Remembering can cause anguish – or ecstasy

(A sermon delivered on Armistice Centenary; Sunday 11th November 2018)

[] Only ten days ago we were prompted to:

Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.

I can’t find a reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot

That old bit of doggerel caused me to remember how, back in the 1960s, I had helped to establish a ‘church in the home’ in a council house in the village of Dunchurch near Rugby, close to the very house (owned at that time by another Christian family) where Guy Fawkes and his gang in 1605 actually plotted the blowing up of the Houses of Parliament, a plot that thankfully was foiled just in time.

[] And many of us are wearing poppies because today is known as Remembrance Sunday, the centenary of the signing of a truce by the Allies and Germany at 6 a.m. in a railway carriage deep in the forest of Campiegne in France that ended World War I five hours later. Inspired by the poppies growing in the war zone, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields in 1915 after the death of a friend in Ypres. American scholar Moina Michael was prompted on reading the poem to make and sell silk poppies, some of which were brought to England by a French woman. And when the British Legion formed in 1921, it ordered nine million to sell on November 11. The poppy was not chosen because its red colour reflected that of blood, but because it flourished on the battlefields. The Royal British Legion insists that it is ‘a symbol of remembrance and hope’ because it flourished on the battlefields ‘even in the middle of chaos and destruction – neither a symbol of death nor a sign of support for war’. The truce went into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918.

Forecasting Hope

A sight for sore eyes, poppies filling

Flanders’ far-off fields of killing;

A sea of flowers reflecting back

The eyes of grief that lustre lack,

Reddened by waves of salty tears.

 

War widows’ eyes no longer glowing,

Orphaned parents’ eyes o’erflowing

For many a manly English son

Whom brutally, wastefully, Death scythed down

In his tender, unripe, Spring-green years.

 

Nature composed this tribute floral

From fallen heroes’ wreaths of laurel;

By human humus so well nourished

Her red forget-me-nots have flourished;

From stench of carnage distils perfume

Redolent of golden Harvest Home –

Hope bursting out of sepulchres of fears.

 

O’er this silent scene comes stealing

A Scots minister’s hymn, responding

To loss of sight, and fiancée’s jilting:

‘I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

          And from the ground there blossoms red

            Life that shall endless be.’

 

Ah, how he’d have applauded God’s ‘Poppy Spectacular’.

Our brief Bible message today will review, first: some causes of forgetting. After which we will think about a few memory triggers.

  1. Why do we forget?
  1. One Reason is Old Age (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 all references are from Today’s N IV)

The aged comedian reckoned that he called his wife ‘Darling’ because he often forgot her name. But dementia is no laughing matter; which is all the more reason to submit to the lordship of Jesus while we’re compos mentis – of sound mind. I love to tell the story of the Scottish professor of Old Testament studies in Glasgow University, whose students gave the nickname ‘Rabbi” Duncan because he was fluent in Hebrew. In old age he became so senile that, not only did he no longer recognise friends and relatives, he even forgot his own name. However, when they began to speak of Jesus his face would break into a smile as he admitted, ‘Aye, I ken fine who he is.’

I am grateful to the Lord for godly parents who led me to Christ just after my sixth birthday, at bedtime on October 12th 1943, during World War II – which makes me 75 years of age as a born again child of God.

Please note that the paragraph from Ecclesiastes bids us remember a person‘your Creator’. Let’s continue this theme of remembering persons. When Scripture tells us that God remembered Noah’ it means a lot more than when we nod our heads and exclaim with a smile, ‘O yes, I remember Mrs. Sylvester with the beautiful soprano voice’ or, ‘Bill Brownlow; oh aye, he was a character! I remember him beating everyone at tennis.’ It means that God actually got Noah out of the ark and onto dry soil of a new earth after he and his family had been cooped up indoors for months. And when ‘God remembered Rachel’ and ‘God remembered Hannah’ he dynamically delivered them from barrenness and gave them the ability to bear children after years of infertility.  Remembering any living person in this biblical sense means that some practical blessing comes to them.

  1. The Brain’s Natural Optimistic Tendency (John 16:21)

[] Jesus told his disciples: ‘A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.’

It’s good thing that a wife and husband don’t have to take turns in giving birth to their babies; offspring would be very few because he would never be able to forget and therefore would refuse to take his second turn! When the West Indian mother was asked the names of her children she replied, ‘Eenie, Meanie, Miny and Roger.’ When it was pointed out to her that No 4 surely should be called ‘Moh’ she explained: ‘I told my husband after Roger was born that we’d have no mo’!’ It was a case of ‘Roger and out’.

