My voice barely made it through worship this morning. So, the sermon was ‘truncated.’  Here is the whole nine yards:

February 21, 2010

“To Serve As A Reminder”
Deuteronomy 26:1-11

I was tempted to wear a string tied around my finger into the pulpit this morning.

Karen Marks can affirm the need for this. She is kind and courteous so she may not want to do it, but twice she has asked me to make an announcement in church and twice I’ve forgotten it at one of the worship services. I don’t know why I would forget that, but I did.

It is not uncommon for someone to stop at the door as I greet people on a Sunday morning and give me some important information. Verbally, they give me some important information. I smile and shake their hand. I have no idea what they said. I am trying my best to pay attention to what you are saying, believe me, but for some reason…I dunno, maybe my brain is tired…it simply goes in one ear and out another. So please, do not give me your social security number or anything like that at the door on Sunday, write it down and put it in my mail box down the hall. Tuesday morning Donna or Carol will see that I get the information and that I remember it.

You may notice that the place and the time is important to the act of remembering. This text from Deuteronomy is at the end of a long sermon by Moses, exhorting the Israelites as to just how they are supposed to live into this new relationship. The Israelites are about to enter into a land of great promise, overflowing, as the text tells us elsewhere, with milk and honey.

I remember a similar exhortation I received when I was about 16 years old. I was finally in possession of a drivers license, and as I had a part time job I also had a couple of bucks in my pocket. I had made arrangements to go out on a date with a girl I had a crush on, Betsy was her name, and I promise you I thought that the vista I was staring at was as wide and as beautiful as any on the planet. My mother, with a simple turn of a phrase caused my horizon to shrink dramatically. She said, “do not forget who you are.”

Her timing was impeccable.

And so it is with Moses.

The Greeks believed that the Goddess of Memory was the mother of imagination. For Israel, memory is more often the mother of faith.

Deuteronomy’s instructions about the first fruits that were to be offered to God served as a ritual reminder. They were delivered from bondage by the grace of God. They had once been oppressed in Egypt and unable to claim anything as their own. They had been tested for forty years in the wilderness. Now, they were in a land of plenty (26:9) without slave masters or restrictions. The simple act of bringing a portion of the first harvest was a way to acknowledge that it was God who had delivered them and brought them to a better place in life. This is the same God, our God, who as John Calvin said, “never forsakes his people in the middle of the journey.” And whose grace makes of such memories the stuff on which faith feeds.

See this memory exercise is not a challenge to remember the rules. My mother could have stood over me at the door and asked me to recite the rules. I am I the only one who had rules for borrowing the family car to go out on a date? Be home by 11. Make sure you top off the gas tank. Dad will not be happy if he gets in the car in the morning and it is on fumes. And there were other rules, but by now I was only hearing “whah, whah, whah, wha, what, wha, whah.” But she only said, ‘don’t forget who you are.’ The rules only served to help me remember who I was.

I have adopted this strategy. My wife uses it. For each one of our boys, when they leave the house one of us inevitably says: Don’t forget who you are. There are distractions out there in the world. There are Sirens who will sing to you as they did to Odysseus! Plug your ears and tie yourself to the mast! From the looks on their faces, I know what they are saying: Come on! You had to go there didn’t you? You just had to go there! Listen, the use of the memory can be a dangerous thing. It can stop you dead in your tracks.

Memory, when it helps people of faith remember to whom they belong, is a beautiful thing. It can send you on your way rejoicing.

Most of the world doesn’t get this. Did you hear the story a few weeks ago about the Orthodox Jewish boy who caused the ‘emergency’ landing of an airliner? It seems as though The 17-year-old boy was carrying the tefillin, a small cubic black box filled with torah verses, and it was tied on his head and his arms with straps. The passengers mistook the tefillin for a bomb and the fear led to a landing at Philadelphia International Airport. I find it ironic that some people unfamiliar with the tefillin found them cause for fear. To the boy they were cause for comfort: The practice of wearing these comes directly from the Hebrew bible and they serve as a ‘reminder’ to the one praying,

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

They are a symbol, they are a sign. There isn’t anything magical about them. If anyone else had been aware of their purpose they would have known that they were for prayer. The young man certainly knew what they were, and I suppose that no one was more surprised than he that the simple act of prayer, which to him may have seemed quite innocuous, caused such a fright.

Our religion requires that we exercise our memory too. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, Christians are invited to do some things to piqué your powers of recall. During this time we are invited to do (or not do as the case may be) some things that remind us to turn toward God. It may be something as simple as praying at a certain time of day, each day, during lent that interrupts the normal flow and allows space for God; it may be the reading of some book that ‘brings to your remembrance,’ the presence of the Spirit in your life; It may be the fast and the filling of a void with the presence of the Holy; It may be coming every Wednesday night for Eucharist and worship; I don’t know how it will work for you, but I do know that if you pause long enough to consider that you are God’s beloved, and now, what does this mean for my life, your memory will serve you well. The Lenten journey serves as a reminder: an opportunity for us to take an honest look at who and whose we are and how we have come to be blessed.

Memory, you see is as important to Christians as it is to Jews. For us, it may begin with remembering that “my father was a wandering Aramaean” but it flourishes when we “do this in remembrance of Me.” It is only after remembering all these things that we, “together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” (Deuteronomy 26:11) Without remembering the celebration makes no sense.