s face, tries to cheer him up, “Oh, maybe they thought you needed another one.” Todd chuckles, “Maybe they weren’t thinking about anything at all. The funny thing about this is that I didn’t even like it the first time.”

Neil responds, “Todd, I think you’re underestimating the value of this desk set,” and picking it up he continues, “I mean who would want a football or a baseball…or a car, if they could have a desk set as wonderful as this one? I mean, if I were ever going to buy a desk set, twice, I would probably buy this one, both times. In fact its shape is rather aerodynamic, isn’t it? You can feel it—this desk set wants to fly.”

Todd stands up, and Neil hands him the desk set, “Todd, the world’s first unmanned flying desk set.” Todd laughs and hurls the desk set off the bridge, and as the pieces tumble down into the water Neil reassures Todd, “Well, I wouldn’t worry, you’ll get another one next year.”

Sometimes our memories are not as helpful as we might wish.

In Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic masterpiece novel, The Road, he recounts the journey of a father and son through utter desolation. McCarthy writes:

“He kept the boy close to his side. The city was mostly burned. No sign of life. Cars in the street caked with ash, everything covered with ash and dust…He pulled the boy closer.

Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.

(His son replies) You forget some things don’t you?

Yes (the father says). You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget” (12).

When I was in high school and college one of my favorite bands was The Call. As a college freshman I crowded into Cain’s Ballroom, a club in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma to see them perform. The folding metal chairs on the beer soaked wooden floor were all literally pushed against each other so you had no choice but to stand on your chair for the epic two-hour concert. One of the songs they sang that night was “Memory,” a song about someone loved who is no longer there:

You gave the poet words to speak
You were the sun to warm my days
You put us in each other’s hands
You gave me love before I asked

I feel my heart will surely break
I’ve taken all that I can take
You were the light for me to see
You were the sky that covered me…

Oh, in my memory, I can still see your eyes
In my memory, I can still feel your touch
I remember talking with you, the stories I could tell
In my memory, I remember you still
(From the 1987 album Into the Woods).

Even though our minds are flooded with memories, good and bad, we are still often forgetful, especially when it comes to the unconditional love of God.

In Psalm 105:5 the psalmist writes, “Remember the marvels God has done.”

Remember the marvels God has done, not what you have or have not done.

Psalm 105 is intended to remind God’s people of specific deeds God has done in the past to give them encouragement and hope in the present. After four centuries in slavery the Israelites were convinced that God had forgotten them, but God had never forgotten them, as God spoke to Moses from burning bush, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them” (Exodus 3:7-8).

What was true for the Israelites is true for you too: God has never forgotten you.

And in the same way God came down and delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God came down in Jesus Christ to deliver you from slavery to sin and death, because God has never forgotten you or your sufferings, as Matthew writes, “When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

At the Last Supper Jesus instituted Holy Communion, and as he gave his disciples the bread (“This is my body”) and the wine (“This is my blood”) he told them to receive them “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 24-25)—to remember the marvels God has done.

And the next day on the cross Jesus remembered to pray for you: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

And guess what? God the Father answered that prayer.

Regardless of what you have done or not done, or forgotten to do; regardless of how you have forgotten others or been forgotten by them, you have been forgiven.

Scripture assures as that God has said this about remembering your sins: “I will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:12).

In his powerful book The Ragamuffin Gospel (1989) Brennan Manning tells the following anecdote:

“In a large city in the far West, rumors spread that a certain Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus. The reports reached the archbishop… ‘Is it true, ma’am, that you have visions of Jesus?’ asked the cleric.

“Yes,” the woman said simply.

“Well, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession.”

The woman was stunned. “Did I hear you right, bishop? You actually want me to ask Jesus to tell me the sins of your past?”

“Exactly. Please call me if anything happens.”

Ten days later the woman notified her spiritual leader of a recent apparition. “Please come,” she said.

Within the hour the bishop arrived. He trusted eye-to-eye contact. “You just told me on the telephone that you actually had a vision of Jesus. Did you do what I asked?”

“Yes, bishop, I asked Jesus to tell me the sins you confessed in your last confession.”

The bishop leaned forward with anticipation. His eyes narrowed.

“What did Jesus say?”

She took his hand and gazed deep into his eyes. “Bishop,” she said, “these are his exact words: ‘I CAN’T REMEMBER’” (118-119).

On the cross one of the criminals crucified beside Jesus made one last request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” to which Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42).

The good news of the Gospel is that God does not remember your sins, he remembers you.

God gives you love before you ask, and remembers you still.

Amen.