May 26, 2019
Acts 16:9-15, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 14:23-29
It is said that Napoleon had a photographic memory. He was able to recall any number of facts, names of people, and memorize entire maps. During the campaign of 1805, one of his commanders could not locate his division. As his aides began to search through their maps and papers to find the location, Napoleon told it to them from memory, along with the strength and status of each unit.
One of his biographers wrote that the little Emperor had the ability to not only remember the names of thousands of soldiers who fought under his leadership; he also remembered the names of their families and other personal information. His soldiers in turn respected him for that and trusted him. Often credited with originating the phrase “a picture is worth 1,000 words,” Napoleon actually said: “A good sketch is better than a long speech.”
He was in many ways a remarkable person, with many flaws of course. For someone who was strictly speaking not born in France, who spoke French with an accent, and on top of it never really mastered the French language to become the Emperor of France is quite a feat! He was without any doubt a remarkable military leader, a master tactician, very charismatic and smart. But all in all in my opinion, it is his great memory what is most impressive.
Very few people are blessed to have such a great memory. Generally speaking, human beings are rather forgetful. Now it is true that our memories are sometimes pretty good. We don’t forget when someone says or does something harmful to me. We do not forget if someone owns me money or a favor. But remembering important events takes some effort.
The mere thought of losing your memory is deeply troubling. Individuals work hard over many years to accumulate memories and then you treasure them for the rest of your life.
Yes our ability to remember is important. Psychologists have given us some tools to practice our memories as individuals. They talk about the 3 R’s that help us with the 4th R: Rituals, Routine and Repetition lead to Remembering.
Let me just say something about collective memories. They are as important. Author, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel once said that “without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. The day has its own rituals, routines and repetition that help us to remember.
These four R’s, rituals, routines, repetitions to remember, have been used in the Judeo-Christian tradition for a very long time: We have rituals, like communion, reading, praying in our worship service, we do these on a regular basis, we repeat them every Sunday and they help us to remember. Why? For people are forgetful!
The Ancient Jewish people were forgetful -they needed to be reminded: In Exodus 13 Moses said to the people: “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” And in Judges 8:34 we read: “Remember that for 40 years the Lord your God led you on your journey in the desert”. And in Deuteronomy 8 the Jewish people are warned not to forget what God did and they are urged to remember: “God was the one who led you through that vast and dangerous desert—a thirsty and arid land, with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He was the one who made water come out of solid rock for you. He was the one who fed you in the desert with manna”.
The early Christian Church was urged to remember, for they too were forgetful: In 1 Corinthians 11 the Apostle Paul recalls the words of Jesus at the institution of holy communion: “This is my body, this is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me!”
We have to admit that just like our early brothers and sisters were forgetful, we are forgetful too. But thanks be to God, we were not left to our own devices.
In John’s Gospel, after Jesus had washed the feet of His Disciples, and had given them a new commandment to love one another, Jesus told them: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He then promises them another Advocate or Helper to be with them forever. The Advocate or Helper is also called the Spirit of truth, or the Holy Spirit. And the task of the Holy Spirit is to teach them everything and to remind them of all that Jesus had said to them.
As we approaching Pentecost, the day when we remember the coming of God’s Spirit, poured out on people, it is importance to think about the work, the importance and the benefit of the work of the Helper, the Spirit of God. In other words, let’s think about how the Spirit of God helps us to be faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ?
First of all, the Advocate teaches us everything. The Spirit helps and guides us, the Spirit teaches us what we need to know about Jesus’ words and works. The Advocate however is not sent to teach something new. This is of course a very important point because there have always been efforts to add, or leave out or change the teachings of Jesus: Some have tried to turn Christianity into an ideology to justify colonialism, or race superiority, or wars. And champions of these causes pretend that God’s Spirit guided them. No! The Spirit does not teach anything different from what Jesus taught! No-one who says that one race is better than another, or promotes violence, or hatred or prejudice can say they speak on behalf of Jesus. No-one should use Christianity to justify loveless actions.
Christianity for some has become the way to riches and prestige, with access to the powerful and the power to demand. And then they say that God’s Spirit leads them. How on earth do you get to the view of power from the man who says: “If I, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet? Servants are not greater than their master.” Jesus also said: “For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Secondly, the Spirit of God reminds of us all that Jesus has said. This second task of the Advocate is closely related to the first task of teaching us – but now the focus is to remind us because we tend to forget – or selectively remember.
I sometimes think that it is less harmful to completely forget what the Bible is all about than to selectively remember and cite verses to proof your point. Let me use an example to illustrate this point: Someone I knew and loved, knew the Bible very well. The person did not hesitate to cite the Bible. This was years ago and we lived in a very conservative society. Women who wear long pants were frowned upon because long pants were seen as exclusively men’s wear. So there were people who objected to women wearing long pants. So, how do you close your argument? By citing the Bible of course: Deuteronomy 22:5 states: “A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel -for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.” Case closed, right? Actually not! You see, the person who cited this verse to proof the point was well dressed – in clothes made of wool and linen, and on top of it the clothes did not have any tassels attached to them. The person selectively forgot or ignored Deuteronomy 22:11 and 12 – “You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together. You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself.”
Another example is a bit more controversial. An Australian professional rugby player with Tongan heritage posted on Instagram a message that hell waits for people with a specific sexual orientation. He obviously referred to the Bible to proof his point. For him Leviticus 18:22 proofed his point. Case closed, he thought! Not really. The rugby player’s Tongan heritage is displayed with tattoos on his arms. Interestingly enough, just in the next chapter of the same book, Leviticus 19:28 reads: “You shall not tattoo any marks upon you, I am the Lord”.
I am not suggesting tattoos are wrong. I am also not saying that everything is relative and nothing is certain anymore. What I am suggesting is that the Spirit reminds us of the teachings of Jesus – for we are forgetful and we are deceivingly creative by remembering selectively! Jesus says that the Spirit of God reminds us of ALL that I have said to you!
Jesus is preparing his Disciples to live as followers of Christ in a complex world. He knew that people will forget, will selectively remember and abuse his words for their own selfish purposes. Therefor he gives them more comforting words: “Peace I leave to you, my peace I give you! I do not give as the world gives! Do not let your hearts be trouble and do not let them be afraid.” God in Jesus gives the Disciples peace, the wonderful shalom peace of being in harmony with self, others and life. This is something the world cannot give. And it seems as if the shalom peace cannot co-exist with fear. It is fear that robs us from peace, it is worry and fear that make us selfish and egocentric. Over the last few years during sermons we have often identify fear as the emotion that is powerfully destructive. Actions that are rooted in fear make it almost impossible for us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And from our reading it seems as if
the good deeds of God we will not fear. When we are reminded that God is in
control of our lives, then we can, in spite of external circumstances take a
deep breath and experience the peace that the world cannot give. When we are
reminded that God has always provided, Jesus has always been God-with-us, why
will our hearts be troubled? And as we approach Pentecost, we are reminded that
we do have a Helper, and Advocate, the Spirit of God who teaches us and reminds us of what Jesus did for us! Amen!