I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to forget things. I don’t know that I am particularly forgetful. But if I don’t write something down, I am likely to not remember to do it. Hope will often give me a note to remind me to do something. Often times when I am trying to go to bed, I have things that I need to remember to do in the morning. What I usually do is ask my iphone to remind me to do such and such in the morning.
I remember as a child when my family got our first computer. It was a big beige box. There is no telling how much that thing cost. But it should of only cost 99 cents because all it did was act like deck of cards. You pay hundreds of dollars for a deck of cards just because it has lights and bells. On top of that the deck of cards can play two card games: solitaire and tripeaks. I guess there were a couple of other games: chips challenge, rodents revenge, and an all-time favorite pipe dream.
Now, I have all of that power in my pocket—and it also works like a sticky note. We are so much more advanced than 20 years ago, we have phones that can be a deck of cards and a sticky note. How advanced are we! But I am so thankful that I can use this phone to help me remember things. It’s much better, or at least easier than the tie a string on your finger trick, or use a marker on your palm trick.
Memory is one of those tricky things. We all have those things that we remember, and we all have those things we struggle to remember. My parents will tell stories from when I was a child that I have no memory of. And you might have a shared experience with a friend and both of you remember the story differently. Many of you know the heartbreak of being with a loved one who is losing her memory.
Even while memory is tricky, and it is often hard to remember everything on your grocery list, memory plays an incredibly important role in the life of faith. Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and today is the first Sunday of Lent. In case you were wondering, lent is just a church word to describe the season leading up to Easter. From what I understand, it comes from an Anglo Saxon word that just means "spring." It is the time that God ask us to prepare our hearts and our lives for Jesus. This is exactly what we are going to be doing over the next few weeks. We are going to be talking about and exploring things we can do to help us get closer to Jesus. Today we are talking about remembering as a place to begin this closeness with Jesus.
Now remembering may seem like an odd think to talk about. It seems so passive, something you don’t really have that much control over, but for generations, God has used memory as a vital tool for faith development. I want to share with you what God has to say about this, and if you have your Bible with you, I want to invite you to turn with me to Deuteronomy 26.
In Deuteronomy Moses is talking to all the Israelites. Moses is their leader and has led them out of slavery in Egypt and is about to leave them before they enter into the promised land. They aren’t in this new land yet, but Moses is giving them some instructions for when they get there. He has faithfully led them on a forty-year journey, now he wants to give them some pointers and tools to grow closer to God when they enter the promised land. He says:
Once you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and are settled there, 2 take some of the early produce of the fertile ground that you have harvested from the land the Lord your God is giving you, and put it in a basket. Then go to the location the Lord your God selects for his name to reside. 3 Go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him: “I am declaring right now before the Lord my[a] God that I have indeed arrived in the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”
4 The priest will then take the basket from you and place it before the Lord your God’s altar.
Moses says, hey listen, pretty soon you are going to be in this new promised land. And when you get there, life is going to get easier, and you are going to get comfortable. They are excited about this; if you know anything about the story of Israelites, they have been on a journey for 40 years—they are ready for some comfort. But Moses warns them not to take this comfort and these blessings for granted.
Instead, he says, take the first of everything you grow and make and take it to the priest as an offering. We have a tendency to think all of our stuff belongs to us, but Moses wants the people to remember, even when they get comfortable, that this land, that their stuff, belongs to God. So they bring their offering to the priest. And the priest will then place the offering before God. This is kind of like when we take an offering during worship and I collect the offering plates and present them before God.
At this point, they are not done. Moses has something else for them to do. In verse 5, he says:
5 Then you should solemnly state before the Lord your God:
“My father was a starving Aramean. He went down to Egypt, living as an immigrant there with few family members, but that is where he became a great nation, mighty and numerous. 6 The Egyptians treated us terribly, oppressing us and forcing hard labor on us. 7 So we cried out for help to the Lord, our ancestors’ God. The Lord heard our call. God saw our misery, our trouble, and our oppression. 8 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with awesome power, and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land—a land full of milk and honey. 10 So now I am bringing the early produce of the fertile ground that you, Lord, have given me.”
Not only does Moses want the people to bring their offering, Moses wants for people to remember how they got to this point and to tell their story of faith. My father was a starving Aramean (think modern day Syria). Now, as they are living in the promised land, they enough food and they are comfortable, but Moses tells them to remember that they came from people who had nothing and were starving. Remember you came from people who were oppressed by the empires; just trying to get by as refugees and immigrants. You may think everything is fine now, but that is only because of the heart of God. And when you cried out to the heart of God, God saved you.
Moses tells the people when things are easy, don’t forget who you are. Remember who you are. You didn’t build this alone, you are here only as one saved by God.
I think this same tool that Moses talks to the Israelites about is also an important tool for you if you are going to grow deeper in your faith. If you want to experience all the goodness that God desires for you, it is important for you to remember how you got to this point today. Maybe today things are all fine and dandy in your life. Maybe you are happy today and things are going well in your life. If that is the case, congratulations, but if you want to grow in your faith, now is a good time to step back and remember how you got here. What struggles have you been through, how have you called out to God in your life?
When you begin to remember the journey that has led to this point in your life, you can build up within yourself a sense of thankfulness. And when you build this thankfulness in remembering, you grow closer to God and your faith is strengthened.
Maybe, though, you are here today and are just barely hanging on. Maybe you are trying to get by in life and nothing seems to be working. Maybe your faith is struggling because you are hurt or you feel your church has abandoned you. If this is the case, I want you to know that God is still present, and perhaps now is a time where you can call out to God and cling to the love of God. Maybe you can’t bring yourself to remember how you got here, but perhaps, in community with others, other people can remember for you and help you on your journey.
For the Israelites that Moses was talking with, it wasn’t that they were going to enter the promised land and everything would always be ok. They would still face challenges and struggles. Often, perhaps, they would face spiritual hardships and want to turn from God. But by asking them to remember how God has saved them and how God saved their ancestors, Moses is telling them that they are building a foundation of trust in the heart of God.
As we begin this season of Lent, as we begin this time of preparing for Jesus and for what that means in faith, now is time to begin with remembering. Remembering how God has brought hope, remembering how God has brought salvation, remembering how God has brought love. And when we remember the goodness of God, we make this goodness active in our lives again.
Now, remembering alone will not get us to Easter. Remembering alone will not build our faith, but it is a good place to begin. Next week we will explore another tool that helps us grow deeper in our faith with Jesus, but this week I just ask you to begin with remembering. Remember the love of the heart of God that has been active in your life. Use this remembering as a tool to strengthen your faith and to lead you and guide you.
I also realize that some may be here this morning and have no idea what you need to be remembering, but you feel this same God stirring in your heart wanting goodness for you. Or it may have been quite some time since you have called to Jesus and remembered. Whatever the case may be, I want to invite you to come forward during our closing song to pray if you feel led. If you need to talk to someone about this, I am going to stick around after worship and will be available the rest of the day. I want and desire for you to experience a growing faith in Jesus, and there is no better time to invest in this than right now.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.