Our Journey with Jesus – Part 9
This morning, we finish up our series entitled “Our Journey With Jesus.” Over the past couple of months, we’ve looked at several different spiritual disciplines. But not the usual sort of things that we normally think of when we think of spiritual disciplines – things like prayer, Bible study, meditation, where we have to get away from everybody else and find a quiet place. But we’ve been looking at things that we can do together, things that we can do throughout the day in our everyday lives.
But everything that we’ve talked about has been with the express purpose of shaping our lives more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Because if we’re not moving in that direction, nothing else that we do really matters. Because we can come together and worship every week and spend hours every day studying the Bible, but if we aren’t growing spiritually in such a way that we begin to talk more like Jesus, live more like Jesus, and love more like Jesus, then we’re wasting our time.
This morning, the last discipline that we’re going to look at is “remembering.” Well, that’s not quite accurate. We’re actually going to be looking at a couple of other disciplines that will help us to remember. But first, I want to talk a bit about the importance of remembering because I’m not sure that we really appreciate how valuable our memory is.
There are a lot of passages in the Bible where God tells us that we need to remember.
In Exodus 13, for example, Moses said to the people of Israel, “This is a day to remember forever—the day you left Egypt, the place of your slavery. Today the Lord has brought you out by the power of his mighty hand” (Exodus 13:3, NLT).
In Numbers 15, God told the Israelites to put tassels on their garments, and then he said, “When you see the tassels, you will remember and obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following your own desires…” (Numbers 15:39, NLT).
In Deuteronomy 8, as the Israelites were about the cross over into the land of Canaan, Moses said, “Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God … For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! …never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you the power to be successful…” (vv. 11-14, 17-18, NLT).
Deuteronomy 32:7 says, “Remember the days of long ago; think about the generations past. Ask your father, and he will inform you. Inquire of your elders, and they will tell you” (NLT).
In 1 Chronicles 16:12 we read, “Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given…” (NLT).
And when we get to the New Testament, the admonitions continue. In Ephesians 2, Paul said, “Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … remember that at the time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (vv. 11-12, NLT).
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:8, “Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach” (NLT).
In Revelation 2, Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first…” (Revelation 2:5).
And, of course, we can’t talk about the importance of remembering in scripture without mentioning what Jesus said when he instituted the Lord’s Supper: “He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19, NLT).
Remembering is important. And our memory is a valuable thing. I don’t know if any of you have ever lost your memory for a while. I’m not talking about forgetting where you left your car keys or forgetting what day your anniversary is. I’m talking about experiencing amnesia, losing your memory.
When I was in college, we had intramural basketball that was played between different teams made up of students on campus. My first couple of years, I played on one of the teams. As often happens during games between a bunch of highly competitive guys, things can get a little too rough. During one game I went up to bring down a rebound and while I was in the air my legs got taken out from under me, causing me to come crashing down to the court and hitting the back of my head pretty hard. As a result, I ended up suffering a mild concussion. When I got back to my room later, I realized that I couldn’t remember even the simplest things. I couldn’t remember what I had done earlier that day. I couldn’t remember what I had done the day before. Fortunately, the amnesia only lasted a couple of hours, but during that time that I lost my memory, I felt very scared.
You see, when someone completely loses their memory, through Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, everything that is familiar becomes foreign. And you begin to lose, not only your memory, but in a sense, you begin to lose your identity.
Think about it this way. Who you are is the sum total of everything that you have experienced. Where you went to school, who your friends were, all the things you’ve done. Whether you prefer chocolate or vanilla ice cream, action movies or comedies, spicy food or mild. All of that is part of your story, but the way you know what those preferences are is through your accumulated memory, and that’s what defines you as a person.
What is true of individuals is also true of groups of people. It is possible for an entire society of people to experience cultural amnesia, to forget the past. I’m sure you’re familiar with this quote from George Santayana: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” At least, that’s close to what he said. What he actually said was, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Remembering the past is important as we look to live in the future.
Now, I’m not talking about “living in the past.” There’s a big difference between living in the past and remembering the past. There are some people who just can’t seem to get their minds off of things that happened decades ago, and they are miserable because of it. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about remembering the past – remembering the mistakes that we’ve made so that we don’t make them again; remembering why we do the things that we do; remembering all the things that make us who we are.
The truth is all our lives are shaped by the past. I am who I am because of the things that I have experienced over my lifetime. But, to some degree, I am also who I am because of the things that my parents did. And they were influenced by their parents, so what my grandparents did influences who I am today, to some degree.
The same thing is true of us as Christians. All our lives have been shaped by the things that we have done over the past year here at First Church. But, going back even further, the way that each of us was raised in the church (or not raised in the church) has helped to shape who we are today.
Going back even further, what Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone did in the 1800’s has helped to shape who we are as a church today. Going back even further, what the Christians of the early centuries did has shaped who are. Our collective past is part of what makes us who we are today. And one thing that I haven’t always appreciated is that there is great value in looking back to learn about some of those ancient influences in our lives.
