In my first Chapel at Judson University during my undergrad work the University’s president issued a challenge. It was simple: memorize the Sermon on the Mount. For those of you not familiar with the Sermon, it is found in Matthew Chapters 5 – 7. Three chapters! It is one hundred and eleven verses. Immediately I decided that would be a challenge I would not be taking. That was five years ago.
If you were to ask my wife, she would probably tell you that I have trouble remembering anything. (Wives are often the most reliable source of information when it comes to husbands)
“Hey can you grab me a glass of water when you come back upstairs?” I reply, “Yes,“ however return with no water.
“Could you please change the laundry in thirty minutes?” I reply, “of course babe,” and a day later we are rewashing the same clothes because they sat in a moist washing machine for over twenty-four hours.
My wife knows this about me, and although I imagine it could be more than a point of frustration, she shows me a great amount of grace and love despite my forgetfulness.
I am not however terrible at remembering things, I am just terrible at memorizing meaningful things. While I had trouble with test taking because I couldn’t remember what I studied, I could still recite to you the song I learned at fourteen that names all of the helping verbs. I have trouble remembering what my wife may ask me to do, or important vocabulary for my job, or a specific schedule, but I can recite to you thousands of song lyrics and movie lines. When my wife’s family first downloaded iTunes, they had a bunch of music that they did not know the name or band to. We went through song after song to where I could name the band and song often within the first few bars.
As human beings, it is in our nature to either remember or forget. Although I have just stated what we have all known to be obvious, I mean this as more than forgetting an item at the grocery store or remembering an anniversary. I am talking about remembering the very truth of who we are, or instead, all to often, forgetting it.
If you have ever read through any portion of the Old Testament following the second chapter, we see this theme over and over again. As humans we forget. We forget the begging of our story, we forget who we are, we don’t remember how we were created and more importantly, who created us. The first story we read of highlights two people who forget the one rule they are supposed to follow. The initial group of people God identifies as his people continuously forgets him in pursuit of other “gods” of the day. God frees a nation from slavery in Egypt, ending the brilliant saga with the splitting of a sea and the drowning of there Israelites enemies. How ridiculously impressive! It isn’t more than a few sentences later that we read of how the Israelites have forgotten God, they have forgotten how miserable they were in slavery, and they even muse at going back to their wrenched bondage.
It is not that God can’t stand us forgetting him simply because he feels like some neglected five-year old child needed to be recognized. God would be just fine on his own. He however, cannot stand that when we forget who he is, we become less of who we are. By forgetting God we become less human. To truly be human is to embrace all of who we were created to be and who created us to be that. Do we not fully appreciate art only when we look all the way from the picture to the inspiration to the artist? When we sever ourselves from the memory of who created us, we remove a part of who we truly are from our existence. There is no motivation for inception, no inspiration for creation. We are just as we are yet we were created to be more than we are.
What is our difficulty with remembering? I think it is simply that life is filled with distractions. Everyday is suffocated by thousands of different avenues all leading towards something we see meaningful at the time, but all the while leading away from where we can find true meaning. The pursuit of money, the pursuit of fun, the pursuit of sex, the pursuit of respect, power, popularity, success, comfort, etc, are all roads that lead from the God who promises us more than just fun, or just comfort, or just success. None of these are bad individually, but they can only be understood in the context of who created all of them. Success is fruitless unless we realize who has given it to us. Sex can be damaging unless experienced within the context in which it was intended. Power can be dangerous if we forget the one who has power over all things. We remember meaningless things, we make smaller gods into bigger Gods and so we get hurt and we forget.
And yet the God of the universe, who has every right to just throw in the towel and leave us to our own devices knows us so well because he created us that time after time in the narrative of scripture we see that God is in the business of reminding.
He reminds who we truly are. He calls us back to him. God knows that we forget, and so he reminds us.
That’s what love is isn’t it? That despite forgetting time and time again, he has not given up on us. Instead of conceding that we are too broken to remember a God who has given us all things, he refuses to relent from calling us to remember.
Our history chronicles thousands or people who engage in trying to remember God, it is the very process of becoming more of a child of God. Or perhaps if you are uncomfortable with that language we could simply say that the process of remembering God and hearing the reminding of God is the process of being made more human.
And it’s with that reflection that I have decided to pursue hearing God’s reminding in greater clarity. I am half way through memorizing Matthew 5-7, 111 verses. My goal is to complete this by Easter, the greatest opportunity we have each year to pause and remember God, who his is, and just how much he loves us and wants to remind us of who we truly are.