Göttinger Predigten im Internet
ed. by U. Nembach, J. Neukirch


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“Remember, O LORD, your compassion and your loving kindnesses, for they have been from of old.”

There’s an old proverb here in the southern United States: “When you’re up to your waist in alligators, it’s hard to remember the original objective was to drain the swamp.” We all have times when it seems we’re up to our waist in alligators, flailing around, fearful of predatory persons or forces, unable to remember how we came to this critical moment. This is especially true for God’s faithful. As we respond to God’s promise of resurrection to new life, a new world, a kingdom coming in which Jesus reigns, we encounter mighty resistance from our own sin, death and the devil. We believers find ourselves ‘up to our waist in alligators’.

That was the experience of the psalmist who wrote, “Remember, O LORD, your compassion and your loving kindnesses, for they have been from of old.”( Ps. 25:6) The psalmist was up against ominous adversaries, trying to bring him down from his high calling to serve God among God’s people. As the vision of his vocation became blurred in the battle to survive, he called out to the One who called him, the One whose résumé spelled faithfulness through the years. Maybe it was more like scream therapy than our anemic prayer recitations. The total psalm reveals a soul expressing both the terror of potential humiliation in defeat as well as a centering hope in the Lord whose history is compassion and loving kindness going way back, well known among his people.

It sounds like a primitive theology, hoping God won’t forget who he is and what he is like just when we’re trying to remember what we’re doing in this frightful swamp full of ‘gators. Can God forget? Aren’t we the ones that need to remember? Isn’t it our amnesia that needs repair?

My father had severe dementia in the final years of his life. At times he couldn’t remember my name, where he was, or how to find his room. It was tragic to see the main man in my life become a fumbling, frail shadow trying to find himself. I struggled with mixed feelings of compassion for him in his frailty and my own sense of loss – loss of a father, an irrational feeling of abandonment. We have the same feelings with our Ultimate Father, times when we wonder if he knows what he’s doing, times when we feel abandoned to predatory persons and forces in our personal swamp. Then the primitive cry of the psalmist becomes our cry. “Remember, O LORD, your compassion and your loving kindnesses, for they have been from of old.” Live up to your résumé, Lord! We have a history together. Be true to yourself!

We go way back, our God and us. Way back to Abraham and his strange call; “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That promise of blessing goes way back – “from of old”. But it’s always new when Jesus speaks to us of his Father and the coming kingdom for which he lived and died. “Blessed are you poor in spirit for the kingdom of the Heavens is yours.” In our poverty and moral bankruptcy, Jesus promises a supreme inheritance in which God reigns victorious. In Jesus, God’s original objective becomes clear again as he speaks the Blessing to the hungry, the powerless and the persecuted. He invites us to pray for a kingdom coming in which God’s will “is done on earth as it is in heaven” – beginning with us. Faithful to that calling, we also pray “deliver us from the evil one.” For in seeking first the kingdom of God, we take up a cross for a cause that makes waves, rocks the boat and upsets the status quo. Enmity and enemies are expected for God’s faithful. But the God and Father of our Lord Jesus is big enough to love even our enemies, “for he causes his sun to shine on the good and evil and his rain to fall on the ungrateful and the thankful. Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.”

Jesus is God’s ultimate Sign that God remains true to his Promise. He remembers his loving kindnesses. The kingdom has come – in Jesus. The ultimate shape of our humanity has been disclosed – in Jesus. The truest form of community has been launched – in Jesus. And we are invited to a foretaste at the Table of our Lord. With his body given as the bread of our lives, with his blood shed to fill the covenant cup of our reprieve from guilt and death, we are called to “remember”. To remember all that God has been to us and for us in Jesus, and in remembering him to be re-membered as his living body in the world today. The vocation is now ours to live the faith of Abraham, believing that Salvation and Shalom are promised beyond the empty promises of empire and the risks of our wilderness journey. We are the called ones to be the ‘light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hid.’ We are the chosen ones, commanded to ‘love one another as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are my followers.’

I recently attended a Jazz concert featuring the Dave Brubeck Quartet which was celebrating his 85 birthday. As I contemplated this silver haired master, almost too frail to stand without a hand on the piano, I was awed by his undiminished passion to perform and create fresh music. In the first half of the concert, he took the microphone to remember some recent history. His agent surprised them by booking 15 engagements in England. “This may look like a small country to you” Dave noted, “until you have to travel by bus between every engagement, sleeping in a different bed every night.” The agent promised that soon they would perform in London and several ‘flats’ had been secured for their comfort, suites that would allow them to settle in for a few days relief from bouncing bus rides. Surprise! Every London engagement from their ‘flats’ required a two-hour bus ride both coming and returning. Dave smiled wryly as we laughed in sympathy. He then announced the label of their new jazz CD. ‘ London Flat, London Sharp’. Here is a spirited senior who knows how transform the trials of his journey into another contribution to the symphony of life, the cosmic concert of creativity that God has invested in each of us. Like the psalmist, the true vocation of this artist was not defeated by the trials of this – and many past tours. Instead, it gave him one more opportunity to bless as he has been blessed.

And so we also who journey on this Lent can transform, and be transformed in every trial, to go on blessing as we have been blessed.

The Rev. Arnold Hilpert
Jacksonville , Florida