Just as surely as the DNA of our ancestors plays a role in our present existence, the things that happened to Christians in the past continues to play out in our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. The writer of Hebrews makes mention of these saints from past generations. He spends all of chapter 11 showing the great faith of many of these men and women in the Old Testament.
Then, in chapter 12, he says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses … let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NLT).
The Living Bible paraphrases it this way: “Since we have such a huge crowd of men and women of faith watching us from the grandstands … let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us.”
The writer uses here the illustration of running a race to describe our Christian lives. More specifically, he used a picture of the Grecian athletic games that were held in that day, which were very similar to our modern Olympic Games.
In the Grecian Games, those who ran in these races were surrounded by people watching from the grandstands, cheering them on. So, in Hebrews 12:1, the writer says, in essence, “All of these heroes that I’ve listed here and all the other believers who have ever died are watching us from the grandstands in heaven as we run our spiritual race.” We’re all connected.
Time and time again, the New Testament writers use people from the Old Testament as examples for us. Because events from the past are not there just for the sake of recording history; they’re there to help us to make good decisions in our lives. As Paul said in Romans 15:4, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us” (NLT).
And what has been passed on to us, we take and pass on to others. And so, the Bible calls us to remember because memory is an important part of our spiritual identity and formation.
- Without memory, we wouldn’t be able to grow spiritually and mature as Christians.
- Without memory, we couldn’t be thankful, because gratitude assumes that we remember the gifts that we have received.
- Without memory, we would lose our identity, because we can hardly know who we are or why we are here if we have no memory of where we’ve been.
- Without memory, we wouldn’t be able to repent, because how can we be sorry if we don’t remember our past sins?
- And finally, without memory, we wouldn’t have any hope for the future.
Now, that may not seem to make sense, so let me describe it this way. I have a hope of what my life will look like when I retire. It is a hope that I will be able to spend more time with Angela, do more things with Angela, and go more places with Angela. But that hope is built on past experiences. I have a hope for those things because I can remember the times in the past when we spent time together and did things together and went places together. Those memories help to shape what my hope for the future is. So, if I couldn’t remember any of those past experiences with Angela, I wouldn’t have much hope for the future.
So, I think that helps us to understand why it’s such a scary thing to lose your memory. While amnesiacs have little to hope for, people with strong memories see possibility. They know that their present condition is not the only option. Memory of God’s faithfulness in the past is a source of confidence and courage when trial or disappointment comes our way. People with good memories can say: “Things can be different. I’ve seen it happen”
But again, it’s important to understand that memory is not simply a private or individual thing. In fact, as ancient Israel and the early church understood, memory is formed and sustained in a faithful community. Walter Brueggemann has said, “The church is the community that gathers to remember.”
Now, there are several things that we can do to keep from forgetting – not the least of which is studying Scripture. In fact, the Bible teaches us that we should not only remember, but that we should help others to remember. You could even go so far as to say that the Bible is a book of memories that are meant to be shared from one generation to the next. And it’s not enough for just one person in the community to remember. The whole community needs to be devoted to passing this story of faith on to the next generation.
And part of the way we do that is by understanding that we are all part of a story that has been going on for centuries.
For example, the story of the Exodus from Egypt was not just shared as piece of history to be learned. Jewish boys and girls were taught to see themselves in that story. And when they recited the story of the Exodus, they always did so in the first person, as their personal story:
“In the future your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of these laws, decrees, and regulations that the Lord our God has commanded us to obey?’ Then you must tell them, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand. The Lord did miraculous signs and wonders before our eyes, dealing terrifying blows against Egypt and Pharoah and all his people. He brought us out of Egypt so he could give us this land he had sworn to give our ancestors’” (Deuteronomy 6:20-23, NLT).
God said to the Jews, “When you tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, don’t talk about what happened to them; talk about what happened to you.” And as the Jews shared this story from generation to generation, the story became their own. What could have been just a stale textbook account became a personal story, embedded in the hearts of each and every member of that community.
Something similar happens in our worship when we come together, and we share the story of Christ’s death and resurrection – when we take the Lord’s Supper and we remember what Jesus did for us, what he did for me. It’s our story, and we remember it together.
But I think it’s important for us to share these stories not only here with each other, but also in our homes. It’s important to notice that, in the Old Testament, God didn’t task the Jewish leaders with the responsibility of teaching the children about God. He didn’t tell the prophets or the priests to tell the story of God’s goodness to the children. That was a job he gave to the parents.
“And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NLT).
It’s important that our children not only hear Bible stories from their Sunday school class teachers, but they hear them from their parents. As the song we sometimes sing puts it, “Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word.” Parents, grandparents, share that story, and help your children and your grandchildren to understand that they are part of that story.
But there’s something else that we can do to continue to remember who we are and where we’ve come from.
It’s interesting to me that people who live in less developed cultures often lack some of our modern conveniences – not only advanced technology, like computers, but even things that we take for granted, like books and libraries. Yet, strangely enough, those less advanced cultures are usually better at preserving and sharing their cultural memory than more “advanced” cultures are.
Traditional cultures understand why those stories are so important to their well-being, and they remember how to transmit them from generation to generation. And one of the most ancient and effective ways of helping to remember is through a shared meal.
It’s significant how prominent meals are in the Bible. Abraham prepared a meal for the three strangers who stopped by for a visit. Moses ate a meal with the seventy elders on Mount Sinai. Boaz invited Ruth to join him for a meal. There’s Jesus feeding the 5,000. Jesus eating with Zacchaeus. Jesus eating often with the other tax collectors and sinners. Jesus eating with Mary and Martha. Jesus eating with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus eating with Peter and the other apostles by the Sea of Galilee. The early church breaking bread in each other’s homes from day to day. The love feasts of the early church.
And it’s worth noting that at the very center of the spiritual lives of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments, we find a table: the table of Passover and the table of Communion. N.T. Wright has said, “When Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal.”
Eating is referred to in Scripture a lot. Jesus often used the meal as a symbol of spiritual harmony and union with God. In Luke 14:15, he said, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God” (NLT). In Revelation 3:20, Jesus said, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (NLT).
The truth is that among the early Christians, there was a mysterious blending of food and faith that we don’t quite understand because we want to try to separate the sacred and the secular. Darryl Tippens, in his book Pilgrim Heart says, “I remember as a young Bible reader trying to distinguish between the meals mentioned so often in the New Testament. Which ones were ‘secular’ meals and which ones were ‘sacred’? I had to give up my flawed project because in the Bible food talk is really God talk.”
For the early Christians, a meal was not only a time to share food, but prayers, Scripture reading, and singing of hymns. While sharing a meal together, all of our senses are involved — listening to conversation and story, the aromas and flavors of food and drink, the sights of smiles and gestures, the holding of hands in blessing.
No wonder feasts were arranged when biblical characters wanted to celebrate an important occasion, such as when the father welcomed home his prodigal son. We need to recognize the fact that meals shared together have the same power today to stir our hearts and our memories just as they did in ancient times.
Meals are an important part of our story because eating is closely related to memory. Enjoying your food is not only the taste at the time, but also the memory of the other times you enjoyed the same food. The time you spend physically enjoying your food is very short; what’s left after that is the memory. If you ate something as a child and didn’t like it, chances are you don’t eat it today. On the other hand, you may go out of your way to purchase a specific food item because you’ve had it before and want it again. You may travel a distance to dine at a certain restaurant because of the memory of the food that was served to you some time ago.
Think back to your childhood. Think of the very best times that you shared with your family, and I’m going to guess that there was a table involved that had food on it. Maybe a Thanksgiving meal, maybe Christmas, maybe a family reunion. Maybe a pig pickin’ or a fish fry. And you can remember the smell of the kitchen, because our brain remembers odors and smells and scents better than just about anything else.
If meals shared together are filled with such emotion and memory, then any community (whether church or family) that wants to be serious about the transmission of its values will give special attention to meals.
I was reading this past week an article by Barry Jones. He was talking about how when he and his wife got married, they bought a small pub table. But, about ten years later, they needed something bigger. But Barry says, “We could not bring ourselves to get rid of it. After countless meals together, often shared with family and friends, that table had become an icon of God’s grace and goodness…. The people we loved most sat with us there. Meals were shared. Stories were told. Sins were confessed. We laughed together and cried together. Together we remembered where we’d been, and we dreamed of where we might one day go. We prayed at that table. And there we experienced God’s nearness, God’s kindness, and God’s love.”
It seems to me to be such a shame that most families, including my own, have gotten away from the practice of sitting around the table at dinner, and I think we’ve lost something. The sharing of that meal together is an opportunity to do more than just eat. It’s a time a to remember, a time to tell the story of who we are and where we’ve come from, a time to tell the story of God and the story of Jesus Christ. It’s a time to create memories, memories that will shape who our children and our grandchildren become in the years ahead.
And I believe that one of the most important spiritual disciplines for us to recover is the discipline of table fellowship. In our fast-paced, tech-saturated, attention-deficit-disordered culture in which we find ourselves, Christians need to restore the art of a slow meal around a table with people we care about.
“Table fellowship” doesn’t usually make the list of the classical spiritual disciplines. But there is something very important about the way that sharing a meal together nourishes us both physically and spiritually.
And so, we come to the end of this series. I hope that it’s not just been a lot of talk, but that I’ve been able to help you to see some things that you can actually do in your everyday life that will help to shape you into the image of Jesus. And I hope that you’ve made the effort to actually put some of these things into practice. Because, in the end, just listening to me preach won’t make you like Jesus. For that to happen, you’re going to have to make some changes.
I hope that one of those changes is that you’ll spend more time remembering – remembering what God has done for you, remembering who you are and how you fit into God’s story. And not just remembering, but sharing that story, passing the story on to the next generation, helping your children and others to remember as well. And finding more opportunities to do that seated around a table.
First Church of Christ