Beloved. This Second Sunday in Lent has the Latin name “Reminiscere”, which means “remember”. You can perhaps hear the word “reminisce” in it. This Sunday receives its name, like so many do in the Church Year, from the first word of the day’s Introit. Today’s opening Introit verse comes from Psalm 25.6: Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they have been from of old. St. David first prayed these words and these are still the words that we pray today as we confess our sins. And as much as we pray the Lord to remember that He is merciful and full of lovingkindness, we also pray as St. David did in the following verse that the Lord not remember: Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions. And with David we again pray that the Lord remember us: according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord. Notice we pray that the Lord look on us and remember us, not according to who we are but according to who and what He is: in His mercy and on account of His goodness.
As we are in the holy and penitential season of Lent, we especially use this holy season as a time to stop and pause and to look at our lives in the mirror of God’s holy law and to recognize our sins. We very easily get used to our sin; in a sense, our sin becomes like an old shoe –we become comfortable in it. That’s why taking time each day, but especially now—and extra time—in Lent we see what our sins really are as we hold them up to God’s holy Law. We see that our sins are against the holy will of God—no matter how much we may seemingly “enjoy” them; we see that our sins are no laughing matter—they earn us God’s wrath and eternal damnation; we see that God does take our sin seriously. And the more honestly and sincerely we compare our thoughts, words and deeds with God’s holy Law, the more sin we will find in our lives. We will see that we can never pat ourselves on the back for a job well done but must instead beat our breast: mea culpa.
But, as we recognize our sin for what it is: rebellion against God and His holy will; and what it earns us: God’s wrath and condemnation in hell—we are only partially done with our repentance. We then go to the Lord in confession of our sin. As we go to the Lord in confession, what are we doing by that? We are praying that the Lord remember that He is merciful to us sinners and full of lovingkindness. There would be no sense going to the Lord in confession if He would only come down on us all the more for our sin. Instead, we go to confession trusting in the Lord’s mercy and in His promise to forgive us our sin for Jesus’ sake. And we do not go to the Lord in confession without the intention of seeking His help, grace, strength and Spirit to fight that sin and to strive to root it out of our heart and life. Confession and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness and asking Him to remember that He is merciful to the sinner means that afterward we will not be the same—we will hate that sin all the more and love the Lord all the more for His forgiveness, loving Jesus and His saving work—His suffering and death—all the more. And the wonderful thing in all of this? —The Lord hears, and loves to hear, the prayers of the penitent sinner; the Lord loves to be reminded of and loves to remember that He is merciful and kind and forgives the sinner.
Here is the motivation for us to examine heart and life this Lent all the more and to confess our sins boldly, asking the Lord to remember who He is and who we are. And the glorious thing? As the Lord remembers us, He remembers us in grace and this leads Him to act for us. Our text is a wonderful commentary on the Lord remembering: Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord.
What is interesting is that the Lord here addresses Ephraim. After Judah, Ephraim is the mightiest of the 12 tribes of Israel. But by the time St. Jeremiah recorded the Lord’s words of our text, the tribe of Ephraim no longer existed. It was part of the ten northern tribes that fell away from the Lord and were conquered by the Assyrian Empire and brought out of the land of Israel and dispersed into slavery throughout the empire, never to return again to Israel. In verses right before our text, the Lord depicts it as if Ephraim, which had rebelled against Him by idolatry and all sorts of other sins, was repenting. He describes Ephraim’s prayer of repentance—as if what no longer really existed could repent.
So why is it important and comforting that Ephraim is mentioned? Our text: Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord. By this the Lord is pointing out, underscoring, that no matter how great our sin, no matter how hopeless we may think we are, there is always forgiveness available to the penitent sinner. Don’t ever let the devil convince you that your sin is too great to be forgiven. It is impossible! No sin is greater than the blood that God Himself shed on the cross for us.
Look at the questions the Lord asks in our text: Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? There’s two ways those questions could be answered—from our side and from God’s side. From our side, considering who and what we are—sinners, who are even born into this world as enemies of God and spiritually dead the answer would be “No!” Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? No, in and of ourselves, how could we be God’s dear children? We are conceived and born into sin, guilty from the sin of Adam and we daily and often add our own sin.
