This is a transcript from the May 26, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
I said a couple of weeks ago that I started a series based on something that Rich and I were going to do about what's our favorite verse. I shared mine. I'm going to share Rich's today. It's perfectly appropriate for today as well. Inside of Philippians 1, "And I thank my God every time I remember you."
Do you know why I like that?
"I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will
bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ."
I thank my God every time I think of you.
There is this work of memory that is so important because as soon as you and I begin to remember, as soon as we do that, we have placed ourselves in a different context. All those times we think we're out here as free agents. It's all those times we think that we are alone when we remember we have placed ourselves smack dab in a story because when we remember the people who have blessed us, when we remember the people who have influenced us, we are remembering that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.
We did not land here all by ourselves right now. There are people who sacrificed, who gave, who offered themselves so that we could be here. We're now part of something larger, there's a future. We remember the past in order to have hope for the future. I remember you. I thank God for you and because of that, I am confident that the one who began the good work will see it through the completion.
This morning I want to talk a little bit about the important work of remembering. By the way, the word important is understated. I want to talk about what does it take to remember well in order to live well. This weekend, of course, is a natural. It's Memorial Day and so we remember. We remember the sacrifices that were made in all the different ways that we do that.
We honor those people when we pause and remember and not just run through a three-day weekend but take time like we did this morning in all the different ways with the music and the honoring and however you are planning on doing that tomorrow. We say, there were sacrifices made. We're not just dropped here out of the sky. There were sacrifices made so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have.
It's not free and there is a cost to that because, for every one of those headstones, there were families in grief, there were friends. Part of remembering is to remember the cost, remember the sacrifice. Part of it we honor it as we also say, "let's not do that willy-nilly". Let's be very careful so that we don't ask people unnecessarily to sacrifice.
We remember on a day like today and we live well because to forget is not just bad manners. It's not just being rude, it is also dangerous. When we forget, then we're in trouble. You know the old saying by Santayana.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
I think on this Memorial Day, that's a good thing to remember. As we look at the headlines and we see the resurgence of things like anti-semitism, oh my God. Really?
Have we learned nothing? Have we forgotten the lessons and the costs and the sacrifices from the last time people forgot or somehow thought that ethnic cleansing was a good way to go? How? How can we live in this amnesia? We do it at our peril. We remember in order to live well because when we don't remember we don't live well. We just go around and around and keep making all the same mistakes again and again.
Here's the good news, we don't have to make all the mistakes ourselves. We actually could learn from other people but in order to do that, we have to remember. We have to remember what was involved. Well, we have to remember the prejudice. We have to remember the narrow mindedness. We have to remember all of that led to such incredible sacrifices. Churches need to remember too, right?
Because when churches forget who we are, when we forget this story that we are a part of and what makes us us, then we default back to instead of living out of courage and confidence and faith, then we begin to live out of despair. We begin to live out of fear. We begin to become small-minded. Think about all the times maybe you've said it yourself about the time when the church wasn't the church and when was it?
It was a time when there was fear when there was judgementalism when there was oppression when they tried to rule by control. It's because people forgot who they were. It was a spiritual amnesia. The darkest chapters of the church always have to do with exclusion and they always have to do with oppression, and they always have to do with control, and they always have to do because they live out of fear.
They have forgotten who they are. They have forgotten whose we are. That's why we have Sunday school to teach the stories. That's why we come to worship to remember because we do so at our own peril when we forget. There are organizations that go through times when they need to remember who they are. I was sitting around the table this last week and you have seen perhaps the thing that's in the bulletin about our Boy Scout Troop.
We have a couple of Boy Scout Troops, the one that we sponsor. This February, there was a mom who came to us and our Boy Scout Troop says, "I have a child who wants to be part of the Boy Scouts and it's a transgendered youth. Would they be welcome?" At first, of course, the answer was yes but then there was this, "Wait a minute. We're not so sure." It has been a real tussle back and forth because all of a sudden, people got uncomfortable about that.
As I sat with the leaders not only of this congregation in the Denver Area, they said, "I loved the phrase that that's what a scout is about. That's what's scouting is about. That's what the church is about." I mean really? We were supposed to somehow say that that child isn't welcome? This child who's welcome, it's legal. It is welcome in any school, soccer field, band, any other activity. The only place that a child like that would not be welcomed is a Boy Scout Troop sponsored by a church?
This is not a tough decision. I was so grateful for the people who said, "No, but this is what scouting is about. This is what a church is about." Unfortunately, the reason that was in the bulletin is about two-thirds of the troop have decided to leave, three quarters perhaps and go start another troop ironically, in another church. Are they bad people now? I don't think they're bad people but boy, we do dumb things when we forget who we are, when we forget whose we are. We get where we come from and what our story is.
We live well when we remember well. Why do smart people, confident people, good people do really dumb things? Because we forget, we forget. How many times have you heard yourself because I know I've heard myself do something after something I go, "I know better than that," or, "That wasn't me." Have you ever found yours because I have?
What that is pointing to is there was something I did and the ethical failures, and the moral failures and the times when we have done something wrong that we knew we shouldn't have. The times we weren't doing something we should have done and we knew we should have, it's because we forget. We forget who we are. We forget we're part of a larger story. We forget that we belong to a God who was at work.
That he had been called to continue to create and open up this creation and to complete the creation and to redeem and to heal. We forget at our own peril. It is a dangerous thing to forget. We live well when we remember well. For a congregation that says, "And we believe this." This is a place to find a home, build a life and make a difference for people who want to make a difference in this world, I can't think of anything more critical than from time to time reminding ourselves, we need to remember well.
We dare not forget who we are as we go out into this week, as we go out into all the various locations, all the places where we get to, all the arenas. It is essential. It is also work. I think that's why the scripture spends so much time on it. Read through the Old Testament. Read through the New Testament. Watch how many times the word remember shows up. Watch it starting in the back side of a desert with Moses and the people who are complaining and then God delivers and they're happy.
Then hardly a week goes by and then they're complaining again. Watch how many times God comes to Moses and said, "Tell the people, remember the last time you were complaining and you thought that I had walked out on you. Remember that?" And again, and again, watch Jesus when with these disciples and the time where they got the 5,000 people who haven't eaten anything. They said, "What are we going to do?" If you remember there's two stories.
This is the second one. The first one goes, "Jesus in the census." Really? How many people were at the last time we had this about a 4,000. How many officials did we have? A few hundred. How much do we have? It's like, "Oh my gosh. How fast do you forget?"
How fast do we forget that we're not out here by ourselves, that God is with us? Remember who you are. Remember how God came to you. Remember when you were slaves and you were mistreated.
Why are you mistreating other people? Remember when you were the underdogs and there was not justice. How do you dare not treat other people with justice and compassion? Don't you remember who you are? Don't you remember your story? It takes work and for that work, God has given us people, people. People whose lives that we get to point back to. I thank God for every remembrance of you. We get to thank God and be remembering of all those mentors, those guides, those heroes who stepped up and because of the way they stepped up we get to be here. We have been given a great fight if we will use it. We have been given the gift of people.
Hebrews 11 is this litany, if you will, of the legacy of the family of God of faith and it goes through and says now remember this, and remember this person and remember this person. Remember how they believed. Remember what they went through. It's a way of saying people of God, sometimes we act like we're out here by ourselves.
We're not out here by ourselves. Remember? We've never been out here by ourselves. If we're going to make a difference in this world. If we're going to be those people who get to create and redeem we dare not forget. When Paul says, "I'm confident that the one who began the good work is going to see it through the completion."
That's memory work going on. That's the work of faith. We come to worship. We remember who we are, who we're not. We remember as we come to worship what's true and what isn't. We remember what's important and what isn't. We remember what our life is worth. We do the good work of remembering but it is work because we live distracted lives that would love to leave us thinking that we're out here by ourselves, that everything that is essential somehow gets pulled and it gets caught in the noise of our day.
It is essential when we come to worship. It is essential throughout the week that we find times to just be quiet so that we can hear the still small voice of God amongst all the other competing voices. It is essential that from time to time, we let the sediment settle so that we can see clearly.
Remember well, we want to live well. Let's remember well and let's also remember that as we do that we are doing more than just pointing backwards. That's terribly important but if it stops here, we've only done half the work. The work of remembering is not only pointing to what has happened behind us but it is also being mindful of what they were pointing to with their lives.
It has to do with what the sacrifice was made for and what that means for us today. I mentioned in Hebrews 11 there was this long litany of what it means for people who have gone before us as well. As we point back and the point is made here again in this one section where it says, I could go on and on but I've run out of time. As he's already gone through a whole litany of things. There are so many more.
Gideon, Barrack, Samson Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets and it says it's through acts of faith they toppled kingdoms, made justice work. Took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, sword thrusts turned disadvantage to advantage, one battle routed alien armies. Women received loved ones back from the dead.
There were those who under torture refused to give in and go free preferring something better. Resurrection.
Others braved abuse and whips and yes chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed into, homeless, friendless, powerless. The world didn't deserve them. Making their way best they could on the cruel edges of this world and not one of these people, not one of them, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got what was promised.
When we point back and we say we remember and we remember with gratitude those who have gone before us and those who have given before us, we are also putting ourselves on the line and saying these are the lives we want to align with. We want to be a part of that story. That story that we are a part of.
There will be people who in the future will look back and will they be able to say, "I thank my God for every remembrance of you and the way that you loved." Because its evidence, evidence of God still at work. The work of remembering is not just recalling people behind it. It starts there but it's never completed until it makes us align our lives with that same story. Because that's who we are. Dorothy Day is a saint to the 20th century.
She was at the Catholic Workers Union. She made great changes, great differences in people would extol her while she was living and talk about what a great person she was. She would have none of it. She would often say, "Don't put me on a pedestal. I don't want to be dismissed that easily." Because she realized it wasn't just about her. It was about what she was giving her life to and rather than just point to someone as if that's all we need to do.
We need to get on board and align our lives as well. Don't dismiss people in the past by just putting them on a pedestal. Because it doesn't require anything of us and we truly admire and are thankful. Then we give ourselves to the same things that they gave themselves to. That we now truly have a living faith. A faith that is made complete with those before us. It is also a faith that can make us come alive.
This morning I want to be able to say we remember well and when we do, we live well. This isn't just about being polite, this isn't just about self-help. This is critical to anyone who wants to make a difference. Anyone whose lives understand their lives we are here for a reason and if that's you let me give you a couple of easy ways maybe this week. Take time to pause and to honor today, tomorrow in your own way. Find some way to pause and honor, remember.
Take time to reflect on what they were pointing towards and to whom and what that might mean. Then as Paul was able to do, when he's able to say, I thank my God every time I remember you. Because the way you live your life, the way you've loved it reminds me. I'm convinced because of that. That's a sign. I know that the God who began the good work is going to see it through to completion.
That means that there are people living who give us hope too. Find some way maybe this week to give a word of thanks. Point that out to them. Remind them. Because they may not know that what they did had that effect on you. I'm saying I just want to honor that because this is how it affected me. This week may we be people of a living faith. May we be people that live a new faith. May we be people whose faith is making us come alive.
May we be the people who in the future are able to say, "I thank my God for every remembrance of you and the way you lived your life and the love that you gave. It gave me heart, it gives us heart, it gives us courage in our time and place." We are able to say with confidence that the God who began the good work is still at work and God is going to see it through to completion. May we live well and let it begin by remembering well. Amen