All Saints’ Sunday
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Isaiah 49:15-16 Sermon
November 5, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
437 "Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones"
144 "For All The Saints Who From Their Labors Rest"
141 "For All Thy Saints, O Lord"
556 "Rise Ye Children Of Salvation"
GOD WILL NOT FORGET YOU
TEXT: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”
He was born on September 9, 1890 in Henryville, Indiana. There was nothing really special about him—he grew up about like any other boy in many ways.
His father died when he was six years old, which forced his mother to enter the job market. Because his mother was otherwise occupied with other things, he helped her however he could, especially in the kitchen. He loved to cook, and over the course of time, he became fairly good at it.
He entered the army, and served time in Cuba. Then he worked as a firefighter, a steamboat driver, and an insurance salesman.
But he always wanted to do something more with his life, so he went into business for himself. At age 40, he bought his own gasoline service station in Corbin, Kentucky.
As he operated this station, he wanted to diversify a bit. So he began serving meals out of his living quarters at the service station, and became quite successful with the local people in this small town.
Things were going so well, that it wasn’t too long before he had to relocate his business to a local motel and restaurant, which seated 142 people. When that happened, he gave up his socket wrenches and coveralls for a chef’s hat and apron. Amongst the menu items, he was especially popular for his southern fried chicken.
He used a recipe that had been in his family for years; however he worked on it and perfected it over a period of years in the restaurant. And one day, he hit upon a combination that produced the best fried chicken he had ever tasted.
But his success seemed like it would be rather short-lived. When Interstate 75 was built, his business began to fail. And so, he wound up declaring bankruptcy and closing his doors. His only means of income was his $105 per month social security pension check.
He wasn’t going to let this get him down though. And so at age 65, he decided to take his product on the road. His mission was to get other restaurants to put his chicken on their menu. His compensation for this would be a 5-cent per piece commission on each piece of chicken they sold.
That’s all it took for his chicken franchise to take off and go like gangbusters. The man’s name, as you might have guessed by now, is Harland Sanders. And his chicken recipe is the secret 11 herbs and spices in what is known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC.
Harland Sanders died on December 16, 1980 from leukemia at the age of 90. But his familiar smiling face complete with glasses, goatee, and bow tie is still the company’s logo, and is plastered all over KFC restaurants, which are ubiquitous throughout the world.
Colonel Sanders became famous doing what he liked to do, and that was cook chicken. He is quoted as saying, “You got to like your work. You have got to like what you are doing, you have got to be doing something worthwhile so you can like it -- because it is worthwhile, that it makes a difference, don't you see?”
Colonel Sanders is remembered all over the world. I remember seeing him doing the KFC commercials himself when he was still alive—boasting that his chicken was “finger lickin’ good.” And he had the success to prove it.
But others who never saw the Colonel himself still know the name and the image. His name and likeness have lived on, even though he has been dead for 26 years and his body is in a grave in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Virtually everybody knows who Colonel Harland Sanders is, or at least recognizes his likeness.
Everybody likes to be remembered. When we are alive, we appreciate it when people remember our birthdays and send us cards or give us gifts. We like it when our friends spot us on the street and say “hello.” And we especially like it when people say nice things about us, especially when we aren’t around. These things make us feel good and feel appreciated.
We also like to think that we make a difference in this world, and that people will remember good things about us after we have gone. We want to have some sort of legacy live on after our earthly life is completed. We want that assurance that we have made a positive difference somehow, somewhere, and someplace.
Now I don’t intend to make this sound like we are supposed to brag about ourselves or turn or faces into franchise logos; but we do like to know that our life had meaning to others, and that we were able to fulfill some type of noble purpose. We want to be remembered.
So what about our standing before God? What does he remember about us? Does he really know us and who we are and what we are? When we consider all of the people living on this earth right now, and add to that all of the people who have lived before us and who will come after us, isn’t there the danger of getting “lost in the shuffle?” How can our life be significant enough to be remembered by God? How can he keep track of all of those people?
Certainly God would know people like the Apostle Paul, or King David, or maybe Billy Graham…but us too? What about “little old me” out here in Nebraska?
On this All Saints’ Sunday, I’ve chosen as a text the words spoken by God to the Israelites. In the verse just prior to our text, in verse 14 of Isaiah 49 we read, “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”
The Israelites felt alone and abandoned. They were suffering hardship and persecution. They felt like they had gotten lost in the shuffle, and that they were insignificant in the eyes of the Lord. They needed some reassurance that their lives had some sort of meaning, that they were indeed remembered by the Lord.
So God begins his words of comfort with an interrogative. He says in verse 15, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
Now I have yet to come across a mother who has forgotten her child, except perhaps where a debilitating illness such as Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia has diminished their mental capacity. Mothers don’t forget their children! It is something that just doesn’t happen in the normal course of things.
