The Folly of Forgetfulness (A Sermon on Psalm 50:22-23)

Forgetfulness is a destructive phenomenon that slowly gnaws away at life, stunting our growth individually and en masse.[1] We are, and hopefully shall forever be, "the land of the free and the home of the brave." However, quiet as it is kept, our land also has been chalk full of entrepreneurial pirates, peddlers of human cargo, and power-hungry politicians of all stripes; not really a picture of moral heroics. Founded as a nation of immigrants, thieves, and explorers, some of our forefathers (and those who have followed) ruthlessly obtained independence and have sustained global dominance by any means necessary. The bitter taste of fact easily upsets the fiction we embrace. And so, in time we forget. As sad as it is, our forgetfulness disproportionately affects children, especially those forced to swim against the tide of disadvantage; some discarded like cigarettes by those entrusted with their care. Take 4-year-old, Kamari Zavon Taylor of northeast Washington, DC. Last Wednesday, he died somewhere between his apartment in the 5600 block of Nannie Helen Boroughs Avenue and the ambulance ride. After a disagreement with his mother's live-in boyfriend, the 33-year-old punched Kamari repeatedly in his abdomen, which lacerated his liver, according to the medical examiner, separating it into three segments.[2] The boyfriend then left Kamari in his room in order to sell weed. Though we pray, "Come Lord Jesus, hear our prayer," in time forgetfulness will consume us.

At times forgetfulness is actually a coping mechanism we employ to halt the psychological effects of trauma. Yet it never works; in time forming into harmful pathologies. This is why we know that "hurt people hurt people." We are a mixed-up people. The child reared on Jesus in a modest meeting house or storefront sanctuary now feels fit only for gothic cathedrals whose parking lots contain enough Range Rovers to keep his company. Often called "baby brain,"[3] forgetfulness has been known to plague mothers before, during, and even after giving birth. Having given birth to her third child last September, actress Reese Witherspoon said, "My baby stole my brain...I'm sure I'm losing friendships over forgetting to get back to people. But you can't keep up with everything. I've got a 13-year-old, a nine-year-old and a baby."[4] But that brand of forgetfulness isn't really what we are here to discuss.

We aren't here to cover forgetfulness that necessitates a medical diagnosis, perhaps brought on by a stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury, Alzheimer's, or Dementia. We aren't to discuss forgetfulness resultant from a concussion or old-age; not forgetfulness that can be kept at bay through Crossword Puzzles, Sudoku, or Lumosity. The universal forgetfulness on this morning's sermonic docket is much more premeditated, levied by us whether we are busy or bored. Consequential to the fallen human condition, we suffer from it randomly and systematically, formally and informally. This kind of forgetfulness equally impacts princes and paupers. It has no bearing on who your parents were or were not or the socio-economic associations of your zip code. Its influences run deep, no matter if you were eligible for free and reduced meals or if you are a product of the full "Resident Tuition" rate at Georgetown Preparatory School. It reaches beyond an abundance or lack of opportunity, digging its talons into the hearts of all women and men, past, present, and future.

Speaking of the past, I think it's fair to say that the Israelites were nothing short of a mess. The Old Testament chronicles their journey with God and Psalm 50 is an intermediate snapshot. They were an unruly bunch, hypocritical, and temperamental. The phrase "inconsistently consistent" comes to mind. They would take one step forward and then two steps back. If God didn't move fast enough according to their demands, it was no problem. Off to idol worship or other disobedient revelry, they would go. And then when everything fell apart, as it always did, they'd cry out to God for forgiveness and restoration. In-between, though, there would be lots of potty-mouth complaining and snarky defiance, or "backchat" as JoJo the Suppernanny would say. So from time-to-time, God's response would be to send them to a thinking chair, manifested as oppression, nomadic uncertainty, or other struggle. In verse 12 of Psalm 50 God said, "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine." God is in-charge; a fact often lost on the Israelites. Nevertheless, through it all, God continued rescuing them from the clutches of permanent demise. No matter their folly, God's reply was always rooted in love -- love not always easily understood by mere mortals, but love still. It's been said, "Most men forget God all day and ask God to remember them at night." The Israelites were caught red-handed in this transgression thousands of years ago, just as we are also guilty today.

We forget all kinds of things: our spouse's birthday; how long the roast has been in the oven; we forget to use our turn signal before changing lanes. All of these things and so much more, we ought to earnestly improve upon. But most of all, we should be wary of forgetfulness that leads us to bypass one of life's most important lessons: saying, "Please," and, "Thank you." It is wonderful when we offer these respectful blessings to others, but it is of the utmost importance that we begin with God. In Psalm 50:22-23 God says, "Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver. Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God." It is good and right for Christians to belong to a local church. However, church attendance and participation isn't the primary way we denote our forgiveness in Christ to the world, or that we offer praise to God. The only reasonable service to God is our very life. That is the scriptural requirement. Not just your vocation, your time, your money; not just your relationships, your attitude, your intellect, your body -- but you. God wants all of you and me.

Even so, prisoners, we remain, of the prefrontal cortex where short-term memory rests. We tend to remember what is convenient, forgetting the sacred. This is all the more reason we must reprogram ourselves to say to God, "Please," and, "Thank you." Rooted in everyday reminders, God deserves our thanksgiving, honoring what God has done, is doing, and will do, as well as simply expressing gratitude that God is who God is. Forgetfulness is everywhere you look. On Twitter, Chris Brown recently complained that people will never let him forget his brutal 2009 assault of then superstar girlfriend, Rihanna. Mayoral candidate, Anthony Weiner hopes New York City voters will forget his seemingly ever-developing misdeeds. Most of us forget that video killed the radio star and life has never been the same since. But none of this is as important as living a life of "Please," and, "Thank you." While we strive to not forget God, God promises to forget the sin of those who follow him through his son, Jesus.[5]

On a day and at a time under circumstances unbeknownst to us, our bodies will land on a mortician's postmortem operating room table; he or she preparing our reunion with the ground. It is a shame when people forget where they come from, in that we are dust and to dust we shall return. But that only speaks to our physical frame. The One who exhaled life into dry bones will also lovingly receive our spirits into eternity; issuing a judgment of unification or separation. It is God the Lord we are most forgetful of. It is a sacrifice to honor God. In a society so unconcerned with such things, doing so puts you at odds with popularity, prestige, and acceptance. You are likely to be labeled a misfit, maybe even a holy roller if you communicate thanksgiving to God with regularity and sincerity. But with eternity on the line, it is well worth it. Don't let forgetfulness consume you. Consume forgetfulness with thanksgiving.

[1] This sermon was preached by yours truly, the Rev. James Ellis III, on August 11, 2013 at Laurel Presbyterian Church in Laurel, MD where the Rev. Dr. Amy Ruth Schacht is pastor.


[3] Denis Campbell, "Pregnancy 'does cause memory loss," The Observer (February 2, 2008);

[4] Rosamund Dean, "Reese Witherspoon: Ambition, Babies, Career, Downton...," Red (June 2013);

[5] Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34.