This is the message I shared with New Life Bible Fellowship. Though not all of the words are the same, the message is.
As you may have heard, my family has recently moved to the greater metroplex from the far western edge of Texas. If you don’t know where Odessa, is, take your hand and try to fashion it like Texas. In the corner where your thumb and index finger meet, that’s more or less where you’ll find Odessa. It is an area rich with opportunity and oil. As a matter of fact the Midland-Odessa area is now considered the some of the fastest growing areas of the nation.
If you’ve ever moved, you’ve had the experience of packing up all your stuff. It’s amazing to me how much junk-ahem-stuff we can gather up. We pile our stuff into storage units or rental trucks. We pack the boxes til the nearly explode and hope that we’ve labeled them properly. If we are lucky, when we unload friends are kind enough to help us strategically place the boxes in the right room. Then the work begins. The work of uncovering hidden gems and memories. Photos, toys, books, clothes, appliances, each piece belongs somewhere new, yet they remind us of where we had been. As we unpack, if we have the time we remember.
The other day, I was driving and lost in thought. The word “remember” kept creeping into my mind. I thought of how it begins with my favorite pre-fix. It made me curious as to the meaning and origins of the word. After all, if you break it apart, the prefix “re” and root word “member” don’t seem to go together.
As you recall, “re” means to do again. It’s a do-over word. Repeat, redo, retry, return, rehash, resolve, on and on the list could go. “Member” indicates a belong. Band member, church member, Member of the Army, body member, so forth and so on. As I reflected upon this I thought how remember could mean re-belong.
It’s crazy, I know. But think about it for a moment. When we remember things, we re-belong to that moment. Opening a yearbook takes you back to your days in school. Laughing with friends or family members about the past takes you back to the moment that it happened. Sometimes our memories are jarred by songs, smells, stories, and more. Each time we remember, it is almost as if we re-belong to that time, place, or group. Memories are powerful for helping us find our place.
Yet, our present circumstances can cause us to forget our place. The pace at which our society is running we can quickly lose our train of thought, our direction, even our purpose. I’m sure it’s happened to you, you’ve opened your internet browser for a quick purposeful search, 30-45 min later, you’re still looking at the browser, trying to recall what you were looking for in the first place. The original search led to a link that took you down the internet “rabbit hole” and now you’re there lost.
Society is moving fast. Some could argue things are going too fast. The speed is creating a panic. The panic is dis-settling and it has us grasping for answers. Some of the answers cause us to act in ways that are contrary to who we want to be, but we don’t have the time to slowdown. The news headlines are filled with stories of chaos and it leaves many of us isolated and afraid. Our sense of belonging is slowly being taken away.
This is not a new scenario. Belonging and identity have been challenged throughout the ages. I’m sure for each generation, this has felt like something new and different, even though it’s not. Just as each generation has felt on the verge of defeat, something new has been birthed.
When we read through the scriptures, we find an interesting narrative that arises. Repeatedly, the scriptures tell stories of people who were defeated who rise again. From the very beginning lessons of Adam and Eve to the final images of the followers of God in Revelation, defeat and new beginnings are a constant refrain. Interestingly, one of those defeat and new beginning feelings is captured in the poem of lament following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC.
Let me set the stage. For more than three hundred years, the families that dwelled in the hill country region of the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Basin offered sacrifices to atone for their sins at a Temple constructed on a hill, surrounded by a great wall. This hill and the city that comprised the Temple, a king’s palace, thousands of residents, and a rich memory was known as Jerusalem. This Temple was different than the many other temples that could be found throughout the land bridge between the major superpowers of the southern and northern portions of the ancient near east. The Temple in Jerusalem was filled with memories and belonging that few temple could replicate. For it was this Temple that told the story of a people drawn out of the southern Empire of Egypt, led through a wilderness and a period of cleansing, who were then established a special people. This Temple told the story of the people who recounted the story of the divine encounter at a burning bush, the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the sea and later of the Jordan River. This Temple helped the people remember they belonged to YWHW, the LORD God of Israel.
Over the years, this city had sent forth it’s kings and armies to defend the hill country from invaders and insurrections. These campaigns were waged with a sense of belonging and purpose. The campaigns created memories of victories and defeat.
Nearly 150 years before, a great Empire from the north, the Assyrians, had campaigned against the neighboring kingdom on Jerusalem’s northern border and been defeated. Jerusalem was spared destruction by what many called a divine act. But now in 586 BC, things were different. The new northern Empire, the Babylonians, were stronger and willing to be patient to over take Jerusalem. Eventually, the broke the walls, ransacked the city, destroyed the Temple, and scattered the residents like chaff in the wind. The memories were threatened and the sense of belonging torn out from underneath them.
This is the setting for the words of lament that echo through our sacred halls today. This is the setting for the words of lament that inspired the song of praise that has been sung around the world for nearly 100 years.