Mothers in general can relate to you the entire series of events with each of her children—the time in the hospital, how long the labor was, etc. She remembers feeding them at her breast. Then there are the childhood and growing up stories. A mother’s mind is like a steel trap, even when it comes to recounting those embarrassing moments you’d rather she would forget.
Mothers just don’t forget their children. I think it is pretty much impossible for them to do it. But God contrasts a mother’s love and memory with his own love and memory of an individual. In effect, he says that even though a mother MAY forget her child, as unlikely as that would be, he will NEVER forget! And that is a pretty concrete word too. God will always remember you and me, regardless of what happens. God’s love and memory is even greater than a mother’s! In Isaiah 43:1 God even says, “…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”
Sometimes we do feel alone and neglected. We often feel like our lives are without meaning. But God tells us quite the opposite.
God knows everything about us, and I do mean everything. You know those things we like to keep tucked away in the dark corners of our soul? He even knows about those things! God knows more embarrassing things about us than our mothers do!
And when it comes to sin, oh yes, God knows all about that as well. He knows about the open sins, the secret sins, the sins of commission, the sins of omission, the mortal sins, the venial sins, and basically the sins of thought, word, and deed. He knows them all. He knows our weaknesses and failures. He knows everything there is to know.
Because he knows us so well, he sent Jesus to this earth to be our Saviour. And because of what Jesus has done for us, God gives us another sure promise in Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
It’s not that God can’t remember our sins, but he promises us that he won’t. God doesn’t remember sins because he chooses not to, and he makes that promise to us. This is something that we can trust.
We know that God won’t haunt us with past sins, because he sees us through the righteousness of Christ. When we believe in Jesus our Saviour, we know that God will indeed do as he has promised.
This is the promise he states in Isaiah 44:21-22: “…O Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
As believers, we have a beautiful promise given by God directly to us. Our sins are forgiven, and we have acceptance into his heavenly family through faith in Christ our Saviour. We haven’t made a name for ourselves in God’s eyes; rather Christ has given us that status as his free gift of love. We can’t earn that favor or work for it, rather it is a gift given to us purely by faith in Christ alone.
In the final verse of our text, verse 16, God uses a very meaningful metaphor. He says, “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”
Perhaps you’ve seen people write a measurement or a phone number on their hand if they don’t have a piece of paper handy. It works, but it is hard to wash off; so traces of what is written remains for a long time.
But God doesn’t just write us on his hands, it is engraved there, almost like a permanent tattoo. It will never wear off or wash off. He certainly remembers us; and we can picture those very same hands nailed to Calvary’s cross for us too—something done purely out of love for us.
I’m sure that Harland Sanders lived most of his life not realizing that his image would be a worldwide logo for fried chicken. But that’s what happened. He took his recipe and his $105 social security check, and built an empire.
And who, amongst his customers buying fuel at his filling station, would have ever thought that could happen in a million years? How could an ex-Army guy, firefighter, steamboat driver, and mechanic make it big in fried chicken? But the proof is there. His face is one of the most recognizable in the entire world.
There’s one other facet to this story I’d like to share. As Colonel Sanders was visiting restaurants, he visited one in particular. There was a man at the grill, flipping burgers. They began to visit, and hit it off quite well. Colonel Sanders shared much of his business philosophy with this man, and this man decided to take it and run with it.
That man’s name was Dave Thomas, who applied Colonel Sander’s philosophy to his own chain of restaurants. He took his daughter’s name and image, and began Wendy’s Hamburgers, the 3rd largest hamburger chain in the world. For Dave Thomas, knowing Harland Sanders meant a whole lot more than visiting the Colonel for a bucket of chicken.
As we live our lives on this earth, we need to remember several things. First, we are known and remembered by our God. We might seem insignificant as far as earthly standards are concerned, but God knows us better than the world knows the face of Colonel Sanders.
Second, we never know how we will impact the lives of others by being who we are. Maybe it is a word, a smile, a kind gesture, or even an heroic act—who knows? But since we have been blessed, we can indeed be a blessing to others. As Christians, we have the ability to bring others to know their Saviour. We may be the only “Bible” someone ever sees.
And finally, we are not alone. Today is All Saints’ Sunday, where we remember all faithful Christians everywhere—whether they are living now, or have lived in the past. In theological terms, we call this “The Communion of Saints.” We most certainly are in good company.
My dad once told me that one time when he visited Emerson, Nebraska (his first congregation as a pastor), he took a walk through the cemetery. As he passed gravestone after gravestone, he remembered those people he knew, many of whom he buried. He remembered individual stories connected with each one. He had many memories, and I know he treasured them all. And now of course, he has joined many of them in the Church Triumphant.
But as well as dad knew these people, we know that God knew them better. They were all engraved on the palms of his hands. He redeemed them, and saved them through the blood of Christ.
So let us give thanks for the saints—both on earth and in heaven, that their lives have touched others or will touch others during their earthly pilgrimage.
And may we never forget that God loves us very much and knows us each individually; for he reminds each of us: “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”