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August 19, 2005

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Everyone makes mistakes. Even a man who millions around the world consider infallible.

At his weekly audience at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, this week, Pope Benedict XVI committed what Catholic theologians term a “papal boo-boo.” The hundreds of pilgrims crammed into the courtyard of the palace were surprised to see him reappear at the window he had left only moments before after greeting the pilgrims in several languages. Except one. “I ask for your forgiveness, he said to them, “but I have forgotten the most important greeting, the greeting to the pilgrims in the Italian language.” He then greeted the group in Italian and left again.

And then again he reappeared just a few moments later. “Today, I have forgotten the most important things,” he apologized. “I omitted the most important thing: the benediction,” he said, smiling, before delivering the traditional blessing that ends his audiences.

The Pope blamed his oversight on being preoccupied with his upcoming visit to Cologne, to the Word Youth Jamboree.

Everyone forgets sometimes, even the best of us. Even, it seems, those doing God's work and caring for the spiritual well-being of others. My lapses of memory don't make Yahoo News, but they occur. I've forgotten lunch appointments. I've forgotten to say things I needed to have said in sermons. I've forgotten to return calls, forgotten to visit the sick, forgotten to pray with people who were hurting. Last year I forgot the prayer at Thanksgiving!

I can only hope that my forgetfulness has not caused pain to anyone, or has made anyone feel like they don't matter to me. I'll work harder to try not to forget things, but the fact is that sometimes I still will have a lapse of memory. Everyone forgets.

Well, almost everyone.

God doesn't forget. While important things slip the minds of Popes and preachers alike, God never forgets a blessing. No biblical writers even try to prove it, to back it up with statistics or argue it with logic. That's just where you start when you consider about God. It's borne out in history, written in the stories and history of his people. God's compassion never fails. His love and concern and care for his people are “new every morning.”

It's significant that the person who wrote that was reflecting on what was then undoubtedly the darkest time in Israel's history. They had lost their independence, been overwhelmed militarily by the armies of Babylon. Their capital city, Jerusalem, had fallen to the Babylonians. Even worse, God's temple had been raided. Gentiles had tramples all over the pristine courts, defiling it and looting it of the sacred vessels and symbols of the peoples' faith. The Holy of Holies, the chamber in which it was said that the glory of God resided, had been breached. The land promised to Abraham's descendents forever, the land won over centuries through God's power and the providence had been lost in the space of an afternoon.

And yet the writer of Lamentations, tears dripping onto the page, wrote, “his compassions never fail.”

“Oh, really?” I would no doubt have sarcastically said. I would have pointed at the burning temple. The starved corpses littering the streets of Jerusalem. The dead and wounded soldiers. The scorched crops and the breached city walls. “His compassions never fail?” And the writer would have simply said, “We are not consumed.”

Though his people had forgotten him, God had not forgotten them. Though they had chosen other gods, he did not choose another people. He chastised them. He punished them. He let them feel the heat of his anger. Many of them died, but as a people they survived. God remembered to bless them, even though they had done nothing to deserve to be remembered.

And we who have seen God remember compassion from the heights of a cross and the depths of a tomb should be able, even through the tears of pain and grief and disappointment, to testify that God never forgets to bless his people. Oh, sometimes events suggest that he has. When you're blindsided by an unfaithful spouse or the sudden death of someone you love or the loss of a job or the diagnosis of a serious disease or the struggles of a son or daughter, surely it isn't unreasonable to wonder if God has forgotten. Surely it's understandable to imagine that this time, at least, God dropped the ball.

And sometimes, let's admit, the bad times we slog through are really just what we deserve. They are the consequences of forgetting our God and choosing to bow at the altars of the world. Like God's people of millennia ago, we look in disbelief at the smoking ruin that sin has brought upon our lives and imagine God doing the Church Lady Superior Dance with a gleeful “I-told-you-so” smirk on his face.

But the point of the cross, the promise of the gospel, is that God's love triumphs over pain and evil and sin and death. After the cross is endured, sin is buried and resurrection is sure. And so the proper response of God's people when we suffer hardship, whether of our own making or not, is to trust in God's faithfulness. We bow our heads in repentance, our knees in prayer, and lift our voices to sing the ancient refrain that God's compassion is new every morning. However dark the night may be, morning will come and the sun will rise and once again God's compassion will dawn in our lives.

Everyone forgets, except God. Whatever you may be going through at the moment, you can depend on his love and compassion like you can depend on the morning sun to chase away the darkness. Turn your attention to him. Place your trust in him. Through your tears, when you must, entrust your life to his hands.

He will never forget to bless you. Don't you forget him to look to him and receive what he gives.


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