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Called to forget: looking for God's faithfulness.

Sunday. March 13. Fifth Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21

Philippians 3:4b-14

We don't expect God to command us to forget! Especially in the middle of a rehearsal of all God has done for us in the past. What are we supposed to forget? Or try to forget. Voluntary forgetting is hard.

In Isaiah 43 the prophet speaks to the exiles. After a generation in a foreign land they've received word they can go home. Some of them have already made the trip. And things in the old country aren't rosy.

People can forget a lot as a generation passes away. Isaiah and other prophets call the people back to their roots. Back to knowing who they are, why they are, and who they belong to.

Through Isaiah, God also calls them to forget. Forget what? Forget the version of the past they know best. The sin. the unfaithfulness that the prophets said led to Israel's exile. Leave behind the legacy of the last generation of leaders.

God also calls the people to forget how God punished them in the past. That's a pretty tough request! We know how easily we forget the love we've known. But we remember every hurt, and we cany our grievances along, longtime.

"Let it go!" God says. "Look ahead! I'm already doing a new thing!" A new thing just as powerful, just as history-making, just as world-shaping as God's mighty acts in the mostly-forgotten past. God is as faithful today, to the exiles, as God was to their ancestors in blood and in faith.

This isn't a call to read history through rose-coloured glasses. It's an invitation to look for the thread of God's faithfulness, even through episodes shaped by human unfaithfulness and sin. The challenge is to remember in a way that sets us free to carry faith forward and leave both grievance and nostalgia behind.

We can live faithfully in the present and trust God for the future when we're grounded in God's faithfulness. When we stop expecting repeat performances from God and look for the new thing God is already doing. When we stop dreaming that God will turn back the pages so we can re-live a story we've re-written as romance.

If anyone has reason to glory in his past. Paul certainly does. He's too hard on himself. From where we sit we can see how his past shaped him to be who he has become as an apostle. In his former life he learned his scripture and tradition. He developed his gifts for speaking and improvising. His mind was shaped to think theologically. He became a disciplined, often driven man. Still, he looks around at what God is doing through him. and ahead to what God has in store for him. He counts all his past achievements as a pile of manure.

Let him exaggerate to make his point. Nothing he has done, that God enabled him to do, can earn him a single favour from God. Or guarantee his future with God. Maybe he can give thanks for his past, in a calmer moment. Maybe he can remember how God was faithful to him before he met Jesus and began a whole new life. But Paul has a vision of the new thing God is already doing. He sees God leading him forward now. And he knows where his new course will end.

God calls, "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old." Paul answers, "This one tiling I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."

What does God call you and your congregation to forget today? What do you need to leave behind so you can press on?


Rev. Dr. Laurence DeWolfe is senior minister at Glenview, Toronto.
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Author:Dewolfe, Laurence
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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