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You Did Not Remember
May 28, 1995

EZEKIEL 16:1-22

The nation was in chaos. Unity had long disappeared as groups divided against each other. The establishment was severely attacked. Leaders were accused of infidelity. Justice for the oppressed and opportunity for the minorities were disregarded. Morality was in chaos as people experimented with other styles of living. I'm not describing Memorial Day, 1995, in the United States. I'm describing a time in Israel's history. But, what is happening to us in America today is not unique; and we could learn much by studying history, learning from the past, and deciding not to repeat the same mistakes.

After the reign of Kings David and Solomon, the nation began to decline. It split into two kingdoms--Judah and Israel. The prophets warned the two kingdoms that disaster was approaching. The leaders and upper class oppressed the minorities, and were concerned only with acquiring riches for the favored few. The prophets warned of the danger of losing interest in Hebrew religion and morality. The people were, in the words of the prophets, whoring after other gods. As a result, Israel was conquered by Assyria, and tiny Judah found itself too weak to withstand Babylon. Babylonia conquered Judah, and carried off the leaders into captivity.

One of those taken into exile was the prophet Ezekiel. All around him, people were asking, "Why?" Why did this happen to us? Why did our nation fall? Why were we demoralized? And Ezekiel answered, Because you did not remember. We heard read the poignant and graphic description of the nation's downfall, Ezekiel 16. Ezekiel described how God adopted the Hebrews, and made them his people. Ezekiel pictured Israel as a young woman maturing into beauty and elegance, dressed in linen, silk, and embroidered cloth, wearing jewelry of gold and silver. But, Israel began flirting with other religions, compromising with other nations, trying to find the lowest common denominator instead of remaining true to their rich heritage and the covenant they had made with God. Therefore, Ezekiel proclaimed, the Lord God has brought judgment upon you. Why? You did not remember the days of your youth. Ezekiel 16:43, Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things; therefore, I have returned your deeds upon your head, says the Lord God.

Ezekiel's analysis of the nation's downfall, Ezekiel's definition of sin is to forget. Israel and Judah forgot the past. They forgot how God made a covenant with them, how God led them out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land. They forgot how God promised to be their God, and they promised to be God's people. They forgot how God lavished love and blessings upon them. They forgot. To forget is to sin. To forget is to show ingratitude to God. Sin is to live as if God did not exist, to live as if God has not saved us.

Last week, I was the guest of the Striblings at the Kiwanis annual Prayer Breakfast. The new clergy husband and wife team at the Salvation Army spoke, and included in their talk a brief history of the Salvation Army. William Booth was a Methodist minister in London in the mid 1800s when his compassion for the poor led him to organize a movement to minister in Christ's name, because the churches were not doing it. As I listened, I was struck with how history repeats itself when we forget. One hundred years earlier, the Church of England did not remember how Jesus had compassion for the poor. The church was not open or friendly to the poor, so God called John Wesley and raised up the Methodist movement.

Ironically, one hundred years later the Methodists did not remember how Jesus had compassion for the poor. The Methodists did not remember how God called Wesley to minister to the poor. The Methodists were as exclusive as the Church of England, where the poor were not welcome. So, God called William Booth, and raised up the Salvation Army to do God's work with the poor. Why? Because Methodists did not remember the days of their youth, did not remember their heritage, did not remember one of our unique reasons for being.

My challenge on this Memorial weekend is to remember. Remember that it is God from whom every good comes. Remember how God has created us, given us abundant resources, given us the ability to use the resources we have been given, and remember how God has given us our salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Are we forgetting that we would be nothing if it weren't for God's love, God's goodness, God's compassion.

As Americans, let us remember how God has blessed our country. Remember how some of our ancestors came to this land to be free, and to exercise their freedom. Remember how some of our ancestors came as slaves, and only after a terrible war, was their freedom won. Remember how some of our ancestors were the native Americans who lost their land and their freedom of movement. Remember how some of our ancestors came stuffed in holds of ships, too poor to have staterooms. Remember how our nation has been a haven, a flag of hope for the refugees and for the poor. Most of us in this room have roots in poverty. Remember how yet we are struggling as a nation to provide employment, housing, education and health care for all of our people. Remember how much has been given to us as a gift. We did not fashion a nation out of wilderness. We did not found its cities, build its schools, establish its churches, write its Constitution, or sacrifice our lives in war. This has all been given to us, a rich heritage, a tremendous responsibility, of which we are stewards, caretakers, managers, entrusted to hand this nation--a land of the free and the home of the brave--to the next generation.

Remember. If we do not remember, we will be judged. There are strong voices today who are forgetting our heritage. In an understandable attempt to teach children morality and reverence, they are urging the passage of a school prayer amendment, forgetting the wisdom of our ancestors who separated church and state. Article the third, from the Constitution reads, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. I'm disappointed in many Baptists today, for it was the Baptists, beginning with Roger Williams, who led the fight to preserve the separation of church and state. Compulsory prayer in school, and tuition vouchers to attend parochial schools are dangerous precedents. Compulsory prayer in schools is unnecessary. Students and teachers are free to pray individually or in groups. The free exercise of their religion even in the public school is not prohibited. What is prohibited is mandated or compulsory prayer, for that would be the establishment of religion. The question is, who will write the prayer? Remember. If we do not remember, I will return your deeds upon your head, says the Lord.

Remember, and remember accurately. Let us study our history and be as accurate as we can be. There are those today who make assault weapons available even to crazies because they say it is the right of every American to bear arms. They quote the Constitution in support of their opposition to any form of gun control. Let's be accurate here. The Constitution, like the Bible, is so often quoted out of context. Listen to the Constitution, Article the fourth: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. The right to bear arms is within the context of a government militia, an army to protect the country. Nothing is said about individual people having the right to bear assault weapons. Those who oppose gun control measures should use arguments other than remembering the Constitution inaccurately.

Remember, and remember accurately. Israel and Judah were destroyed by their enemies because, says the Lord, You did not remember the days of your youth.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris