Listen to the sermon from Sunday, February 4, 2018 titled “A Reminder to Remember” by Chaplain (Colonel) Paul W. Dodd, U.S. Army (Ret).
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”
Isaiah 40 was written by the prophet to renew hope and encourage the Jewish people, whose king and 10,000 of their choice leaders had been taken captive, deported from their own country, and held in forced detention in Babylon, now Iraq, for 70 years. As you can well imagine, their spirits were broken, their hopes were dashed, and the very thought that this nightmare would ever end seemed impossible. For generations, they had lived as immigrants and aliens. So Isaiah asked them four rhetorical questions to remind them what they already knew about God.
- Have you not known?
- Have you not heard?
- Has it not been told you from the beginning?
- Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
Oh, they knew, they knew all right, but they didn’t know that they knew. Isaiah reminded them to remember.
My former Army chaplain colleague, good friend, and Disciples of Christ preacher, Dick Donovan, put it like this:
“They knew the power of God’s creative word. … It wasn’t that they didn’t know.
They knew that God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
They knew that God created human life on the last day of creation.
They knew about sin— and Garden of Eden, and its presence in their lives.
They knew about God’s call to Abraham—and the covenant that God established with him.
They knew about Moses—how God used Moses to set the people free.
They knew how God led the people through the wilderness with a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.
They knew how God fed them with manna from the sky and water from a rock.
They knew how their (leaders) had misled them and failed them.
They knew how they had chosen ungodly alliances, greed and material prosperity, and suffered the consequences.”
“Did they know? Yes! Had they heard? Yes! Had it been told to them from the beginning? Yes! Yes, of course they knew! Of course, they had heard! They knew all of that. But, nevertheless, they still needed to be reminded.”
They needed to be reminded that God is still in control. They needed to be reminded of mistakes they had made in the past, and the painful consequences of their choices. They needed to be reminded of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. They needed to be reminded that with God all things are possible. They needed to be reminded that while circumstances might be scary and better days might seem virtually impossible, things would get better. They needed to be reminded to keep looking up and place their faith, their wellbeing and their very lives in the hands of God. They needed to be reminded to remember – to remember all of that and more! So much more! God’s people still need to be reminded to remember, because we are prone to forget.
While driving to the Apple Store Thursday afternoon to get a new battery for my iPhone and listening to “Hear and Now” on NPR, I stumbled on an interview with Dr. Emily Mason, a memory and cognition expert at the University of Louisville. I was amazed when she said our brains can store about 2.5 Petabytes of memory. I had never heard of a Petabyte, so I looked it up. Turns out, a Petabyte contains 1 quadrillion bytes of information, that’s a 1 with 15 zeroes behind it. Humans can store the equivalent of 2 ½ quadrillion of those digital pieces of information in our brains. In other words, in terms of digital memory, Dr. Mason claims if your brain were a smartphone on which you could download television shows, it could record 300 years of continuous TV before starting to run out of space. – I know what some of you are thinking. I forget why I’ve walked from one room to another, or where I left my car keys, or where in the world are my reading glasses when I need them most!
So, we need cues – clues to help us remember. The Bible is filled with those cues, clues intended to help us remember:
- God gave the rainbow to Noah
- The ritual of circumcision was given to Abraham
- The Jewish people were given the gift of Passover, and Candles of Hanukkah
- This baptismal font reminds us that we are buried with Christ in baptism and rise to walk in newness of life.
- The broken body and shed blood of Jesus are depicted with the fruit of the vine and the broken bread on this very table as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Scripture is big on remembering and remembrance:
“Remember” is used 153 times in the Bible (RSV)
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy
Remember all the commandments of the LORD
Remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you
Remember the days of old
Remember the wonderful works that God has done
The word “Remembrance” is used 28 times (RSV)
…Stones of remembrance
…A book of remembrance
…Do this in remembrance of me
In scripture, remembering and remembrance mean far more than simply recalling. Perhaps, the real meaning of re-membering can best be understood from its opposite, dis-membering – to take apart, limb for limb, part by part, and piece by piece. So, the reality of remembering in the biblical sense of the word is to re-member significant and essential persons and events and experience — limb for limb, part by part, piece by piece. To take it apart and put it back together again.
Friday, during a meeting of health care professionals, I asked them to talk about what “re-membering” meant for them and their clients. One told of how even traumatic and painful memories, over time, can be transformed into positive insight and personal growth. Another said, memories have greater clarity and meaning during her quiet times, when she can “be still and know,” really know. One said we should set some memory priorities and focus on those memories that are transformative and nurturing. And, one said “re-membering” needs to go beyond the cerebral cortex, beyond the glut of information and fading recollections, to experience once again emotional impact; to relieve it again with feeling!
Later this month, Jewish synagogues will celebrate Purim, and remember the time 2000 years ago when Haman tried and failed to exterminate the Jewish people. During the service, as the Book of Esther is being read from the Hebrew text, whenever that evil villain’s name is mentioned, the congregation will stomp their feet, clap their hands, and rattle their noisemakers to drown out the sound of Haman’s despicable name, and make a mockery of their ancient oppressor. – The Jewish people have carried those memories, and the passions that go along with them, from one generation to another, from one season to another, from one congregation to another, for 2000 years.
You are the carriers of the memories that have emerged from this place over the past 100 plus years – called to be the stewards, the caretakers, of all the transformations, all the joys and sorrows, all the insights and wisdom, all the decisions and activism, all the courage and commitments – you are the carriers of all that makes this place the community of faith that we have become and are still becoming.
If you’re anything like me, I imagine you’re dependent on memory clues and cues just to get through the day, much less for generations. We have calendars, and smart phones, digital alerts, and post-it notes stuck on our refrigerators. I find myself waking up in the mornings and singing old hymns and gospel songs. Music just has a very special capacity to stick in our minds and help us remember. I read just the other day, from you I believe, Stephanie, that one of our choir members has memorized all the words and virtually every verse of our traditional Christmas carols. Now, who would that be? … let me guess, Lisa Cauble!
Lisa, one of my favorite hymns is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (#459, New Century Hymnal). The second stanza of the original begins like this, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come, And I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home…” It was written nearly 285 years ago by young Robert Robinson, a 22-year-old British lad and aspiring preacher, and has been sung by Christians around the world ever since. But, what’s this about “My Ebenezer?” Ebenezer, what a strange word! But, if you know the song, you know the meaning – in fact you just sang it. “Here I raise my Ebenezer, HITHER BY THY HELP I’VE COME…” The second phrase interprets the first. Because, it’s only by the help and grace of God have we come to this place! Now you know, you know what Ebenezer means, and you’ll probably remember even without a reminder.
Many years ago, I was talking with a Native American friend in Washington D.C. about our different religious traditions – his Native American beliefs and my Christian beliefs. I told him about our prophet, Samuel, and how he once took a stone and set it up as a monument to remind the people of God’s help in time of trouble. He named the stone Ebenezer. Sometime later, Dakota brought me a small stone he had found in the forest, prayed over it, and gave it to me to begin my very own Ebenezer. I built mine out of seashells, tiny shells I picked up as I walked on my visits to the beach, and placed them in a beautiful, crystal beer stein we had purchased on the Czech border when we lived in Europe. Today, my Ebenezer has a prominent place in my living room as a daily reminder of God’s presence and providence.
Now, listen to those words of the prophet again. ’Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” Don’t you know?
I leave you with these thoughts. You’re reminded to…
Remember where you came from – Don’t you know that… “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Don’t you see, Christians are a “memorial people,” because we understand the crucial importance of remembering who made us and whose we are. Indeed, we are a “this do in remembrance of me” kind of people. It’s part of our theological DNA. We just instinctively know how important it is to avoid theological and ecclesiastical amnesia! We know how essential it is to observe a handful of ancient and not-so-ancient rituals, cues, special days and seasons to remind us, and to remind this community, who we are and from whence we came. Here at University Baptist Church, of all places, we need to tie some good ‘ole fashioned Baptist strings around our fingers lest we forget. Especially in these days of transition and uncertainty, that’s worth remembering!
You’re reminded to…
Remember where you are going, because remembering is an essential part of moving forward. – Don’t you know that… “Without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). Paul writes in Philippians 3 not to dwell (to get stuck and be obsessed) “on those things which are behind”, but to “reach forward to those things which are ahead (Phil 3:13-14). – In other words, don’t become so enamored and anchored in the past that you are of no present good. Tradition is good, but excessive tradition without creation and innovation might be more suitable for historical preservation and a treasury of archives rather than birthing and nurturing new and novel ideas and initiatives. That’s worth remembering!
You’re reminded to…
Remember how you got here and how you’ll get where you’re going. Don’t you know that … “(We) can do all things through Christ who strengthens (us).” (Phil 4:13). That above all else -that is worth remembering!
EBENEZER AND AMEN!