Do You Not Remember?
by Louise Westfall
For me, the highlight of the All-Star Game a couple weeks ago didn’t happen during the game at all. It was the tribute to baseball icon, Hall of Famer, and civil rights activist “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron who died in January. A video of his record-breaking 715th career home run was shown, and the announcer reminded the cheering crowd that Aaron had been selected for the All-Star team 25 times, more than any other player. He had overcome prejudice and discrimination perhaps as much by his gracious demeanor as his baseball prowess. Aaron’s widow, Billie, herself a model of grace and greatness, was there to hear recitation of the couple’s philanthropic endeavors that transformed lives far beyond the field of dreams in support of equitable health care, historic Black colleges and universities, and countless youth programs. After a year with pandemic-restricted sports spectators, racial reckoning protests, and hostile divisions in our nation, city and even families, the reminder of simple human goodness and decency evoked joy and hope. Do you not remember?
Memory is a powerful tool that helps form our identity and create our “story.” Memory helps make meaning of the events of our lives so that we better understand who we are and what makes us tick. The cruel deterioration of memory through illness robs a person of their essence and the web of connections that anchor them in the world. It is a heartbreaking loss and many who describe caring for a loved one in the throes of Alzheimer’s speak of “losing” the beloved long before they actually die. Trauma can distort memory in devastating ways that can hurt us, and often requires professional counseling to heal. On the other hand, good memories can inspire gratitude and help us trust the smile on future’s face. Perhaps this is the powerful and positive force behind efforts to remember the parts of our history that are difficult, that were the cause of profound human suffering, and which have enshrined unjust systems. By remembering and honestly acknowledging past sins, we can be forgiven and freed to live into our highest ideals and bravest dreams more fully. Far from being evidence of “hating” one’s country and heritage, this honest accounting is the work of true lovers who seek its best and truest expression.
Our Scripture text this morning reflects the power of remembering…even though it begins with forgetting. Jesus and his disciples have just settled into a boat and are headed across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Right away the disciples figure out they’ve forgotten to pack a lunch and who knows when they might eat again?! A reading from the good news according to Mark in the 8th chapter, verses 14 through 21. Listen for God’s Word for those with short attention spans, worriers, and any of us who sometimes forget to remember. [Mark 8:14-21]
How we interpret Scripture depends in part on how we “hear” it. It’s possible to read this text as one more example of the cluelessness of the disciples and Jesus’ anger at their lack of understanding. Through this lens, we hear Jesus’ rapid-fire questions—Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Are you hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and fail to see? Ears and fail to hear? Do you not remember? Do you not yet understand?–as scolding and judging. I’m sure the disciples were embarrassed that their preoccupation with food had even caused them to hear Jesus’ metaphorical warning about the religious leaders influence as simply a request for more bread. (A reminder that we all hear things filtered through our own anxiety, hunger, experience or perceptions, which should call us to a little humility about the absolute truth of our perspectives).
How does it shift the learning if we recast this scene as a comedy?–Jesus picking up on their anxiety and poking gentle fun at their worry by reminding them of the abundance of provision they had witnessed a couple of times so recently. I love the way he asks them to state out loud how many baskets of left overs were collected each time. I picture him smiling with a twinkle in his eye as they solemnly answer: Twelve baskets. Seven baskets. Well, duh. I think we can weather this current food shortage.
With humor and grace, Jesus addresses his followers’ worries by asking them to remember. Not as a frustrated and weary taskmaster, but as an amused and generous grandparent, Jesus invites their trust based on their experience. Do you not remember how the hunger of a multitude was satisfied with bread to spare? Do you not remember how the blind were healed to see, the deaf were healed to hear, and the lame danced for joy? Do you not remember when this boat was ready to sink because of wind and waves, how the storm was calmed with a word of peace? And do you not remember the power you yourselves exercised when I sent you out to preach and heal? Oh, dear disciples, my friends, God has brought us through so much! Remember. Remember, so you’ll know that God will bring us through again and again.
The poet W.S. Merwin wrote “What you remember saves you.” I think that’s another way to express the truth of this text. By remembering God’s care in the past, we grow stronger in our ability to face future uncertainties with confidence and hope. This is a message for us latter-day disciples, as we come out of a difficult and painful pandemic place. Fact is, there are still so many things we don’t know about post-pandemic church and life. Will people want to gather in person again? When will we be able to sing with full voice, unmasked and unafraid? How will we serve the changing needs of our downtown community? What are the ways we can reach out across the generations to engage others in Central’s mission? When will the construction be finished and what impact will it have on our visibility, our relationship with mission partners, our finances, our growth and vitality? I know variations of these questions are being asked in your work places, schools, in private and public life. No one knows the answers with absolute assurance.
By remembering God's care in the past, we grow stronger in our ability to face future uncertainties with confidence and hope.
And so, we remember. We remember God’s strength we leaned upon in a strange, new pandemic world. I still get sweaty palms when I think back to March 15, 2020, our first worship service online. Tim at the pulpit testing the mic; Wil—sick at home with Covid–calling in instructions by phone to me at the soundboard: okay, see the green button at the upper left. Push that…
We remember God’s healing power to many of us who got Covid and recovered. We remember God’s love expressed through human caring: phone calls, encouraging signs placed in forward-facing windows, cards and letters and notes sent to assure each other of our unbreakable connection, FaceTime phone calls with beloveds quarantined in nursing homes. We fretted about financial stability, and you continued to give. We even received gifts from community people in recognition of the services we were providing. We remember our ongoing struggle as a majority white congregation with new learning about racism and anti-racism, and God’s guidance to us through the Matthew 25 initiative to care for the most vulnerable and suffering among us and to consider how to repair long-standing systemic injustices. We remember the response to New Genesis’ plea for increased food and sanitation supplies in response to pandemic realities. Contributions climbed. You drove by with canned goods and cleaning supplies in record numbers. You stepped up to volunteer with We Don’t Waste to deliver nutritious food every week (there’s still a need for this, so let me know if you’re available!)
In a few moments of silence now, I invite each of us to remember one personal instance of help we received during the past year and a half…
We remember that God provided for us in a thousand different ways. Doesn’t that help us trust God to provide exactly what is needed in the days and years ahead?
Remember, friends. We are never alone. We are never without bread and the resources needed for abundant life, for ourselves and for others. Remember.
Thanks be to God!