“Great is Thy Faithfulness, thy compassions they fail not, morning by morning new mercies I see.”
The poet utters words of faith on the heels of disaster and devastation. The poet imagines a time that once was and will be again. The poet does not forget her place. The poet remembers and belongs.
Let’s read the words together: (Lamentations 3:19-24) NLT
“The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance, therefore, I will hope in him!’”
Did you catch the poet’s state of mind? The poet is stating boldly a hope that springs from a sense of re-belonging.
If you read the series of poems that compose the short section of scripture known as Lamentations, you will see the poems leave little doubt in the author’s mind as to why the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. The poems help us see the author(s) clearly see they destruction is the result of communal sin.
We tend to think of their sin being related to the individual actions of the people. Yet, the scriptures seem to point us toward seeing the sin as being a people choosing to belong to alliances with Egypt and other neighboring kingdoms. The sin seems to be the slow drift into worshipping other gods, particularly for the purposes agricultural and fertility success. The city, the community had failed to remember the One who had brought them forth, established them, and directed them how to live. The failed to remember and now no longer behaved as though they belonged to YWHW, the Lord God of Israel.
Yet, the poet still dared to hope! The poet remembered and called others to remember. In this call to remember, there is a call to belong as well.
It would take some 600 years before the connection to remembering and belonging would reach a new level. During this time, the descendants of the city of Jerusalem were scattered and persecuted. Some returned to rebuild the city, though it never reached the glory of it’s zenith. Nearly 600 years later, under the rule of a new Empire, a questionable teacher called his followers to remember and belong.
The questionable teacher had gathered his followers into an upper room to commemorate a story of belonging. As the Jewish teacher recounted the story of the Passover, he set forth a new sense of belonging. The Passover Meal remembered the way YWHW, the Lord God of Israel, had called the people out of Egypt to be his special people. As the Jewish teacher ate the meal and drank from the cups with his students, he made a startling new announcement. Up to this point, the students had seen themselves as belonging to the Jewish faith. They were raised to know the rules of the Torah. They had participated in the initiation rites of the Jewish community. But in this meal, the controversial teacher whom they had devoted themselves to called them to a new relationship. It wasn’t that his rules were a radical departure from the old ones. It wasn’t that he was telling them their participation in the Jewish community was insignificant. No, this new place of belonging was about living not by the letter of the rules, but by the spirit of them. This new community would not be about family lineage and religious initiations, it was about friendship and acceptance. This Jewish teacher from the city of Nazareth near Galilee, this Jesus, was inviting his students, his disciples, into a new covenant.
As he passed them bread from the table and a cup of wine, he inaugurated something special using something common. By taking everyday items of bread and wine, he invited his followers to belong to the One who had sent him. For Jesus reminded his followers that he had been sent by YWHW, the Lord God of Israel, the one Jesus called “father.”
He would guarantee the new covenant with his own death. This seemed perplexing and unusual to say the least. Yet, the remarkable part of this story of defeat was the new beginning the sprung forth afterwards. Jesus’s death was accepted by the Father. We know this because of the testimony of the Father. The Father’s acceptance was not announced in a usual way, but rather in the resurrection of Jesus who had just died days before. Father, YWHW, the Lord God of Israel, announced the new covenant inaugurated by bread and cup, guaranteed by Jesus’ death, was in place through the resurrection of Jesus.
Now, all who desire to belong to God can, regardless of race, nationality, gender, or any other barrier. The disciples of Jesus went forth telling this Good News to all who would hear. Today, you and I gather in this room, remembering this same story of God’s faithfulness. We remember and belong to this story.
And today, we have common elements of bread and cup to help us remember and rebelong to Jesus and his father.
This is a moment for us to slowdown in the midst of the chaos and noise and remember the good deeds of God. This is our moment to stop and recount the endless mercy of God. This is our time to recall the love that never ceases.
Jesus spoke to his disciples telling them to eat and drink and remember him.
It is in our remembering Jesus that we realign ourselves with his priorities, purpose, and vision.
It is in remembering Jesus that we find ourselves belonging to something more than our small family. We see we are a part of a great story that has stretched through time and space.
It is in remembering that we can dare to hope that the chaos, wickedness, and senseless violence will come to an end and it will be on earth as it is in heaven.
Today is your day to remember and re-belong.
I pray that you will remember the mercy of God. Possibly today all you can remember is the simple song, “Jesus Loves Me, This I know.”
It doesn’t matter how much you can remember, only that you remember.
God has not forgotten you! You may feel overwhelmed, out of control, forgotten, and left alone, but remember his mercies.
Be blessed as you come to take of the common elements of bread and cup. They are here for you as a memory device. Come, take, eat, and drink. Remember and belong.
This new relationship is for you. This renewed relationship is for you and me.
Blessed are those who remember.