October 4, 2020 /17th Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Isaiah 5:1-8 / 2nd Reading Philippians 3:4b-14/ Gospel Matthew 21:33-46
Memory is a powerful thing. It’s quite amazing to consider the vast array of memories each of us has stored away. We can call to mind faces and places, tastes and smells, moments of exhilarating joy, times of grief and sorrow. Many of you can picture where you were when the astronauts landed on the moon, when planes were crashed into the World Trade Center Towers, on your wedding day and when your children were born. I know by heart the words of many beloved hymns and Christmas carols (even the page numbers). And, like it or not, imprinted indelibly on my memory are the words to TV commercial jingles I heard over 50 years ago. (Winston tastes good….) (See the USA…)
Some say memory has become obsolete because now we have the internet. But memory is not generic – it is profoundly and uniquely personal. Memory records life as each of us has experienced it. We can share many memories – but no two persons have exactly the same recollections. Each of us is formed by a distinct set of memories.
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Some memories may fade over time – but many are remarkably durable. Going back sixty years, I have many recollections of my early years at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in St. Louis, where my dad was the pastor. I can picture sitting in church with my mom, my brother and sister while Dad was leading the service. Back then, kids did not go forward for Holy Communion – so when my mom got up, that was our chance to reach into her purse for some gum or a Life Saver. I remember watching the expressions on the faces of persons as they returned to their seats: some smiling, some pensive, occasionally one would be wiping away a tear. I sensed that holy communion really touched people.
Sunday school was in the church basement, and the opening each week was led by the Sunday School Superintendent, Marge Cerney. In those days long before modern technology, bible lessons were illustrated by means of a flannel board. I can see the shepherds and the sheep that she would place as she told the story. Vacation Bible School was two whole weeks in those days. There wasn’t much else going on in the summer back then, so everyone came to Bible School. I remember the red Kool-Aid and cookies – and playing softball at the school across the street from the church (Malinkrodt).
Every summer there was an Ice Cream Social. It was the one day in the year that we were allowed to have all the ice cream and soda pop we wanted: a bit of heaven! My enduring memory is that Gethsemane Lutheran Church was a place of warm welcome and care. I knew lots of people – both kids and adults – and they all knew me. To this day I can recall the names and faces of dozens of people I have not seen since we moved in 1962 (Vince Bergman, Don Larson, Mrs. Cook). What a blessing!
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The Christian Church is a community of memory. Along with our personal recollections we share the rich memories of a history that goes back 2,000 years and more. You and I are part of a family history that extends all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their stories are part of our shared story. We crossed the Red Sea along with Moses and the Hebrews. We entered the Promised Land. Jerusalem is a Holy City for us, too.
We know the story of Jesus, and we relive it year after year: his marvelous birth in Bethlehem, his parables and his miracles, the great love he showed to everyone, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, the wonder of his resurrection. You and I are part of this gospel story. We have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection: sharing in his death, we will also share in his victory over death. Jesus gave us the sacrament of Holy Communion to sustain our life-giving relationship with him. He said: Do this in REMEMBRANCE of me. And so we do. Together we remember and celebrate the grace of God. We carry in our hearts what Jesus said and did: his promises to us, his call to teach and make disciples, his commandment to love one another as he loves us.
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Memory is much more than sentimental nostalgia for days gone by. Memory is the key to our identity. I don’t need to look at my driver’s license or consult any resource to know who I am. I know because I remember: I know my story, my lived history, all the experiences and relationships that shape who I am. If I lost my memory – due to amnesia or dementia – I might still be alive, but I would no longer know who I am. I abide in the vivid memory that I am a child of God, created in the image of God, redeemed by the love of God, called by God to love and to serve, blessed with a place in God’s house forever.
Memory is also the key to purpose. In order to go forward, we need to know where we came from. We remember not only who we are, but also whose we are: that our lives are not our own; we belong to God. We remember why we are here: to follow Christ, to grown more and more like him, to be instruments of grace and peace. We remember our ultimate destiny. As it’s said: if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do. You and I are destined for heaven, so we aim to go where Christ leads the way.
We recall and keep in mind what truly matters – and what finally doesn’t. Amid all the distractions and confusion in our world these days, we remember that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We find our peace and our hope in him.
Memory is the stimulus, the prerequisite, for gratitude. As the psalm reminds us: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” You cannot begin to count your blessings unless you can remember them! And when we recall the ways we are richly blessed – not what we have earned but what we have been given, beginning with life itself – we are moved to an attitude of gratitude. Looking back, we recognize all those persons who supported, encouraged and guided us along our way. Only a thoughtless or forgetful person is ungrateful.
Grateful persons are humble. They realize that they are not self-made. They appreciate all that’s been given to them, all that others have done for them.
Grateful persons are compassionate. Knowing that nobody makes it in this world all by themselves, they see the needs of those around them and they step up to help.
Grateful persons are generous. They realize they can never repay all the goodness they have received, so they pay it forward. They look to bless others as they have been blessed. Frederick Buechner describes what motivates generosity: “The world says, ‘The more you take, the more you have.’ Christ says, “The more you give the more you are.’”
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You may recall the themes from the past few years: Love Gives, Faith Leaps, Hope Perseveres (especially appropriate). This year our theme is REMEMBER. By all means remember the enduring power of faith and hope and love. Take time as well to remember your own story, your faith journey – and how it is part of the great ongoing story of God and the people of God.
Remember you are a child of God – that nothing can ever separate you from the love of God.
Remember you are called by God: your life has purpose and direction.
Remember to remember – and in remembering, be grateful to God, from whom all blessings flow.
Thanks be to God.