Do Not Forget (Proverbs 3)
1. This morning we celebrate with the Church at large the Festival of St. Bartholomew. As our Confessions state, "Our churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling. ... But the Scriptures do not teach that we are to call on the saints or to ask the saints for help. Scripture sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest and Intercessor" (AC XXI, 1-2). We keep the saints before us because they have gone through everything we have before us in the world today. Many of them faced persecution, separation and alienation every day. We look not to what they did but why they did what they did. We look to the faith that God had given them so that they could withstand the struggles of their day and reach the everlasting day. While we do not worship or venerate the saints as some do, we should never forget them and their sacrifices.
2. Solomon brings us to this point as he writes in our text, "My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you" (vv1-2). The first admonition that Solomon gives you is "do not forget my teaching." Solomon was a man who knew all about forgetting the teachings that had been handed down to him by his parents. He's best known for his great wisdom and wealth--and also for the three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines. It was the influences of these wives (most of whom were pagan) that led even the wise Solomon to forget the teachings of YHWH. In his latter days, Solomon would command idols to be built and Asherah poles to be erected so that his wives could worship their various false gods. He, too, eventually spiralled down into the worship of false gods. Here is the man who at the beginning of his life said, "do not forget my teaching," and his downfall--he forgot. For his sins, everything was taken away and his glorious kingdom was divided between his descendants and usurpers of the throne. He forgot and he faced the consequences of his sins. But, if he would have remembered and kept the commandments in his heart, he would have been rewarded.
3. The reward for keeping the commandments is "length of days and years of life" (v2). Jesus told His disciples, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). The best way to visualize the abundant life is a life that has been lived long. Solomon also says, "Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life" (Proverbs 16:31). I look around the sanctuary this morning and see many people who have had abundant lives. They aren't necessarily the richest in the congregation. They aren't necessarily the ones who put the most into the offering plate every Sunday. They aren't necessarily the most vocal in the congregation. They are the ones who have remembered God's teaching. The teaching they remember most is that Jesus kept the commandments for them because they could not do it themselves. He lived the perfect life that the Law requires. Through His death and resurrection, He gives that perfect life and righteousness to His children. Many of those children go on to be quite full with length of days and years of life. That's the abundant life that's promised in the Bible. Even in the Fourth Commandment, there was a promise of abundance attached: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12). Long life has always been associated in the Bible with righteousness. Jesus gives His obedience to you so "that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you."
4. God does this because He is steadfast love and faithfulness. As He proclaimed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:6-7). This God, "abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness," has given the Law to us, not to show us how to get into Heaven. He has given it to us to show us our need for a Savior. The Law brings that need to us every time we look at it. That's why God wants His people always to have His Word before them.
5. Concerning the commandments, Solomon says, "Bind them on your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart" (v3). This is exactly what Moses reminds the Israelites as they are preparing to go into the Promised Land, "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:7-9). God wants His Word always before us. That's because His Word "is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105). It is here to guide us as we pray it will when we say, "Let us read them, learn, mark and take them to heart" ("Collect for the Word"). We pray that God will help us to always keep His Word before us and guiding us so that we may be given praise for what He has done within us.
6. That's exactly what St. Bartholomew (or Nathanael) got when he first met Jesus. He's still walking towards Jesus, most likely being hyped up by St. Philip, when Jesus says, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit" (John 1:47). Does this mean that Bartholomew was perfect? Absolutely not. Bartholomew was simply one who had kept himself solidly in God's Word. His study of the Scriptures prepared him for his call to be an apostle, just as Solomon said, "In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight" (v6). God guides His children along the paths that He sets before them. As our Psalm this morning said, "YHWH is your keeper ... YHWH will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. YHWH will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore" (121:5-8). As your keeper, "He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalm 121:3-4). He keeps you through your life day and night. Being kept by Him, we receive such praise and bringing about what He calls us to do.
7. One of the things we're called to do, and each of us who have been confirmed have pledged to do this, is be willing to sacrifice our own lives for the cause of the Gospel. St. Bartholomew, just as most of the rest of the Apostles, faced martyrdom because of the Gospel. He preached in the region of what is now Armenia. The proclamation of the Gospel had caused him to be imprisoned and then executed by first being skinned alive and then beheaded. He went to the very end, trusting in His Savior who died and rose so that he would receive his eternal crown of glory.
8. We're called to do the same if necessary. We don't have the problem of being arrested and executed for the proclamation of our faith here. However, we know that America is no longer a nation that embraces Christian ethics, values or teaching. We live in a constant state of what could be called "virtual martyrdom". Our lives aren't necessarily at stake, but our heart and soul--and the hearts and souls of our children and our neighbors--are at stake. Just as the rest of society, it seems that every generation in the Church gets further and further away from the center of our Christian faith. Why? Because the idea of living as a "virtual martyr" isn't cool. Nowadays, most people don't think there's very little that's worth dying for. Unfortunately, the Christian faith doesn't even make that list for most people.
9. But we're still told by God, "Do not forget." We come to saint after saint in history who were willing to die for their faith. We talk about not forgetting the great tragedies that have befallen our country. Pearl Harbor for one generation. Vietnam for another. The World Trade Center for the current generation. After each tragedy, there was a slogan along the lines of "We will never forget." When it comes to the saints who have gone before us, we too should never forget them and the faith that many of them died for. The same faith that is in your heart. Amen.