Don’t Forget Me

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This title is a well-worn phrase or plea.  It was the name of a famous racehorse – “Don’t Forget Me”.  It is the title of Korean and Croatian movies.  It is the title of seven different songs spanning more than four decades.  It is the fearful plea of children who have wondered if their parents would leave them or if their teachers would forget their question or if their coaches would neglect putting them in the game after promising to do so.  “Don’t forget me” is a silent plea from many beloved elderly who suspect they will be abandoned by the busy generations following them.  It may be a concern about their legitimacy more than legacy.

No one wants to be left behind, forgotten or passed over.  In fact, the reader of this article will likely be able to conjure up a memory about being forgotten- to be picked up, counted among those present, having been involved in the decision, etc.  It is a universal concern.  Please do not forget my presence, suffering, struggle, contribution, name or face.

That brings me to a wonderful benefit of belonging to the church.  When the church functions as it should, no one is forgotten, left behind, considered inconsequential or unimportant.  The humble should be exalted, the lost should be found and the least should be considered among the greatest.  No one is forgotten and their contributions and value as a child of God should never find them to be left out or dismissed.  They are not nameless, faceless, giftless or unimportant to God; they should not be to us.

Currently, society is struggling with racial inequities that seem to persist through time.  Though one would think mature societies who regard the worth of all persons should have resolved these issues by now, I can’t think of any that truly have.  As someone well-traveled, discrimination, racism and classism is sadly one of the horrible realities we’ve observed worldwide. We must resist them with all of our being.  But, racism, like so many expressions of sin incorporates many sins, among them pride, fear, hatred.  These are all intensely strong, negative reactions to our neighbor.  But, because pride, fear and hatred are so prevalent, racism, among other expressions, dies hard.

Enough blogs have been written in the past two months about racism.  I agree with much of what has been written and am deeply saddened by the hurt of our brothers and sisters who suffer under it.  I weep for all who are created in God’s image and yet are treated in any manner less.  I am committed to pray and act accordingly to address the problem.  The experiences of many of my friends brings tears and deep frustration to them, me and any who sympathize with their terrible plight.

The local church should do whatever it can to eradicate expressions of racism in their church and bring healing and justice in their communities.  As we do that, I also want to extend a hand to all who might say, in addition to those harmed by racism, “Don’t forget me.”

Justice and mercy need to be extended to many in the world that have been denied it.  In fact, justice is not a “one sin” issue.  It is expressed in a myriad of ways.  As a church leader, I find that every time I stand in a pulpit and preach, I am speaking to people who have been maligned by others in significant ways, particularly when I address the issues of pain and suffering.  It is not uncommon to have a line of people who want prayer, advice, forgiveness, help or to tell their story to me after I preach on pain, suffering and issues of injustice.

On one day, the line of people was noticeably long.  It included a woman in a physically abusive relationship, an adopted child who had been molested, a foreigner who was denied employment because they would not “fit in”, a man who was fired from his job just months before his retirement for what appeared to be “cost-saving measures,” a young black man who found it hard to be out at night without fear that he would be suspected of being “up to no good,” and a woman who was pressured to have an abortion by the child’s father.  Each person had experienced injustice or injury by others.  Some of it involved life-long struggle.  Some of it was more temporary.  None of it should happen.  All of it was a consequence of someone else’s sin or poor treatment of those with whom I prayed that day.

When we address issues of justice, I cannot help but look at the faces of people who have been deeply hurt and denied humane treatment or experienced unimaginable abuse and see the look on their faces that say, “Don’t forget about me.  My pain is real.  The injustice I experience has scarred me for life and I cannot bear the thought of going through this alone or without the loving support of my family, friends and church.

I was helped to see those faces more clearly after when I was in my doctoral program at about 40 years old.  The professor said to the students, “Give me five of your sermons and I will describe your church- the median age, socio-economic make-up, common educational background and general culture of the congregation.”  So, we did; and he did.  I was amazed at his ability to know our congregations without having ever attended any of the churches.  He explained, “you preach and teach and attract those who can relate to your experience, manner of communicating, illustrations, description of social units (family, singles, stage of life), values and structure of life.

He further said, “If you want to have a church that is truly for everyone, start relating with everyone, not just in relationship but also in preaching.  Have different kinds of people in mind when you prepare your messages.”  So, I did and the change in the composition of our church was remarkable.  I prepared the “bones” of my message and then pictured speaking to only a single mother as I preached it aloud.  I then pictured a minority in our community and did it again.  Then a third time with a high schooler in mind followed by a business person, then an elderly couple in their sunset years.  Each time, I changed something- an idiom, an illustration, my manner of explanation, my use of social terms, how to apply the word of God in their context, etc.  People felt heard, understood, appreciative and became more engaged.

In reality, I think many of the folks came to church because it was a loving and friendly community though deep down, they were saying, “Please don’t forget about me.”  So, I essentially started thinking about them, mentioning their plight, making the congregation aware of those around us and finding helpful solutions.  I am sure we didn’t do it perfectly.  But, there was marked improvement.

Pastors Kenneth and Estelle Martin are my heroes in this way.  I have watched them shepherd diverse congregations in ways where each individual felt loved, heard, and advocated for.  They know how to make sure that no one is forgotten within the sphere of their care and influence.

In our quest to advocate for justice and mercy, let’s understand that Jesus sees more people in more ways than we do.  Let us not fall into the trap of compartmentalizing compassion and care.  The love of God is big enough to distract us from our narrow focus and help us care more broadly than we would ever imagine.  Jesus proved to be distractible in very good ways, healing people along the way to help others, caring for children when he was teaching adults and addressing large social problems amid caring for individuals.  God does not forget you.  Don’t forget others while you are focused on caring for some.

By Matthew Thomas

In my sixth decade of seeing God work simply increases my faith. Born in California, raised in Washington, ministered in Washington, Oregon, Canada, Philippines, Idaho and now all over the world has given me reason to believe and praise. My wife, Marlene and four children (Luke, Mitch, Samuel and Charese) give me reason to give deep thanks. My eight beautiful grandchildren (Jalen, Jordan, Katelin, Andrew, Eli, Callia, Asher and Mikaela) give me reason to see that grace reaches beyond our immediate present into our un-conceived future. Serving with a great team in the Free Methodist Church makes me a blessed person in a blessed place, serving with blessed people.

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