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Remember the Forgotten
November 23, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

EZEKIEL 16; MATTHEW 25:34-46

The farmer had completed his weekly shopping. He had visited all the stores on his list, bought all the items on his list and was ready to go home. As he climbed up into his wagon, he had a gnawing suspicion he’d forgotten something. He checked his list again. He just couldn’t think of anything he’d forgotten so he started on his way home with his horse and wagon. All the way home he had that gnawing suspicion. He even stopped once, pulled over to the side of the road and rechecked his list. He was sure he had forgotten something but he couldn’t remember what it was. When he reached his yard, all the children came out to meet him and hollered, “Hey Daddy, where’s Mama?” 

According to Ezekiel, the Israelites are in the wilderness where they had been carried into captivity. They saw their temple destroyed, they saw their land destroyed, they saw their families split, carried off into captivity. And they asked, “Why has this come upon us?” Ezekiel explained to them why their nation had fallen from the days of its great glory, fallen into oblivion, “The basic reason, the basic sin of you as a nation, as a community, the basic sin of you as a people is that you did not remember. You forgot, you forgot the past. You are not acting out of a full context. This present day in which you live is lacking, is inadequate, is not true to our origin, to our past—because you forgot.” 

Then he built that beautiful imagery, which was read in the Old Testament lesson, likening Israel to an unwanted child. The Lord had taken pity, raised up the child into a beautiful woman and created, established a covenant between them. They entered into a marriage relationship, but she was unfaithful. She forgot, she was disloyal, she broke the covenant. And Ezekiel said, “You have forgotten. You have forgotten how the Lord took us out of Egypt. We were nothing but slaves but God led us out of Egypt. He led us into Canaan, he gave us this nation. We built this successful, glorious nation. And then you forgot that you were lonely in origin, you forgot what you were, you forgot that all that you have is because of the mercy and love of God. You began to act arrogantly. You began to think that you earned your wealth, that you earned your success. You began to oppress people. You began to step on the necks of the poor and the downtrodden. You lavished in your wealth. You forgot your religion. You adopted the religions of your neighbors. You worshiped idols and devastation came upon you—because you did not remember. 

Remember on this Thanksgiving Day, the forgotten. The New Testament lesson this morning is the parable of the Last Judgment. Jesus in this parable pointed up the importance of caring for those around us—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked. He said, “For to the least of these, my brethren, whatever you do to them, you do it to me. However you take care of the poor, however you take care of the oppressed, however you take care of the lonely, the discouraged, however you take care of the little people of this world is how you are relating to me, to God.” That’s a powerful parable. 

But for our purposes this morning, just turn that over. Turn that verse around and remember all the least of these, his brethren, who took care of you. Remember all the little people in your past who reached out, who contributed to your life, who contributed their love, their care, their compassion. You remember the important people of your life. You remember your parents, you remember those who had a big impact on you. But, remember the forgotten. Remember the little ones. When you were sick and went to the hospital and came home and were well, you were grateful to the doctor. That’s right, doctors usually don’t receive enough gratitude. But remember the little people in the hospital also. Remember the lab technicians, the nurses. Or how about the lady that swept your floor every day? Remember those who changed your bedding. Remember the janitors, all in their way contributed to your recovery. Remember those in your past all those little people who in some way contributed to your life. 

Especially we as a nation, as we prepare to celebrate the Bicentennial, need to remember the forgotten. We have a tendency to forget the little people who have made this nation what it is. Look at the distorted way you and I, most of us in this room, were taught American history or even European history. The way I was taught history was from one war to the next, as if what made this nation what it is, is the wars we fought. We were taught history from the point of view of the white Caucasians, as if the only people that came to this land and did anything with it were Europeans. We forget all the others. Oh, we can list the presidents. We remember the financiers—the Morgans, the Vanderbilts, Carnegies. But do we remember the little people, the workers? Do we remember all those we oppressed? Do we remember all the people whose necks we stepped on to make our country what it is? 

