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Not Forgetting to Remember - By Pastor Thomas Engel


How do you go about remembering to do things? Are you high tech or low tech?

Do you use an app on your phone to schedule alarms to remind you what is on your to-do-list?

Or do you go with the old-school way of putting a string on your finger?

Maybe you use a Sharpie and write notes on your hand. People see the notes and think you are cool because you have tattoos, except they wonder why you have a tattoo that says, “Dentist appointment 1:00.”

Or maybe you are sticky note person who puts sticky notes everywhere-on your bathroom mirror, steering wheel, lamps, and on your cat that reminds you to buy litter for its box.

I’m a clipboard person who likes to check off things with a flare of my pen as I go throughout my day. Each check mark makes me feel that I am accomplishing things.

I read an article about how people who are into heavy check marks tend to be controllers. But, control is such a strong word. I like to think of myself as a highly qualified organizer.

Let me give you this scenario: A loved one at home knows that you are out running errands. This loved one looks in the refrigerator and sees that there is only a drop of milk left. The loved one calls and asks you if you wouldn’t mind stopping to get a gallon of milk on your way back.

So, you are out running your errands, but things are not going so smoothly. Traffic is bad, the lines are long, and, on top of it, you get a flat tire.

You get home, and your loved sees that you are empty handed. “Where is the milk?” And you admit that you forgot and explain your nightmare of a day.

Of course, you are very dramatic in the telling of your day that really was not so horrific, but since you dropped the ball, you try to win some sympathy.

You even show your Sharpie-made tattoo that says, “MILK.” And you shamefully try to blame your loved one for not texting you to give you a reminder.

In this world of so many distractions, it’s easy to forget to remember all that we are to be doing.

Right now, I can say that each of us who are here in church or watching via Livestream are not forgetting to remember what is most important.

I’m not sure what you used-if it was high tech or low tech-to remind yourself to get here to church this morning. Did an alarm ring playing your favorite “Justin Beaver” song, or did you put a sticky note saying “Worship” on your forehead so that you would see it as you looked in the bathroom mirror this morning?

For me, I have the church bells that ring out quite loudly for all the neighborhood to hear that worship will soon be starting.

We have our different ways to get here on Sunday mornings, but I do know for all of us that our motivation came from the Holy Spirit.

In my studying of the readings for this Sunday, I saw the words “forgetting” and “remember,” so I jotted them down. When I went back to my notes, I got to thinking that I liked the little play on words of two opposites coming together to make, “Not forgetting to remember.”

Sometimes, when it comes to our past, we want to forget what had happened. I’ve been hearing from many people about how they are wanting to put 2020 behind them. On a news show that was looking at 2020, one panelist commented that 2020 felt like a dog year that lasted seven years.

We are predicting that the start of 2021 will still have difficulties, but it seems that things should be getting better with each passing month.

You know that I’m a channel surfer, and in my surfing I landed on an old movie, “Oh, God!”

To bring back you back to 1977, the movie had John Denver playing a grocery store manager who is visited by God-played by George Burns.

I like the simple message from the movie. God wanted people to know that He has given us everything to make the world work, and He wanted this grocery store manager to spread that news.

John Denver’s character asks a good question that many people ask about God, “If God is love and has so much power, why doesn’t He just make things work?”

George Burns playing God gives a short but deep answer. He says, “I gave people free will.”

As Lutherans, we talk a lot about “free will” because it explains God did not make us to be robots or His puppets.

At the beginning, God gave only one command to the first humans. He said that they could eat from any tree but not of one tree. We have the choice to follow or not to follow God’s good will for our lives.

God is very clear about His will for us that is always good and how our disobedience will have some kind of hard consequence every time.

Today, on this Sunday of January 3rd, we are nearing the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. We are using the readings for Epiphany since it is so close to January 6th.

We have moved into a New Year and are moving into a new season of the church year. As we go through the church year, we see the story of our salvation develop.

Quickly, in Advent, we see the prophecies of Christ’s coming, and, in Christmas, the fulfillment of those prophecies in Jesus’ birth. Then, in Epiphany, we see the life of Jesus, and, in Lent and Easter, Jesus’ death and resurrection. Finally, in Pentecost, we see the coming of the Holy Spirit that gives life to the church.

You know the story of salvation well because over decades you have been through many seasons of the church year.

But, still, we keep coming back season after season, church year after church year. I’m sure if I gave each of you a test on how you get salvation that you would do very well. You would all get A’s because you know the creed.

