Bryan Cones, Pentecost XVIII

Exodus 32:1-14; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

I forgot.

Kristin preached last week on those “10 best ways,” the commandments that are the charter of life with the God of Israel. There are only 10 or so of them, but, if the world is any indication, they are fairly easy to forget. Even the people that received them directly from God, so the story goes, forgot them almost immediately. In Moses’ absence they forgot not only the commandments, but who they were: God’s people, slaves delivered from the land of Egypt and made free.

It got so bad that it seems even God forgot: Imagine Moses’s surprise when he found out what his people, whom he brought up from Egypt were doing. My people? I imagine him saying. I was in a whole other country when you came to get me. They all forgot, forgot themselves, forgot God, forgot Moses, forgot each other.

Forgetting is a common problem—it’s in every reading today. Euodia and Syntyche in the second reading, two pillars and leaders in Philippi, evidently had such a hard time getting along that the church had to send a messenger to Paul, in a Roman prison, for his intervention. These two women had forgotten that they were sisters in Christ, partners in the work of the gospel.

Even that odd parable in the gospel of Matthew has some “forgetting” in it: All those original invitees forgot just whose kingdom they were living in, so much so that they killed the king’s messengers. It might be convenient to see this reading as some sort of diatribe against the Jewish authorities, but Matthew wasn't writing to Jews as such; he was writing to Christians, some of whom were already forgetting, going back to their old lives, not living up to the “wedding garment” they had been given. Jesus, like Moses, had been gone for a while, and some of his followers were forgetting him and all those feasts they shared with him.

It’s so easy to forget. And we know that when we start to forget the little things, the big things are sure to follow. It can be easy to forget what life is really about, to forget the best ways to live by. Relationships erode little by little until people “forget” that they are married, or that they are friends, or sisters.

Forgetting can take on a life of its own: I've often wondered if addiction is a kind of forgetting, when something else has so taken over life, that it becomes its own thing, replacing or masking the memory, of the person that’s really there. Perhaps in our own lives we've had moments when we've come to our senses, woken up and wondered: How did I get here? Who am I?

I forgot.

Perhaps in moments of doubt or guilt or shame we've wondered if God has forgotten us as well.

Thank God for Moses. Thank God for Paul. Thank God for all those people who help us remember who we are and who God is. Thank God for the people who stand in the gap and say: This isn't you. Remember yourself, remember who you are called to be. I hope we all have people like that in our lives.

And thank God for those laws, those practices, those best ways that help us remember. As a child one of the nightly rituals in our family was the obligatory “I love you” before going to bed. Often enough, it was preceded by an equally obligatory “I'm sorry,” to mend whichever relationship had suffered that day. Sometimes it felt like we were faking it, and sometimes we were, but we always remembered we were a family, so that we never got so far down the road that we forgot. Perhaps we all have our own home rituals our own ways of remembering who we are.

I’d like to think of this Sunday gathering as one of those ways of remembering. When we touch that blessed water at the door of the church, we remember ourselves as God’s beloved baptized, made one in the new covenant in Christ.

When we greet one another here we remember that we belong to the company of those invited into living the best ways of God, even if sometimes we forget. And even when we do, here’s a whole jumble of Moses and Pauls to help us remember.

When we hear the story of God’s people proclaimed, we remember that it’s our story, too: we are the characters, actors with God in the drama of the world’s salvation.

And when we gather at this table we remember that we are the ones drawn from everywhere to feast at God’s banquet. We are the ones Jesus is talking about. We are the ones gathered and fed to in turn be sent out again, so that the world might itself remember the best way God has made it to be.