Remember who you are.
Someone may have said that to you, as you left home, as you left to take up the journey of life, the journey of faith.
In a strange place, you can sometimes struggle to remember just who you are. In a new time, under different circumstances, memory can fade or fail. It happens.
Howard Thurman used to say that people come to church to try to remember who they are, who we are. The church says, ‘You are a child of God’.
You are a child of God.
When all about you are jumping up and down, in a mass of together flesh, and it becomes indistinct where one person leaves off and another person begins, it can be difficult to remember. A child…of God…
I imagine that for each of us there are one or two people, maybe a few more, and some cases not quite even that, who can remind us. Who we are, I mean. Friends give us back ourselves. They remind us. A caring group, from family to team to small group to church fellowship remind us of our ownmost selves. They remind us who we are.
You are a child of God.
When the chips are down, it can help to remember. Who you are. A child of God.
This year we have heard the Gospel of Mark. Throughout Mark is work in remembrance. Some chips are down, and Mark thinks his people may not quite remember. Who they are, that is. They may forget, because they may have developed a kind of spiritual amnesia.
It has been forty years since Christ, when Mark writes. Forty years is a long time, especially in the Bible. Mark has a thought that his fellow earliest Christians, or some at least, have
Our lessons about marriage and children tell us where the forgetfulness started out. With treatment of women and children, apparently. There was some faulty memory at work, in the early church, when it came to women and children. The distaff side. Those without voice or presence. So the preacher, Mark, tells a couple of stories. One about Jesus standing up for women. Another about Jesus standing up for children. He says, ‘remember’.
Much of the Bible is like this. The New Testament, in particular, is like this. People needing to remember and people trying to remember. They have forgotten ‘the love they had at first’. They need a reminder. So Mark brings up his stories about women and children. He remembers Jesus, putting the last first. He remembers Jesus, putting the low high. He remembers Jesus, putting the peripheral into the center.
Kosuke Koyama used to tell the gospel in this phrase, making the peripheral central. You might like his book, Water Buffalo Theology. He grew up in Japan. His whole youth he heard of the Imperial Temple, there, that it was indestructible. ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord…”. Once Japan was bitterly crushed, crushingly worsted, in WWII, Koyama went on to study Jeremiah, and to advocate for the poor of the Pacific, and to teach peace, and, especially, to move from center to periphery.
The case for women, subject to summary divorce, caused Mark to wonder whether his people had forgotten something. The case of children, outside the circle, not invited to the gathering, caused Mark to wonder whether his church might have fallen ill with a theological malady, a kind of Christological amnesia. Three statements, perhaps if original from very different settings, are here remembered in the alto voice of the church, remembered together. Why? Because they together bring a medication, a prescription drug, to heal amnesia. They remind the church that Jesus inhabits the periphery.
Now this coming intrusion, one paragraph only, is meant for our seminarians, our chapel\ministry\marsh associates. Sometimes you use a shotgun and sometimes you use a rifle. You are working out in the periphery. With the lonely, the forgotten, the forgetting. Freshman who have made their first big mistake. Sophomores, alone and staying alone, in a big city dorm. Juniors who are sifting through regrets, and maybe, now, coming ready to come home. What you do matters, counts, lasts, works. Ministry is service. Ministry is the courage to put yourself at the disposal of others. One by one. As Mark saw, a little perspective helps.
In 1985 Jan and I were assigned to a city church nearby a large nominally Methodist university. Sounds familiar. On the first Sunday, in a building with 50 rooms, whose sanctuary seated 600, there were 35 people, all but two of whom would be dead before we moved. A grand, once great pulpit. Here is the church. Where are the people? We noticed that fall an article in the student newspaper, the equivalent of the FREEP. 6,000 students were living in our neighborhood, said the article. So we planned and worked, we advertised a Sunday evening student dinner, we passed the word beat the drum fanned the flames went to the highways and byways. We cleaned one of those 50 rooms, cooked a turkey dinner, and sat down to wait. You know the feeling. 5:45, no one. 6:00, no one came. 6:05, no one. We were about to close up, when, at 6:10, in walked one woman, Pam Brush. She had seen the notice. She had grown up in the Methodist church on Long Island. She was a sophomore. She thought maybe she’d check out the neighborhood church.
She did not say any of the following: where is everybody, am I the only one, who else is coming, is this the right place. Here is what she said: wow, thanks for the meal, this tastes great, I love turkey, tell me about the two of you, what is there to do in Syracuse, I love this old building, is it haunted, next week I’m bringing my two roommates and their boyfriends, we’ll cook, I wish I had a boyfriend, maybe I will by next week, what a great place…see you next Sunday! And out of that one lone child, one lone woman, one lone person on the periphery, over a decade, there grew a Sunday dinner fellowship, the Wesley fellowship, a house and half time ministry and minister, seasonal retreats, a newsletter, The Epworth News, service work, fun, fellowship. In the snow some years later, Jan and I slid our way down to Long Island to officiate at Pam’s wedding. It is emotionally draining and even painful to remember this, to remember who we are, what can happen, where Christ is.
To remember Pam Brush in 1985 is to remember that I am a child of God. You too.
A couple years ago Br Larry worked here as a field education student. We asked him just go and visit and be with first year students, speaking of periphery. He did. He worked. He slogged. He called. He waited. He held a meeting. Two came. Two. Sean and…And now? Twelve associates, a servant team, 90 to pick apples last week, and ministry among those in peril of forgetting just who they are. It went so well for Br Larry, we went ahead and hired him.
You are a child of God.
Howard Thurman’s best book is Jesus and the Disinherited. “The doom of the children is the greatest tragedy of the disinherited”, he wrote (55). You should go back and read what Thurman says about children, and his ringing reminder of the Christ: “The psychological effect on the individual of the conviction that he is a child of God gives a note of integrity to whatever he does” (54).
The Lutheran Church this summer affirmed the full humanity of gay people. Center, periphery. Thanks be to God! I pray my own denomination will not be far behind. We have our esteemed, veteran, loving, Universi
ty Lutheran Chaplain with us today, to celebrate the Eucharist. She is working on vocation, one of three jobs here (voice, vocation, volume). Her Bishop told her to hug a Methodist, so hug her after church. What did the Lutherans say?
You are a child of God.
Every Eucharist is a world communion. Today, especially, we imagine the globe, with countless others, we imagine the globe embraced by a Jesus we now remember, better. Who loved the little. Who loved the lost. Who loved the lame. Who loved the lonely. Who loved the left out. Jesus’ presence heals our Christological amnesia. That at least is what Mark thought.
Dean of Marsh Chapel