The String Around Your Finger
Rev. Christa Fuller Burns
Faith Presbyterian Church
John 14:18-34 – May 27, 2018
As you can imagine, this leave-taking is a nostalgic time for me and I find myself doing a lot of remembering. In fact, most of the sermon on June 10th will be about things I remember, things they did not teach us in seminary. As it is Memorial Day, it seems appropriate to think about remembering. I’ve always been ambivalent, as you know, about acknowledging civil holidays in worship. However, since there seems to be so much collective amnesia in our country today, Memorial Day takes on an added importance.
After all, the idea of commemorating, of memorializing our experiences is a very Biblical idea. Simply put, God wants us to remember. And if it were not enough that God wants us to remember, we should point out that there are dire consequences for forgetting what God wants us to remember. It could be argued that Eve simply forgot God’s instructions about what to eat and what not to eat and it did not go well. God tells Jacob to make an altar in Bethel so that he would remember how God was with him when he ran away from his brother Esau. When the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt, God instructed them to keep the Passover as a remembrance of their time of slavery and how God delivered them. One of the ten commandments is that we should “remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy”. (Ex.20:8) When the Israelites forgot the ten commandments, when they built that golden calf, God is not pleased. God tells Moses to go down there and remind those people who it was who brought them out of Egypt. God wants to wipe them out.
The disciples, we know, were a forgetful lot. Peter, the rock on whom Jesus says the church will be built, had a case of amnesia when asked if he knew Jesus on that night before his crucifixion. You wonder if Jesus knew all about our case of collective amnesia. In John’s Gospel, before he is arrested, Jesus gives his friends a long goodbye speech in which he tells them that if they love him, they will keep his commandments. In other words, it they love him, they will remember what he taught them. And, Jesus says, I am not going to leave you orphaned. I am going to send an advocate, the Spirit, who will “remind” you of everything I have taught you. It is almost as if Jesus knows they are going to forget so he is going to send the Holy Spirit to remind them to get off their duffs and get busy. I hadn’t thought about the Holy Spirit that way – as sent to us so we would remember.
The fact is, we are a forgetful people. We are like the elderly couple who worry that they are losing their memories. On one of their doctor’s visits the couple asks the doctor what they can do. The doctor suggests that, perhaps, it would help if they wrote themselves notes to remember. One night the couple is watching TV and the husband says he’s going to the kitchen – can he get his wife anything? Sure, she says, can you get me a bowl of ice cream? Glad to. Don’t forget, will you? I won’t forget. Do you need to write it down? No. I will remember. Oh, and if there are any strawberries left, can you put some on top? Sure. Don’t forget. Shall I write it down? I won’t forget. Oh and maybe some whipped cream. OK. Don’t forget. I won’t forget. Ice cream. Strawberries. And whipped cream. Don’t forget. The husband disappears into the kitchen and is gone for a suspiciously long time. When he comes back he is carrying a plate of bacon and eggs. When he sets it down in front of his wife, she asks, “Did you forget the toast?”
When I hear a lot of the debate these days over supposedly Christian teachings, I wonder if people have forgotten what Jesus actually taught. Of course, it is possible people don’t know what Jesus said in the first place! I think it is more likely that people have simply chosen what to remember and what to forget. A group of prominent faith leaders have composed a document entitled: “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis”. The statement is a list of affirmations that remind us of who Jesus is and what Jesus taught. For example; “We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself.” In other words, do we remember how Jesus said: Blessed are the poor –they will inherit the earth?
“We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives”. In other words, do we remember how Jesus said, You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) More on that next week.
“We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination. We support democracy, not because we believe in human perfection, but because we do not.” In other words, do we remember how Jesus said, “He who must be first of all must first be a servant of all”
One more: “We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. We in turn should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants rather than to see first narrow nationalistic prerogatives.” In other words, do we remember how Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember (remember), I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt.28:19-20) By the way, the entire statement is posted on our Facebook page and copies of it are in the narthex.
We are a forgetful people. I believe we need Memorial Days…not to have a day off with hot dogs and hamburgers. In fact, maybe Memorial Day should be in church. Maybe we need a time in which to collectively remember those who died in service to our country and why. As South Korea and North Korea are so much in the news today, do we even know who so many lives were lost in the Korean War? 5.7 million – most of them Korean. Do we know why? Our former custodian, John Ward, fought in the Korean War and I remember his disappointment that his country did not seem to remember that war. In fact, the potential for a summit to resolve the nuclear weapon issue reminds us that the Korean War is not really over. An armistice was signed in 1953 which ended active fighting. If there ever is a summit, perhaps there could be a formal end to the war.
We were talking about the passage for this morning in our Bible Study last week and one of the African American members in our group said that she is appalled that the younger generation of African American youth do not want to remember the Jim Crow laws in this country, not to mention the lynchings that occurred during that time in our history. It doesn’t affect them – or so they think.
As Christians, as believers we have an obligation to remember. God requires us to remember.
I came across recently the observations of a Rabbi who addresses our shared propensity for forgetting. What can we do, he asks? What can we do to be more mindful people? The first suggestion he has for us comes from the Jewish tradition of wearing fringes, a tradition that originates in the book of Numbers: “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to makes fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. You have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them….” (15:37-39). I suppose wearing blue fringes is sort of like tying a string around your fingers – wearing something that reminds you to remember.
Another suggestion Rabbi Markus offers as a help for remembering is to remember together. Being together helps us remember. (A String Around Your Finger, David Markus, My Jewish Learning, June 11, 2015)
I will be going to a family reunion this summer. Whenever my cousins and my siblings are together we share our memories of growing up and it is always stunning to me that we don’t remember the same things and the things we do remember we remember differently!
Faith Church is a memory bank. Some people remember things others don’t. Some people remember things one way, some another. Somehow when we all get together the truth about the past comes alive.
On this Memorial Day, I suggest we tie a blue string around our finger so that we remember…those who died so that we could be free and, most of all, the one who said; If you love me you will remember what I taught you.”