I Will Never Forget You (Isaiah 49:8-16a)

Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up. Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has
comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…

Isaiah 49:8-16a

May the words of my mouth
And the meditations of all of our hearts Be acceptable in thine sight
O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

“But Zion said,
‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’”

“Forsaken.” “Forgotten.” The words are stark. Bleak. In the English the hard “g” sound and the “k”–“guh”, “kuh”–echo the sharpness of the pain, like slaps across the face. To be forsaken, forgotten…. You can feel the hurt and anger echoing down through the centuries.
Our passage for this morning once more comes from the time of the Babylonian exile, a time when the leadership of Israel had been taken into captivity in the foreign capitol of Babylon. It’s easy to imagine the captives feeling abandoned, cast off, as if their very lives had been erased. Far from home and familiar sights and smells….it must have been a trial indeed.

But not only that, to feel that they had been forsaken and forgotten by their God…. To feel that they had been abandoned and left alone, by their God….
“But Zion said,
‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’”

Have you ever felt abandoned? Maybe you lost a parent when you were young. Maybe you got dumped by someone in a relationship. You know what I’m talking about.

It’s hard to get over that, isn’t it? It makes you mad. The hurt turns to anger and then back again into hurt. It’s just two sides of the same coin.

Indeed, sometimes you can get so caught up in the hurt and anger that it starts to eat away at you, it starts to consume your life. We’ve all known people who’ve become bitter and broken. It’s as if they just can’t let it go–it is as if the hurt and anger were taking over their lives.
I wonder if we can catch echoes of that in our passage for this morning. Indeed, what’s remarkable about Zion’s cry of anguish is that it comes in the midst of God’s declaration of hope and good news.

“Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the
desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’
Scripture portrays the Babylonian exile as punishment for the sins of Israel. The people had violated the covenant and God had cut them loose. And yet here we see God calling to them, “Allie allie all come free! All is forgiven, all is forgotten. God is calling out to the people in their darkness. But Zion can’t hear. Israel is deaf.
“Zion said,
‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’”
And so God says:
“They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger
or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up. Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.”
“I have not abandoned you,” he seems to be saying. “ I know you’re suffering. I will take pity on you. I will gather up all that has been scattered. I will lead you out of your sorrow.”
But still Zion can’t hear. And still Israel clings to her anger and her hurt. “Zion said,
‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’”
And so what does God do? Never one to give up, He demands that the whole of creation declare his love for his people:
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
And still this is not enough. Still Zion closes her ears and Israel turns away her face. “Zion said,
‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’”
Friends, aren’t we like this too sometimes? Aren’t we blind to God’s mercy in our midst, deaf to his declaration of love? Sometimes it’s just so hard to let go of our anger and our hurt. And if we feel guilty, as if we were to blame, how much harder is it then to open ourselves up and receive the healing we need? Isn’t there something within us, maybe a kind of pride, that sometimes would rather nurse our anger and our hurt–even it it means turning our back on healing, itself?
But hear the Good News, even in the face of our pride, God does not give up. He comes to us in our numbness, he cuts through the walls we build around ourselves. In intimate words, in tender and gentle words, he responds to our stubbornness.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…”
It is as if to say he has tattooed our very lives on his body, so that he might never be apart from us, so that we might always be in his presence.
“I will never forget you,” he says. “Yes, even a mother might forget her child, but I shall never forget you.”

Friends, our God is always calling to us, and most earnestly when we are in our places of darkness. He knows how we hurt and he comes with the balm of his love to heal us, to gather us up, to claim us.
May we learn to listen. May we learn to let go of what does not matter and to cling to that which leads to new life and healing. Amen.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.