That is the reality that Lent drives home as we recognize our sin. Because of our sin and rebellion how can we be God’s dear son and His darling child? But, in light of our Lord’s mercy, I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord, the answer is “absolutely!” Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? Absolutely! Because of the Lord’s mercy. That’s the Lord’s mercy He has on each of us sinners. No matter how great our sin, each of us can fill in our own name, Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? and answer the question: most definitely because the Lord is merciful and remembers His mercy.
This is His love toward us sinners that shows itself in mercy toward us. His love toward us is a love that defies any rational explanation. In spite of our sin and waywardness, the Lord is ready to treat us as His dear and darling children. In our prayer as we confess our sin, we are holding to, placing our trust and confidence not in ourselves and our works—as if our confession merits us something before God—but our confidence is in the Lord and His mercy and love. And as we go to the Lord confessing our sins, we are reminding the Lord of His love and mercy and what is so glorious for us is that He wants us to and delights in us reminding Him. Each time we confess, we are saying “Lord, You promised to forgive; remember Your mercy”; otherwise what would be the point of confession if God did not promise to forgive, if He was not merciful? The Lord shows a fatherly heart to all who turn to Him in true contrition and repentance–even as we go to Him with the same sin we still keep committing, no matter how hard we try not to.
The Lord always remembers us in grace and He is not silent about. We may at times feel like the woman in today’s Gospel, that the Lord is not answering us: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! A demon is severely tormenting my daughter!” But he did not answer her a word. That is, that we don’t feel forgiven, and since we don’t “feel” any different, that God hasn’t forgiven us, that He has forgotten His mercy. But our Lord is not silent. He assures us that He has remembered His mercy toward us! That’s why through the Pastor He speaks the words of absolution. That’s why He has given us the privilege of private confession so that we may hear His mercy and forgiveness for that sin which is especially bothering us. Listen and take to heart the words of the holy absolution because as in your confession you told God to remember His mercy and loving kindness, He in holy absolution tells you that He has!
The Lord remembering us in grace and mercy causes Him to act. And sometimes it will look like He is being unmerciful toward us. That’s what happened with Ephraim. They had rebelled against the Lord and worshipped other gods. So what did the Lord do? In His grace and lovingkindness, He called Ephraim back to Him. But it involved judgment, harsh actions to wake them up out of their sin. He raised up the enemy armies to attack Ephraim. But even in the midst of His judgment being poured out on them, the Lord was still remembering them in grace. Our text: For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Even in the midst of His wrath on them, the Lord remembers His mercy and gracious promise. Even as, and precisely as, the Lord uttered hard words of condemnation, the Lord remember[ed] him still. And it was because the Lord remember[ed] him still, that He uttered the harsh words—all in order to get them to repent.
Certainly the Lord deals the same way with us. When we feel the word of the Lord in His holy Law condemning us and crushing us, when the Lord calls on us to recognize and repent of our sin, it will be unpleasant. Perhaps, in order to get our attention and/ or to discipline us the Lord has some judgment to come upon us as He did Ephraim, what is the Lord’s thoughts toward us? I do remember him still.
The Lord always remembers us in grace and always acts toward us in grace. Again our text: For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. What does this mean? If the Lord, whenever He was forced to punish Ephraim still thinks of him, then Ephraim must be a dear son to Him. Even when we think the Lord is letting the floodgates of His wrath open upon us, He is still remembering us in grace and mercy and this causes Him to act. Think again to today’s Gospel. There it looked like Jesus was ignoring and being mean to that poor woman for no reason—but what was He doing? He was working to strengthen and purify her faith; to show her and the disciples the true treasure of that gift of faith she had and to teach them and us where to turn in every trial—in faith to the Lord who remembers us.
For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. The very example of our text from disobedient and unfaithful Ephraim showing that God remember[ed] him still, means that it’s not because their obedience and faithfulness to the Lord caused the Lord such great joy that He had to remember him still, but rather the Lord remember[ed] him still, because the Lord has that unchangeable love and He cannot leave us, His dear children, in spite of our sin. He remembers us in grace. This is why Holy Baptism gives us such great comfort. There God took us and adopted us into His holy family, making us His dear children and heirs with Jesus of heaven. That’s why the Lord says to us in our text: Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord. The Lord’s love and remembering us in grace causes Him to act for us. God is not just the father of the prodigal son who waits for the son to return, He is also the God of John 3.16… He acts! His heart yearning for us, His certainty of compassion on us shows itself as He rescued us from our true misery of sin, death, devil and hell—and this He did in the Person of His Son Jesus our Savior. Glorious words: I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord. INJ Amen.