“Brought to You By the Letter ‘R'” Sermon Series Begins

Date:  October 1, 2017

Title:  “Remembrance”

Preaching:  The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Scripture:  Deuteronomy 6:1-12

There is great power in remembering.  Our sense of identity is built from our memories, both individually and collectively.  Our memories are the chain connecting our past to our present.  If it breaks, we are left untethered, incapable of loving the present moment and unable to embrace the future.  No wonder the early Hebrews found remembering so vital to the life of faith and so critical for the continuation of community!

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. Love God – your God – with your whole heart; love him with all that’s in you; love him with all you’ve got!  Deuteronomy tells us that these words were not meant to be a passing platitude nor a temporary bit of advice.  They were meant to be remembered.

            Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts.  Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children.  Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.  Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. 

 Remembering is at the very core of what it means to be faithful, because to “remember” is, literally, to “re-member” ourselves… to reassemble, and put ourselves back together however we may have been broken or torn apart.  To “remember” is to become whole again.  There is great power in remembering.  Frederick Buechner puts it this way:

            One way or another, we are always remembering. There is no escaping it even if we want to.  Every person we have ever known, every place we have ever seen, everything that has ever happened to us… it all lives and breathes deep in us somewhere, whether we like it or not. So much has happened to us all over the years.  So much has happened within us and through us. 

 And it is a good thing, this remembering… as long as we do not expect to stay the same.  When I was young I had a Cocker Spaniel named Mitzi, who loved to run through the house with me chasing after her.  This was not a game much loved by my mother, who would invariably tell me to “take it outside”.  One day, nobody was home but Mitzi and me, so of course we began to run, dodging each other, dashing behind furniture, playing a high speed peek-a-boo kind of game.

It was great fun – until I inadvertently snagged my heel on a lamp cord.  Down it came with a resounding crash and a heart-sickening shattering of glass. My first thought (of which I am not very proud) was, “How can I blame the dog for this?  But then I decided, even better – I’ll fix it!  So I took out the glue and gathered up the pieces (there weren’t too many, maybe only 7 or 8), and I went to work re-membering the lamp, putting it back together, making it whole.

Mom came home a couple hours later and all was quiet for a time.  I thought I had gotten away with it until later that night, when she went to turn on the lamp, then inspected it a little more closely, and turned to ask WHAT HAPPENED HERE?

In my anxiety (I really hated to be in trouble) and in my guilt (I knew I had broken a rule), and in my naivete, I imagined re-membering would make the lamp the same as it was before the crash.  And of course, that never works. It doesn’t work for the broken things in our lives any more than it works for our lives themselves.  Remembering is a powerful act and it can be a decisive move toward wholeness, but it does not take us back, nor does it leave us the same as we have always been.

When we gather at this table, along with Christian around the world this morning, we are coming to remember and to be “re-membered.”  And we are coming to be changed.  Sharing this feast will not take us back to some long-ago, imaginary “good old days”, nor will it leave us the same as we have always been.  Jan Richardson puts it this way in her blessing for World Communion Sunday:

            And the table will be wide.

            And the welcome will be wide.

            And the arms will open wide to gather us in.

             And our hearts will open wide to receive.

            And we will come unhindered and free

            And our aching will be met with bread

            And our sorrow will be met with wine.

             And we will open our hands to the feast without shame.

            And we will turn toward each other without fear.

            And we will give up our appetite for despair

            And we will taste and know of delight.

 

            And then we will become bread for a hungering world.

            And we will become drink for those who thirst.

            And the blessed will become the blessing.

            And everywhere will be the feast.

 There is great power in remembering.  But only if we do not expect it to take us back, or leave us the same as we have always been.  When I was in Berlin for the recent meeting of the Commission on a Way Forward, I noticed a number of these small brass plaques set into the sidewalk.  Called “stolpersteins”, they are literally known as “stumbling stones” or “stumbling blocks”, and they are meant to catch you off guard.  These are cobblestone-sized concrete cubes bearing a brass plate on which is inscribed  the name & life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution.  I took a photograph of one which said:

Here lived Luise Hartnack – born 1872 – arrested October 3, 1942 – sent to Ravensbruck, dead December 14, 1942.

 

Initiated by Gunter Demnig in 1992, this project is still ongoing.  Each block commemorates an individual at the last place of their residence or their work before they fell victim to the Nazis.  To date over 56,000 stolpersteines have been laid in 22 European cities.

There is great power in remembering the good and the bad, the beautiful and the evil, the hopeful and the horrible.  There is power in re-membering which does not take us back or leave us the same as we have always been.  Again, as Buechner writes:

            To remember my life is to remember countless times when I might have given up, gone under.  But I didn’t give up.  And each of you, with all your memories and all the tales you could tell, you also have not given up.  Which tells  us that:

  • Weak as we are sometimes, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far
  • Foolish as we are sometimes, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us a path
  • Faint of heart as we are sometimes, a love beyond our power has kept our hearts alive.

 

And so… when we come to this table, let us be “re-membered”…

 

And then we will become bread for a hungering world.

            And we will become drink for those who thirst.

            And the blessed will become the blessing.

            And everywhere will be the feast.

 

For World Communion Sunday… and for every day.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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