For centuries, Christians have been reciting the creeds, for they basically sum up what we need to remember about our salvation.

Not to go too deep into the details about what I was thinking about the title, but one of the details is important for us as we go into the new year.

I would like to give a short lesson in English tenses. The verb “forgetting” has an -ing ending because it shows that it is progressive. When we have an -ing ending, it shows that the verb is continuous action.

Writers like to use progressive verbs when they can because it gets the reader right into the action

Especially, in this chaotic world that can sweep us away into distractions, a life of faith has to be about continuous action.

We are always not to be forgetting to remember the story of our salvation and also how God gives us everything to do His good will in our lives.

St. Paul tells the Ephesians about the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” What God gives us in Christ is so much that we will never find the bottom or the top of what we have in Christ because there is no limit to what God gives us in Christ.

When we go out into our lives, we do find that it seems that there are many limits-sometimes we find that we are hitting dead-ends. We only have so much money, so much time, and so much energy. It seems that we are always coming up short on what we need.

We might even think that we are coming up short on love, hope, care, and forgiveness. Life has its ways of hitting us with so many hardships that we start to think that we don’t have enough to make life work.

Do you remember the Isaiah passage on Christmas Eve that tells of Christ’s coming? You know the one where it begins, “Unto us a child is born....” This passage shows how God is giving us His Son who will come to be our Lord and Savior.

The part where it is says, “And the government will be on his shoulders” makes me stop and think about me in my life. Often, when it comes to hardships, I put them on my shoulders. Then, I am feeling that I am caring the weight of the world.

With all that weight of such burdens and feeling tired for carrying those heavy burdens, I say to myself, “Tom, there you go again taking on too much.”

Don’t get me wrong! We are to be responsible for our lives, but God has put the weight of the world on Jesus’ shoulders.

To give you a little preview on what we will hear from Jesus later on in the church year as he teaches about his purpose on what he is to accomplish for us, he says, “Do not worry, for I have overcome the world.”

No doubt, 2021 will have its problems. Hey! We have seen trouble before in the world, so we are going into the year with our eyes wide open. There is a rough patch ahead of us, but we have our hopes that it will be a good year.

The best that we can be doing is not forgetting to remember that we know that God in Christ is taking care of us.

You see, God is first and always progressive in His action when it comes to our good.

With talking about action, the story of salvation tells us that Jesus took care of our sins when he went to the cross, and his resurrection tells us that his victory over sin, eternal death, and Satan was won for us.

St. Paul tells us about what we have in Christ is to some extent a mystery.

Getting back to the movie, understandably, John Denver’s character meets a lot of skepticism of people when he says that he has met with God.

It’s just a fun movie, but it does bring up how we even have our doubts at times that all is going to God’s good plan of salvation.

In a way, we know everything that we need to know

about our salvation, but still we live with a lot of unknowns on how God is working salvation out for us until Jesus comes again.

Not to say I’m getting my theology from a movie that is meant more for fun than to give a teaching on faith, but the ending of “Oh, God!” has John Denver’s character meeting God for the last time and gives us something to think about how God is working in our lives.

George Burns as God tells the man that he did a good job in getting the word out. John Denver’s character says, “That is great, but I’m without a job.

God says something about how there are other grocery stores and other cities. This remark seems like God is aloof that He doesn’t really care all that much.

For a feel-good movie, I expect a happy ending with everything tied up in a nice bow. I want God to give John Denver’s character even a better job for his help.

Again, the movie is not a serious place to get doctrine. But, if you’ve been paying attention to the message of the movie, at the end, even with some loose strings, we get a feeling that John Denver’s character is going to more than okay.

As we go into this year of 2021, we know its going to be different in many ways.

We don’t have all the answers, but we are not to live with knowing everything. For in this world, we live by faith in a God who cares for us in Christ

In knowing enough of the story of salvation, we know that God gives us everything from our needs of every day like we pray in the Lord’s Prayer to the day when we reach eternal life like we recite in the creeds.

For now, the best that we can do is not to be forgetting to remember the “unsearchable riches in Christ.”

Although we can never get to the bottom or top of God’s riches in Christ, it’s a good exercise of faith to keep trying.

In this new year of 2021, let’s keep the tenses of faith progressive-let’s keep believing, keep trying, keep doing, keep seeking, keep praying, keep showing up, keep moving forward in hope, and keep not forgetting to remember what we have in Christ, which is always so much then we need in every present moment of any year.


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