The Gift of Memory (Psalm 136:1-26)Pastor Jon Truax, May 28, 2017
Part of the General series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
The Gift of Memory
Today we are talking about the gift of memory.
How many times does the Bible use the word “Remember”? It varies depending on translation, but it’s a lot! In the NRSV, our pew Bibles, it’s 159 times. In the NIV, it appears 166 times. In the King James, we find it 148 times. It’s a consistent theme in God’s Word to be instructed to remember what the Bible tells us. Yet remembering can be hard work. Memory is a gift, but sometimes ours don’t work so good.
There were once three old sisters who lived together. One evening a sister got up to go to bed. She was already half way up the stairs when she suddenly stopped and asked, "Was I going up or coming down?"
One sister replied with a hint of aggravation, "You were going up."
A second sister wandered into the kitchen to make a sandwich. Once in the kitchen she hollered back to her sister who was still in the living room: "What did I come in here for?"
The sister responded again, this time a little more annoyed: "You went in to make yourself a sandwich.”
"I’m so glad I am not getting as forgetful as the both of you are" she said as she ’knocked on the wood’ of the end table.
Then she got up, walked over to the door, and said "Who is it?"
Tomorrow is Memorial Day. What do you think of when you think of Memorial Day? The beginning of summer vacation, barbecues in the backyard, family get-togethers, patriotic parades? Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, was originally conceived as a means to prod us to remember, specifically to remember those who died in the armed forces.
Many churches ignore Memorial Day because it is not one of the holy religious days on the church calendar. But I believe that it’s spiritually healthy for us to consider what Memorial Day represents, for its very name calls us to remember.
The ability to remember is a wonderful gift God has given us. In a flash we can be a child again, skipping rocks across a pond, or walking in a meadow. Through memory we can fall in love, get married, and enjoy our children all over again. All this is possible through the gift of memory. Some of our memories are happy as we recall wonderful experiences. But some are sad, and we may weep as we remember them.
Memories are also very practical. If we couldn’t remember that a red light means “stop” we’d be in big trouble. If we weren’t able to remember what day it is, or when our anniversary or wife’s birthday in – we’d also be in big trouble! So memories are useful.
The problem, though, is that sometimes memory fails us. Sometimes we forget. And sometimes God’s people forget. Sometimes we need help to jog our memories. In the Bible we find that God has given us many such reminders.
After God destroyed the earth in a flood, He told Noah, “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Then God stated, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” So every time we see a rainbow, it serves as a reminder of God’s promise.
We heard about another such time two weeks ago on Mother’s Day. A memorial of stones was erected when Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River. The water stopped flowing just as the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the water.
While they were crossing, Joshua told 12 men to bring up twelve stones from the middle of the river and make a monument out of them there. Joshua told them, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
Today’s scripture reading of Psalm 136 calls to mind many acts of when God delivered His people. They serve as examples of how we see in history, again and again, that His steadfast love endures forever.
This morning, I want to explore three times when the Bible uses the word “remember” to instill in us a deeper appreciation and understanding of what God was doing. Our faith is built upon a shared memory of God’s faithfulness to us in the past. Remembering such acts helps us to avoid a crass mentality of asking God, “What have you done for us lately?” The Church should guard against such “memory loss” by passing on the stories of God’s salvation deeds. Because of the gift of memory that God gives us, we can have a more robust faith in Him.
The first one is the Exodus from Egypt and the Feast of Passover. This one appears in Psalm 136. Hopefully you remember the story. The people of Israel had been sojourners and then slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. In the midst of their oppression, God called Moses from a burning bush and said, “Moses, I want you to go back to Egypt and say to Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go!’”
Moses did as God commanded, but Pharaoh refused to listen. So, to reinforce His demand, God sent plague after plague upon Egypt. And every time, when the plague was at its worst, Pharaoh would say, “Stop the plague and I’ll let the people go.” But after every plague Pharaoh would renege on his promise and continue their slavery.
Finally, Moses said, “This is what the Lord says, ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die… There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt – worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.’” This was to be the tenth and final terrible plague. But God gave special instructions to the Israelites, “Each family is to choose a year-old lamb, one without spot or blemish, the best in all the flock.”
You know, one of the things we have forgotten today is that we’re supposed to offer our best to God. Instead, we tend to keep the best for ourselves, and God gets the leftovers. But the Biblical principle has always been the same: God deserves our best. And if we love Him, then we will give Him our best.
God told them, “Kill that lamb, and drain its blood into a basin. Then roast the lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin & put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”
So someone in every Jewish home took hyssop, dipped it in the blood, and put it on the doorframe. And that night, just as God had told them, He brought judgment upon Egypt, and there was weeping and wailing in the homes of the Egyptians. But wherever the blood of the lamb was, the angel of death passed over, and those homes were spared.
The next morning, the Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. After 400 years of bondage they were free! God said, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance.” Over 3,500 years have passed since that day, and every year faithful Jews still celebrate, still remember, Passover. And it’s important that we don’t forget it, either.
The second memorial in scripture that I want to mention is today, the day of worship. It all started in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. God worked 6 days in creation and on the 7th day He rested. The Bible tells us that God consecrated that day and called it the Sabbath, a day for rest. In the Ten Commandments God told the Jews that they were to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” So the Sabbath became a day of worship and rest. It was to be remembered.
Centuries passed and God’s people began to twist and distort the Sabbath day that God had set for rest and worship. In fact, it became so bad that Jesus cried out to the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.
When Jesus was crucified, buried and raised from the dead, He rose on the first day of the week. Then the Day of Pentecost came, another Sunday. The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, and the church began as 3,000 responded the first time that the Gospel was preached. Soon the Church was meeting regularly upon the first day of the week to worship God and encourage one another. And in the Book of Revelation the Apostle John spoke of this day of worship as “The Lord’s Day.” And so it is to those of us who gather to worship Him still do so on this day.
Finally, there is communion. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus met with His disciples in the upper room to celebrate the Passover together. It was to be an evening of remembering, as God had long ago commanded. But as they ate, Jesus gave them something new, something greater, to remember. For Jesus “…took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this … in remembrance of me.’”
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was talking about when He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood…”? Do you know why He said that? It was because Jesus was the fulfillment of a prophecy God had made centuries before through the Prophet Jeremiah: “’The time is coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people…For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’” (Jer. 31:31-34)
No longer were these ingredients of the Passover meal simply to be a reminder of their release from Egyptian bondage. Now the bread and the cup were to be eternal reminders of Jesus, of His sacrifice and His love. They were infused with new meaning regarding the new covenant. That’s why Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
And when Paul wrote about this meal, he added, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” So when you and I partake of communion, we proclaim to the world, “I believe in the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus. I may speak eloquently. But I can proclaim my faith through these emblems.”
We have all traveled the same dusty road. We’ve all sinned, we’re all not worthy to be here. But we do not partake because we’re worthy. We partake because God is holy, and God invites us to come into His presence and be a part of His supper as we share it with each other.
We have a lot to remember. Whatever you do, don’t forget how we got here. Don’t forgot the price that has been, and is being paid, so that we can live in freedom and enjoy the blessings that God has given us. Treasure your gift of memory. Don’t ever forget!
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