Sermon for Lent Five, Year B
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The good news for us today is that God forgives and forgets.
When I was in the fourth and fifth grades there was a girl in my class named Bonita. She didn’t like me. We didn’t play together. She played with her friends on the playground and I played with mine. Sometimes I even heard her tell her friends she didn’t like me.
The next year the district built a new school closer to my house so Bonita and I didn’t see each other again until we were eighth graders. As things worked out, we had all our classes together that year. She came up to me the first week and said, “I remember you. I didn’t like you in elementary school. Do you remember why?”
I said I never did know why she didn’t like me. She said, “I can’t remember either, so let’s be friends now.” We were friends through high school. She never did remember why she didn’t like me when we were little. Whatever I did to offend her was forgiven and forgotten.
The prophet Jeremiah says that God will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah.
A covenant is an unconditional eternal promise God makes to humanity.
Making a covenant isn’t new for God. We have heard about the other covenants over the last few weeks in our Old Testament readings.
God made a covenant with Noah. The rainbow is the sign of the promise God made to humans and every living creature. This covenant is God’s ongoing commitment to the preservation of creation.
God made a covenant with Abraham. God made Abraham and Sarah the parents of a multitude of nations. They received new names and God commended Abraham for his faith. Their story goes on for several chapters and reads like a soap opera. I won’t go into details, but you should read it if you haven’t. In any case, God remained faithful in spite of everything Abraham and Sarah did.
God made a covenant with Moses. God gave the Ten Commandments as a sign of eternal promise. This is the covenant that the LORD refers to in our passage from Jeremiah today. The LORD reminds the people that even though they broke the covenant, the LORD remained faithful to them.
We still teach the Ten Commandments to our children and we try our best to keep them ourselves. Sometimes we do better than other times. Some commandments are easier to keep than others. Different things tempt each of us, I suppose.
In past years, the church has taught us to examine ourselves before receiving communion by going over the commandments to see which ones we have broken and what we need to confess. It is a good discipline because it reminds us that we have fallen far short of being the people God calls us to be. We know that we can’t go a single day without sin.
Yet, God remains faithful to us. Jeremiah prophesies that the days are surely coming when The LORD will make a new covenant with us. In the new covenant, our sins are forgiven and they are forgotten.
What does it mean to forgive and forget?
Is it like my friend in elementary school? Maybe, but she just forgot whatever it was she didn’t like about me. If she had known what it was, she might have had a different response. She didn’t forgive and forget, she just plain forgot.
Does forgiving and forgetting mean that you keep allowing someone to abuse you over and over? No, God teaches us that we are all beloved children, created in God’s image. When we are being abused, one of God’s precious children is being abused, and this is never the will of our loving God.
Forgiving and forgetting also doesn’t mean you get to bring up all the past indiscretions every time you have an argument. It means you don’t get to hold a grudge. It means you can’t use the phrases, “you always….” or “you never…” or “you do this every time”.
When we forgive someone, we are telling them they no longer owe a debt they could never repay anyway. We can’t change what happened. When we forgive we let go of it. Oprah Winfrey once said, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”
When God forgives, God also forgets. Forgiveness means letting go of both resentment and revenge. We don’t have any right to revenge anyway, it belongs to God. “Vengeance is mine says the LORD, I will repay”. So when God says, “I will forgive and forget,” God is giving up one of the privileges of being God, the privilege of revenge.
When God comes to earth as a human in Jesus, he becomes truly human, giving up all the privileges of being God. It is in Jesus that we see the fulfillment of the new covenant Jeremiah prophesies. Jesus, himself, in his body and blood, becomes that new covenant for us.
We celebrate that new covenant every week when we hear the words that Jesus says: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you, and for all people, for the forgiveness of sins.”
Sometimes, forgiveness is easier to accept and understand than the part about God forgetting our sins.
Forgetting is hard. Did you ever get a song stuck in your head? You keep hearing it over and over. You find yourself humming it even hours later when you don’t want to. But the more you try to forget it, the more you keep thinking about it.
Bad memories are like that too. We keep replaying them in our head. They dominate our thoughts. We want to forget, but they won’t go away.
One sure way to get rid of a song stuck in your head is to sing something else. Sing a totally different kind of song. Try it sometime, it works.
I think that may be what God is doing when God forgets our sins. God is singing a whole different kind of song about us, a new song. A love song.
When we forgive one another, we can sing a new song too. We are no longer captive to the difficult memory of the injury or insult or offense. We are free to forgive and forget, because God has shown us mercy first.
We can rejoice in the new covenant. Our God has made an everlasting promise. God is always faithful. Jesus Christ has given his body and blood for us, and forgives and forgets our sins. Amen.