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March 24, 2021
Midweek Lenten Worship
The writings of the prophet Jeremiah are filled with calls to repentance and the necessity of consequences in the face of broken promises. But what we read tonight is part of what’s called the Book of Consolation – a series of good news promises.
At the time these words were written, the city of Jerusalem was literally surrounded by Babylonian soldiers; people’s lives and identity were at risk of total destruction. If they were lucky, their families would be divided; if not, they would be killed. The institution that had sustained them was going to be destroyed.
And even though all of that was of their own doing because they hadn’t honored the commandments or taken God seriously – even though the city would be destroyed and the people would go into exile and their identity as they’d known it would change, God doesn’t allow it to be the final word.
That isn’t how God works. Instead of judgment, death and destruction, the final words are redemption, salvation, and future hope. Because when the people of Israel returned from exile, they wouldn’t be rebuilding what they once had. Instead, they would be a new people and this new covenant is fundamental to their formation.
In this new covenant, God takes the matter of Israel’s relationship with God fully into God’s own hands and makes a commitment to it. This action is rooted both in God’s heartache at Israel’s inability to keep faith in God, and in God’s relentless determination to preserve God’s beloved people.
And in this action, God does something else – God forgets. God doesn’t just pass over or absolve or forgive the people this time. In response to the Israelites’ failure, God refuses to recognize it. In response to their infidelity, God calls them faithful.
In response to their sin and brokenness, God’s memory has to be pushed and prodded to find any recollection of any wrongdoing. I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
But for all this forgetting, God also remembered to love them. The forgetting was an act of grace that created possibility and hope where there wasn’t any, and it shaped God’s relationship to God’s people for all time.
This new life, this transformation of their hearts, all of this happened because God forgave their sins.
It became something they held onto for dear life as they waited out their time in exile. It gave them courage after returning to Jerusalem and discovering that beginning a new life there wasn’t as easy as they thought it’d be.
And it assured them that, no matter how many times or how badly, they messed it up in the future God would still forgive them and love them. This covenant became a permanent part of who they were in relationship to God.
But this covenant isn’t limited only to the Israelites. This particular commitment of relationship continued. And as we consider how it shaped them, it shows us the God that’s revealed in Jesus – that God’s love for us and for all people is relentless.
That God’s promise to forget our iniquity, our sin, and all the things we say and do that keep us from being in relationship with God, is what allows us to face each day and live with the assurance of God’s love for us.
I’ve heard it said that since God doesn’t remember our sin anymore, then neither should we. But I think most times that’s easier said than done.
Our culture is one in which self-sufficiency and independence are encouraged, scores are kept, books are balanced, and offenses are rarely forgotten. It’s a mindset that can keep us locked into old behavior and thinking that this is all there is – that sin and brokenness are normal and things to be accepted, and that no other way is possible.
It’s an incredibly heavy weight for people to carry through life and it would be easier if we could just set it down, walk away from it, and never think about it again.
But forgetting our sin doesn’t mean ignoring it or pretending that it never happened. And it isn’t about making God’s law or Jesus’ teachings into a list of rules to check off each day. If we do that then we’ve missed the point.
It means facing our wrongdoings and naming them for what they are, and learning from them without getting stuck in them or letting guilt or pain weigh us down. In other words, forgetting our sin is about remembering that in God there is forgiveness and mercy and grace – and that it’s for us.
When what we’ve done or left undone gets to be too much, that’s what we hold onto – because that’s what frees us to move forward.
Through God’s love dwelling deep within us, God does what we cannot. God forgives and forgets our sin. And God remembers God’s relentless love for us and for all people. Thanks be to God! Amen.