First Sunday of Lent - RE: Week One - "Remember"
Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent, the season that leads us to Holy Week and to Easter Sunday. The word "Lent" is derived from the Latin word for "forty" and denotes the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Why forty? Forty, according to some Biblical scholars is a number that is connected to trial, testing, trouble or hardship.
In the Genesis account, God made it rain 40 days and 40 nights. Moses spent 40 years in the desert until he finally saw the burning bush. The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty hears. Goliath taunted the people of Israel for 40 days until David killed him. The list goes on and on.
Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. There was also 40 days between Jesus resurrection and ascension. So it seems kind of natural considering all of this emphasis on the number 40 that there would be 40 days in a season where we are called to reflect on Jesus final weeks leading up to his death on the Cross.
Over the course of the next five weeks, I'll be preaching a sermon series entitled, "RE:" Each week we're going to be taking on some practices for Lent, all of which begin with the prefix "RE". We'll be learning how to Remember, Repent, Renew, Restore and Remain.
This week we'll be exploring how remembering can be a valuable Lenten practice. Along those lines, if you recall nothing else that I say today I hope that you remember this: Remembering God's faithfulness in the past allows us to trust him in the present and direct our actions for the future.
What is it about memory? Why are some memories easier to recall? Why are some more meaningful than others? Why is it that I sometimes walk into a room and have no idea why I walked in there? Ever happen to you? Yeah, it happens more and more often lately the older I get.
Our brains process memory in a fascinating and extremely complicated way. To begin with, all of the input that our brains take in--all of the sensory input, emotions, and feelings attached to that input... along with the spiritual connections to the input, which happens on a quantum level, would be more than we could handle if it wasn't for the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is the part of our brain that essentially acts like a filter. It filters out all of the stuff that isn't important to us--using our own emotions, feelings and spiritual connections to prioritize the importance of the input. The stuff that the hippocampus lets through is processed by an electrical process, where synapses are firing, passing information around to the areas of the brain that are needed to process it further.
The more synapses fire, the stronger they become, and the stronger they become the easier it is to access those pathways, which makes it easier for you to remember the things that matter to you most.
Listen, the more you remember the things that matter--the more you speak of them and feel them---the longer they last, and the more meaningful they become, especially when all of the negative aspects of those memories and the things that surround them get filtered out, too--which is kind of a gift that our brain gives to us.
The more you remember the important things... the more you speak of them... the stronger the memory of them... the more meaningful the experience becomes... Let's hold on to that for a moment.
The passage of Scripture that I want to draw from today is from the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Romans chapter 10:8b-13.
“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”[a] that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[b] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”Before Paul gets to this part of his letter where he's talking about confession, belief and salvation, he spends a great deal of time talking about the ways that we try to separate ourselves from God and God's love--and how none of that works out all that well for us. He refers to our failings as "sin" using the Greek word hamartia, which basically means "to miss the mark."
The image is of someone shooting a bow and arrow and missing the bullseye. Paul uses this over and over again. He's almost like an archery coach when he does it. He points to where you hit with your arrow the first time you shot and then the second and then the third. "This is where you were when you started," Paul says to us, "but now you are closer, and will get closer still over time. You were there--but now you are here. You can't go back to the old way of doing things that made you land there, though."
As we read this passage closely we start to realize that there are basically two kinds of people who are reading this: Those who remember only how they missed the mark, and those who refuse to remember how they missed the mark.
Those who only remember how they missed the mark keep telling themselves a story that isn't true. Their memories are forged in failure, mistakes, the voices of all of the people who berated, denigrated and accused them. Every time they make a mistake or they feel like they are missing the mark once again, they go right back to that place, those memories of old when they felt like they were not good enough, couldn't finish, would never make it.
Then there are those who refuse to remember the ways that they have fallen short. They tell themselves a false story, too. They don't acknowledge their brokenness and have little space in their life for people who do. They are filled with a sense of pride that doesn't do well under pressure--the cracks in it start to widen in those moments and they find themselves angry, defensive, petulant, or downright stubborn beyond measure.
What Paul is saying is that most of us fall into one of those two categories--until we confess that Jesus is Lord, and call upon his name.
So what does it look like to call upon the name of Jesus? Does it sound like, "Where are you?"
As in I don't feel your presence in the world at all---but I wish I did.
"You are Lord!"
Right this moment, I feel like I could trust you with anything.
"I feel Saved!"
Today I feel like I am starting to figure some of this out.
"I feel Lost!"
Today I don't feel like I am ever going to figure this out.
The great theologian Karl Barth once said that the "word of salvation" is announced in silence. In other words, the memory of God's presence in your life, the word that comes to you over and over again, the one that is near you in your mouth and in your heart as the Apostle Paul states, it is realized within you. You know it. You remember it. You speak it. The memory becomes stronger. The experience becomes even more real.
Let me explain this another way.
Remember how you met that certain someone? I bet you do. You remember the moment you met your spouse, or significant other. You remember the way the air smelled, the way the light was shining, the sounds that you heard, you can tell that story all day long, right?
Or how about that awesome family trip? The one where everything went right for a change, or wrong as the case may be. But it was incredible, and life-changing and you never forgot it.
Or that time you won that contest, or got that promotion. Or your team won the Super Bowl for the third stinking time!
You tell those stories over and over again, don't you? You tell your kids and grandkids how you met your husband. You tell your friends all about what it was like the moment you got the job that you always wanted.
You can give a play by play recap of everything that happened in the moment when you realized there was less than two minutes on the clock and that your team, your team had actually pulled off the upset when you didn't even really believe, completely believe that they could do it.
It's pretty fresh in my mind. That the Broncos won the Super Bowl, I mean.
So in the same way, we read the Bible, we go back again and again to the story of how God rescued us, is rescuing us, will rescue us because that is what God does. We look at the target we've been shooting those arrows toward, and we see where we were back then when we didn't have the same skills--and we covenant with our family, our friends, and our God that we won't go back there again with God's help.
Listen, we don't do all of this Christian stuff--the worship services, the Bible reading, the small groups, the devotions and all of the rest of it because we need facts. We don't do it because we need information to fuel our arguments.
We do this to let the relationship between God and us truly settle on us and change us. We do this so we can remember what God has done for us. We do this so we can develop the language to speak of what God has done for us, and to keep speaking of it every day. And then we discover all new meaning for our lives, purpose we didn't know we had, a capacity for love that we never knew existed.
I tell the stories of God's presence in my life every chance I get. My father was chosen, adopted out of scores of other babies in an orphanage in Denver, CO. He was crying in his crib and when my grandfather peered over to look at what was making all the noise, my dad stopped crying and smiled at him.
My mother and father met because of a chance meeting my dad had on the ship he was stationed on during Vietnam. He saw a guy carrying a Bible and asked him if he knew anything about what was in it. That guy happened to be from Greenville SC and knew my mom.
I have memories of praying with my parents when I was little and loved church and Jesus and all the rest of it. I have memories of my parents praying for me when I was a young adult and hated church, denied Jesus and didn't want to ever have anything to do with either one ever again.
All of my memories from before my birth to this moment--they are part of God's great love story for me. God was faithful to me before I knew God, and has been faithful ever since.
As we enter into this season of Lent, I encourage you to remember God. To let the word of salvation announce itself in your heart and in your mind. Remember God's presence. Speak of it, tell your story over and over again. Allow yourself to feel his presence even now, deeply and fully.
Because, remembering God’s faithfulness in the past allows us to trust him in the present and direct our actions for the future.