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Forget About It


Series: Lent

Category: 2019 Sermons

Passage: Isaiah 43:16-21

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

There’s a great scene in the movie Donnie Brasco, starring Johnny Depp. The scene is short and it’s built around this repeated phrase in the movie. The phrase is also the title of this sermon, Forget about it. The phrase, forget about it, is used all over the movie. Johnny Depp plays an FBI agent, Donnie Brasco, who has gone undercover to expose the mob. In the movie, he wears a wire. One of the FBI agents who listens in on the mob’s conversations notices this repeated phrase seems to be used in many different ways. So when the two agents have a down moment together, the agent who's been listening says to  Johny Depp….Hey, there’ s something I’ve been meaning to ask. What’s the meaning of Forget about it?

I’d love to read to you the movie version of the answer to that question, but it’s filled with profanity. So here’s the cleaned up version… 

Forget about it is like if you agree with someone, you know like Raquel Welch is beautiful, forget about it. But then if you disagree, like a Lincoln is better than a Cadillac, Forget about it…you know? But then it’s also like if something the greatest thing in the world, madone, those peppers, forget about it…But it’s also like telling someone to get lost or insulting them, and the person who got insulted says… Forget about it… And then sometimes forget about it just means forget about it…. 

I was reminded of this scene when I read this one phrase of Isaiah’s verse 18...Do not remember the former things…Do not remember...And of course I wanted to understand it, so I had to read interpretations of translations. 

There are two words in Hebrew for “forget.” One means to “cover up” the memory. The other is to “blot out” the memory. The one used in this passage means to “blot out.” 

“Do not remember” (“Do not” ’al, “remember” zâkar) “Remember not” (rsv). Not the absence of memory, but the freedom from it. That’s not the same.[1] 

The reminder to remember is all over the Hebrew Bible. Anyone who has ever attended a Seder dinner knows the importance of remembering. Passover is built around remembering God’s delivering the people from exile and bringing them home. And not just Passover but really every one of our high holy days, or any religion’s high holy days are built around remembering. Remembering the birth of Christ at Chirstmas, remembering the resurrection at Easter, when we come to the communion table we remember, with our whole bodies, our whole selves what it means to be the body of Christ. Remembering in the biblical sense is much more than to recall, or concur up a memory like you would a photo. It’s to allow yourself to go back and feel all the particulars with your body, to experience it the memory all over again. So at easter, it means allowing yourself to fully experience and remember the cross. That includes the parts we’d like to forget; like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday... 

To remember is to appreciate, to fully experience once more…only then can we also experience the resurrection… To remember the tough times of your own life is to appreciate more fully the joy of your life now. 

So important…

And then in this morning’s scripture, Isaiah says, Forget about it…

It’s as though he’s saying… 

Remember that time when God saved you? Delivered you? Brought you home from exile? Remember that? Good. 

Now forget about it.

Remember that time when you felt regret and despair? Convinced that the world and God would be better off without you? God came through. Remember that? Good. 

Now forget about that.

Why would Isaiah say that? The passage you heard this morning is from what scholars refer to as second Isaiah, from chapter 40 to 55. If first Isaiah is an acknowledgment of all the ways God’s people got it wrong…. then this second half of Isaiah offers forgiveness in the face of all that. Remembering then, becomes a recognition of need. And all the good that comes from admitting we are in need of God. 

Let’s stop there together…recognition of need is a mouthful…It lives in places of exile. I’m guessing most of us have ever literally been in exile; displaced from your country, forced to leave, without any sign of return, but we know exile places of the heart… 

Remember those with me…some of you are there right now…others will have to go back in time, to remember with your whole body when you experienced a kind of exile, from all sense of hope, of security, when you felt as those you were free falling in time and space and there was no one to turn to…and maybe even the God you so preciously held onto in the past…seemed to have abandoned you…That’s a hard place to go back to…and yet, with that, you’re here this morning. God got you through before…and God will do that again… 

But for Isaiah, this morning, God won’t do it the same way…Isaiah’s warning us…we can get overly attached to ways God has seen us through before…We can remember the specific ways God has seen us through before…the specifics, the people who showed up, the extraordinary  timing of those events that were clearly orchestrated by the divine powers of God…the things we call coincidence, happenstance, gifts, those are grace…Bt it may not happen that way again. So forget about it. Because when we cling to any one idea of the way God works, we will be so hyper-focused, we’ll miss all the ways God is working now. 

And while I never like to make bold blanket statements...I’m going to risk it…Our God, our creative God who created and is always creating, never seems to do the same thing in the exact same way. Let snowflakes and the science of organisms be the proof of that for the skeptical mind.

When Isiah tells us to forget about it…it’s because God is about to do a new thing… 

This scripture is the original, You ain’t see nothing yet. God is about to do a new thing. God is about to bring you home again…

But don’t expect to be the same way every time. Home may not look the same as it once did. Home may not sound the same or even feel the same as it did before; but it is home nevertheless. It is wholeness, peace and freedom. 

Can you perceive it?

To perceive it is to be open, to listen, to let go. And that can’t happen if we’re stuck on old things. Some old things carry guilt and shame. Other old things are overly attached to the specific ways it’s all worked out before, as though we can steer our way towards a solution, by trying to recreate for ourselves something only God can do. 

The God we worship creates everything new; in ways, our rational minds would only keep us stuck. To perceive is to let go. To perceive is to move into the imaginable realm of understanding; a place where God can work with us, re-shape us, deliver us, and bring us home.

I’ve been reading two books simultaneously about creativity. Each one is written to allow the reader a greater understanding of their own creative process with God. Each one brings the reader back to God’s creative powers at creation. 

Both books call on us to move form the rational mind to the imaginable realm. That’s not the same as a make believe place that only children go…but it’s close. To perceive what God is about to do with you, with this country or with this world, is to first recognize the need. God knows we’re in need, in need personally, and as a country and as a world….we’re in need of transformation, of a kind of homecoming that creates us into living the kingdom that God imagines...if only we would listen for it, perceive it, ask for it, instead of being stuck in the ways we think it should happen. Tp perceive we  must meet God in the creative space by being open to a new thing...Things we’ve never before imagined…

What are the things we hope for? Write them down when you get home…then write down what gets in the way of being able to imagine them with God as your creative partner...then…with the deep recognition of need, forget about it and pray to God to do a new thing…and hover over the possibilities the way God hovered over the waters when God created the world…God is about to do a new thing…can you perceive it? Open up to it? Listen for it?

Years ago, Dan Rather interviewed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Like all of us, Rather was amazed at her discipline and devotion, her ministry among the poorest and sickest in the world…One child of God’s at a time, she served, she prayed, she loved…one body at a time…in complete recognition of need…

Rather asked her what the secret of her prayer life was. He assumed, as many of us would, that for her to endure the hands on witnessing of so much suffering, she must have the key to a successful prayer….Rather asked her..” When you pray, what do you pray?” To this, she responded…”I don’t say anything, I just listen.” Rather wasn’t satisfied with that answer so he pressed….”Well then, what does God say?” Mother Teresa responded...”Oh nothing, he just listens too.” 

To be a child of God’s is to listen….which is to perceive all the ways God listens to your needs in this life…..forget the ways it’s happened for you before…. God is about to new thing….can you perceive it?

Let us pray….

Take our lips and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire. Help us to be the masters of ourselves that we might be servants to others. Amen.