“Remember Not The Former Things”
Pastor Rodwell G. Thom
[ Isaiah 43: 11-
God spoke a word to ancient Israel: “Remember not the former things!” One of the striking features we humans have is the capacity to remember. We have memories. We can literally sit in the present but remember and live in the past. We also have imaginations. We can literally live in the future. We can sit here and imagine what we're going to do as soon as worship is over.
Most of our problems in life don't come from our imaginations. They come from our memories. The past presents us with a paradox. On the one hand, a lot of good things have happened to us. We remember these things and feel good about ourselves. We develop great confidence in ourselves when we remember good things. Unfortunately we sometimes forget things we should remember. On the other hand, some bad things have happened to us. We remember some things we should forget. We let them become a lead weight, dragging us into despair. We are what we are due to the way we edit our memories. We tend to be selective in terms of what we bring forward from our past. This is exactly what the prophet Isaiah addresses: this double edge between the good things we forget and the bad things we remember.
As we gather to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Guyana’s independence it is well
to ask ourselves: What are your individual memories of Guyana? What is our national
memory? Is it selective? We remember significant events in our history. We remember
how each race came to Guyana and how we came to be known as the land of six peoples.
We remember the emancipation of slaves, the arrival of indentured laborers, the rise
of the working class, organization of labor, the development of the political ethos,
the long struggle for Independence that we finally celebrated on May 26, 1966. We
can also remember some bitter memories – mainly, it seems to me racial conflicts
and disturbances, and the deep distrust and suspicions with which we have subsequently
lived. We remember destruction of property and loss of life. We remember times when
it seemed like the very fabric of our society would be irreparably ripped apart.
So as we sit here in the tri-
As I think about God’s call to “remember not the former things,” I do remember my
foster grandmother who was a black woman, as good a woman as you would find anywhere.
She was strong, intelligent and found many ways to teach us life-
God speaks a word to Israel: “Remember not the former things.” It is a word for us too. God calls us to forget. How do we forget? How do we edit our memories? How does our dear land of Guyana move past its national phobia? Does it mean we turn a blind eye to injustice? Does it mean we pretend that wrong has not been perpetrated? My sisters and brothers, this is no small matter and there are no easy answers! But please join me in a reflection of the Biblical account of the Israelites' flight from Egypt. The angel of God went before them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. There was one memorable moment when the angel had to go stand behind them to help them close the door on their past. It was a moment when they faced the threat of the Red Sea in front of them but they were in absolute panic as the hosts of Egypt charged behind them. Harold Cooke Phillips in his sermon “Closing the Doors” is quite correct: "Is it not true that often our greatest enemies are not those in front of us but those behind us?” We may be concerned about our future here in the US or the future of our beloved Guyana. We may be concerned about our family here and back home. But aren’t we more like the Israelites: harassed not so much by the enemies we must one day meet as by the Egyptians we have already met? This is what makes life so difficult. We have these ghosts pursuing us. We think we have escaped, then we hear the clatter of their horses and see the dust of their chariots! Isn’t there a point at which we must set the Lord our God not only before us, around us, above us, and below us but also behind us? Isn’t this the time when we need the healing love of God right between us and the memories of the past?
Our God is an awesome God. God is always breaking up old patterns of reality. Why? That we might begin new. God speaks at a pivotal point in Israel's history – a time when she has to seek new a understanding of her mission. God calls Israel to make a sharp break between her past and her future. “Remember not the former things. I am about to do a new thing.” God will transform Israel’s circumstances. Israel must die to her past so that the birth of a glorious future can take place. She must replace her memories of suffering and abuse with an awareness of God's generous new future.
God has a word for us as we celebrate 35 years of Independence: Remember not the hatred and negativity that has been an acid in the Guyanese psyche. Remember not old grudges, resentments, and vexations of the mind. Remember not every real and perceived act of injustice that has been done against us. There are some things we just have to forget. If we remember all the hurt we have experienced, life becomes clogged and choked. If we selectively remember bad things then we destroy all confidence for today, we cast a dark shadow over every tomorrow, and we leave a very poor heritage for our children’s future. We should constantly sort out our memories, throwing away things we ought to forget and keeping things that are precious. We either manage our memories or our memories manage us!
As I prepared for this event my own memory was jogged a little (again). I remember
living in Buxton. When I began teaching I joined the local soccer team and practiced
regularly. On the first day I turned out to play, one of the players, an Afro-
This remembrance leads me in another direction this afternoon. “Remember not the
former things” is a word that does not stand by itself, but notice it is immediately
followed by “I am going to do a new thing.” It is more than simply forgetting the
past. It is about the transformation of what we remember, our history if you will.
Reflect with again on the relationship between Israel and Egypt. Led by the power
of God, Israel closed the door and walked out, leaving Egypt behind. But as her future
unfolded, Israel had to renegotiate and redefine her relationship with Egypt. In
her battle with Assyria, her strongest ally was Egypt. In her battle with Babylon,
her strongest ally was Egypt. When Nebuchadnezzar sacked the temple and slaughtered
its priests, the prophet Jeremiah was rescued by Egypt. And we remember in recent
times when Scud missiles pounded into Tel Aviv from Iraq, Israelis sat huddled in
buildings, gas masks on their faces, little children hugging desperately to their
mothers' sides, and their only hope the Patriot missiles being off-
And this helps me to understand the word of God: “I am about to do a new thing.”
This “new thing” for Guyana -
From Pastor Thom: I am indebted to the homiletical insights from “Light in the Land of Shadows” by Harold C. Warlick, Jr.
The Reverend Rodwell G. Thom, a Guyanese, is currently pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran
Church, East Orange, NJ. He was educated at the University of Guyana, the United
Theological College of the West Indies and the University of the West Indies. He
has pastored in Guyana, where he served as President of the Lutheran Church (1992-
(This message was delivered at the celebration of the 35th Anniversary of Guyana’s independence, organized by the Guyana Cultural Association and held on June 24, 2001)