  1. Hormonal Deficiency (Isaiah 49:15-16)

[] After asking the question: ‘Can a woman forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?’ the Lord tells Isaiah, ‘they may forget …’ And on very rare occasions it has been known for a new mother to experience such dreadful post partum blues, with her hormones all over the place, that she has smothered her constantly crying newborn infant or even thrown it over the upstairs banister. But though ‘they may forget’, thankfully God adds the extra clause: ‘I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands …’ And we’ve all met people, or maybe you are one, who writes memos in ballpoint ink on their hand, so that they will remember to put it in their diary or on their ‘to do’ list.

  1. Sheer Ingratitude (Matthew 16:9-12)

A good example of this problem occurs in the well known story of Joseph. When he was detained in the royal prison on a false charge he interpreted some dreams of other inmates including the king’s cupbearer. He asked the man, when he was returning to his privileged position, to bring his case to Pharaoh’s attention. But Genesis 40:23 tells us: ‘The chief cupbearer … did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.’ . . . .

A Few Memory Triggers

  1. A Crisis Situation (Genesis 40:23; 41:9)

. . . . But two years later, when no-one could interpret Pharaoh’s significant dreams (41:9), ‘then the chief cupbearer to Pharaoh’ spoke up: ‘Today I am reminded of my shortcomings’ and soon he had Joseph brought to the king. And as they say, the rest is history.

So what had triggered the cupbearer’s testimony? It had resulted from a crisis that had prompted his memory.

  1. We Can Stir Up Memories by Self-Discipline

[] James’s letter (1:23-25) has this exhortation that perhaps has often been taken in a negative sense: ‘Those who listen to the word but do not do what it says are like people who look at their faces in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like. But those who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continue in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.’ The crucial question is: what do you see about yourself as a disciple of Christ when you read and hear what is called here ‘the perfect law that gives freedom’? I see that I am part of a new creation in Christ Jesus, born from above, indwelt by the Spirit of God, joined to my fellow believers. Now, if I forget that, I shall behave like a lost or worldly soul. I must stir myself up to remember who I am. When things start to go pear shaped I need to shake myself out of this wrong thinking and say: Did you forget yourself there, Hugh?’

[] And there are others we need to remember. In Hebrews 13:2 we are urged to: ‘Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering.’ I have for years used the prayer notes of Barnabas Fund and Open Doors to remind me of our brothers and sister in many nations who today are suffering simply because of their faith in Jesus. One who has just been released in Pakistan after eight years in prison is Asia Bibi, although Muslim rioters want to know where she is. Has she been removed to safety here in Europe? Over the next few weeks I am leaving a petition for us all to sign to be given before Christmas to our local Member of Parliament asking for a new law to protect religious freedom in line with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It requests: ‘We call upon the British government to introduce a new law to enshrine fully and permanently the hard-fought-for religious freedom we have gained over the past five centuries in the UK.”

  1. Then there are Memorials (e g Joshua 4:4-9)

[] Some memorials are visual, such as a war memorial. When the Israelites left their wilderness wanderings and entered the promised land: ‘They took twelve stones from the middle of Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of Israel,… and they carried them with them to the camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the very spot where the priests had stood. … “These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” … And they are there to this day.’

[] Other memorials are on a specific day of the year, such as Bonfire Night and Remembrance Sunday. The Jewish Sabbath was a weekly reminder (Deuteronomy 5:12-15):

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.’

[] Then there is the memorial meal that Jesus instituted for all his future followers. This is a memorial that we enact

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 says: ‘The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed took some bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” In the same way after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup if the new agreement in my blood. Do this, whenever you drink it to remember me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”’

[] Notice that we announce his death, but we bring him to remembrance.

[] And God can do something we find difficult to do: he can choose not to remember. On drinking the new covenant cup, we do well to recall God’s promise in Jeremiah 31:34, ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’. The promise is repeated in Hebrews 10:17. That assures me that, if Satan were to go into God’s courtroom, as described in the book of Job, and say: “You know Hugh Thompson; he’s one of yours, right? Well, do you remember when that public preacher back in (say) June 1982 committed a major offence against you?” God would say: “Actually, no! I don’t remember. I really don’t remember!”

[] Did not Jesus tell us to drink the cup of covenant, and thank God that, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all sin,’ because ‘the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin’ (1 John 1:9 and 7).

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