On this Thanksgiving, we remember the pilgrims. We were taught to remember the pilgrims and it’s right to remember the pilgrims, but we usually forget the Indians—the people who were here first. And we’ve just completely forgotten that the pilgrims would not have made it if it weren’t for the friendly Indians. After that first hard winter, almost half of the pilgrims were dying. The trip over and that hard winter were severe. When the time came for spring planting, only five or six people were able to get out of their beds to go out and work in the fields. They were very depressed. They were very discouraged. And then out of the woods, came an Indian. First they were frightened, but the Indian said to them, “Welcome Englishman.” They were surprised that he knew English, that he could speak their language. As a relationship developed with this Indian and his tribe, they made some good friends. 

Most important was an Indian by the name of Squanto. Squanto introduced them to corn. He taught them how to plant corn, taking five kernels and two herring and planting it in a hole. He taught them where the fishing beds were. He showed them where the rich catches were to be found. Lobster, clam and crab came into their steady diet because of Squanto’s teaching. They would not have survived, would not have made it were it not for this Indian and who was he? Six years before, he and many others had been kidnapped, sold into slavery, taken aboard English vessels, taken back to England. Then they discovered that he had some navigating ability and so they put him on a Merchant Marine ship. The story is not clear what happened but he made it back to Massachusetts. When he returned to Massachusetts, he found that many of his tribe had died after contracting a white man’s disease against which they had no protection. They were vulnerable to this particular disease, and many of his family, many of his tribe died. Yet, such a man said, “Welcome Englishman.” He reached out and in compassion and caring, helped them survive. 

And what was the response? As more and more pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, they began spreading back inland and taking over land. They made land deals with the Indians. The Indians, of course, had no concept of purchasing land, they didn’t know what they were doing. They could not imagine what it meant for somebody to put a little fence around a hunk of land and say, “That’s mine, you keep your foot off!” So the Indians entered into these purchasing contracts not really knowing what they were doing. Eventually the Indians were denied free passage across these lands for the land didn’t belong to them anymore. The Pilgrims very conveniently then developed a theology that the Indians were an inferior people. They were heathen savages, and certainly didn’t have hearts and souls like white people. A terrible war broke out. Over 500 Indians were sold into slavery. Village after village was transported to concentration camps where they perished. The first Thanksgiving, Indians and pilgrims celebrated together. After that Thanksgiving was a time of war. 

Let us remember the forgotten. Remember that we have ugliness in our past as well as beauty for we learn from the ugliness. Yesterday’s Chronicle had two articles about Indians. The first article described the attempt of several Indian tribes to set up a village in Saratoga, California. In honor of the Bicentennial, they wanted to create an authentic Indian village and show the costumes, the food and the artifacts, but they’ve had to cancel the project because of harassment, because of threats, because of telephone calls threatening them. As one caller put it, “You have no right to celebrate the Bicentennial.”

The second article is about how California Indians are trying to help New York City through its financial crisis. California Indians are collecting money to refund the sum of $24 which was originally paid for Manhattan Island. The Indian leaders said, “Guilt feelings have plagued us all. We knew it was a bad investment when we sold it.” Today’s Indian descendants are helping us to remember; perhaps they will not let us forget. 

Remembering is not enough. The ethic of the Old Testament was based upon gratitude. Because the Lord reached out to you when you were slaves, when you were oppressed, the Lord redeemed you, led you out of Egypt and gave you this land. Therefore, now when you have the power, now when you have the ability, now reach out, help the poor, help the oppressed. It was an ethic out of gratitude, 

Because of what God has done for you, now therefore, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the oppressed, bring freedom, justice and equality to all people. We remember and then we act out of compassion. Out of gratitude for all that the little people have done for you, help someone else. Because the least of these, his brethren, have contributed to your life, reach out around you and help someone who needs you. 

As a nation, let us remember that our nation was not just built by white people like us. It was built by black slaves, victimized Indians, Chinese railroad laborers, and on and on. Let us remember that our nation was built by all kinds of peoples. Out of gratitude for what we have today, out of gratitude for a nation we love, for a nation of which we are proud, let us work for a nation that includes all peoples, all races. Work for justice, work for freedom, relieve the poor and realize that we all can live together in one land. 

Remember the forgotten. When you were forgotten, the Lord remembered you. When you were forgotten, some of the least of these, his brethren remembered you

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris