Memory

This sermon was given for St. John’s Episcopal Church, Murray KY on Nov 8 2020 on Proper 27, Year A
Readings:
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I want to share a passage from John Webster, an Anglican theologian this morning, about memory.

Memory is the urgent business of setting before our eyes God’s great act of delivering us from death and giving us a share in his life. Memory, remembering the past, governs our present and our future. It is through remembering that our identity now is set out—what we are now is the people who have been called into being by God’s mighty acts of deliverance. So to know who we are, we must remember. [1]

This morning, we are clutched by the present, and the future. The gospel reading seemingly points us forward; to prepare, to be ready. To come to the table with the oil, so that we may be wise, and prepared for the bridegroom to arrive late in the night;
And what a night it has been.

Jesus calls to us. Watch. Wait. Get ready.
Ready for what?

“Memory is the urgent business of setting before our eyes God’s great act of delivering us from death and giving us a share in God’s life.“

God is our deliverer. God took the Israelites out of Egypt, and gave them bread from heaven, and water in the desert. God took them through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. It is here that Joshua calls the people to repent; PUT AWAY the other Gods. Remember what God has done for us and on our behalf.

The Psalmist, too, calls us to memory.
Hear my teaching, O my People; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
God will speak to us in a parable, and declare the mysteries of ancient times. 
We must teach our children, what our grandparents taught us. 
We will praise the Lord, and all the wonderful works he has done.
God spoke, that we might be God’s disciples. That we might teach our children, and they in turn teach their children.
Put your trust in God, forget not the deeds of God, but keep his commandment.

“Memory, remembering our past, governs our present and our future.”

We must be careful here; for our past is full of false idols and missteps. Just as the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, we can point out all the ways we have strayed, as a nation and as a church. The human story is not what governs our present and future; God’s story is what governs our present and future.

“It is through remembering that our identity now is set out—what we are now is the people who have been called into being by God’s mighty acts of deliverance.”
And what does God, through Christ, urge us to remember?
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus God will bring with him those who have died.”
Paul understands; he makes the past present and relies on God’s saving action to define their future. Yet here Paul also falls short; his encouragement is still focused on what will happen to us, to him. Jesus doesn’t point us to prepare for 2000, or 2020, or 2024, or any one moment defined in history. Jesus instead teaches us to hope and to endure. 

Friends, in these last days you have seen the Gospel used positively or negatively, leveraged by one side or the other to make their case to the presidency. You might have noticed both sides posturing their candidate as a savior. However, the Gospel knows only one savior- Christ. No matter what the outcome, no matter what the stakes, we finally must remember. We must remember that Christ died for us, to save the world. He taught us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and to endure. Christ set us apart from this world; not that we may retreat from it, but that we may declare Christ to it; that we may prepare, like the bridesmaids, for the second coming of our Savior.

This weekend, a season of uncertainty is ending; yes; but a new season of uncertainty begins. There is work to be done on both sides and all sides, to labor on for the common good; yet we are not to forget:
Christ has done the work.
Christ died on the cross.
Christ rose from the dead.
Christ will come again.

“So to know who we are, we must remember.”

Our remembrance, in our particular tradition, is made harder by separation. The community of Christians, gathered before the altar, makes it possible to love our enemies, to remember Jesus’ sacrifice and to come together to share in Christ’s body and blood. It is undoubtedly harder on us in our fast from the sacrament. Yet we are called to remember Christ in other ways. 
We remember Christ when we read scripture.
We remember Christ when we pray “thy kingdom come” and “thy will be done.”
We remember Christ when we proclaim a gospel that is above party politics, and we remember Christ when we act as his disciples in the world in order to bring healing.
There is work to be done. We must remember who we are, and we must remember whose we are. When we remember, we take our flasks of oil; so that even when we grow weary, we can continue to call on the name of Jesus.

O God, who declared the mysteries of the World in parables, and gave us your Word through your son Jesus Christ; Incline our ears to your Word, enliven our praise, that we may do all things remembering your holy name, putting our trust in you. Amen.

[1] Webster, J. (2014). Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian. (D. Bush & B. Ellis, Eds.) (p. 151). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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