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Recent Sermons

What Do We Remember?


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
September 10, 2017

What do we remember? The stories we tell ourselves about our history tend to define us. For good or ill, we live out a future built on the past we best remember.
What do you remember most from your own life's journey? What stories define us as a community? The first sermon I ever preached to a congregation was about stories. My mentor that Sunday critiqued my sermon as being too vague, for not lifting up the gospel, the "good news" enough. I know it is essential to my work as a minister of the gospel to remember to lift up some good news!

So today I know I must offer you good news even as we revisit the ancient story of the Passover, what it meant to the Hebrew people, and what it means now to us. My colleague, Rev. Nate Klug, told me I was brave to be tackling this passage. But maybe I am only foolish. It just seems to me that sometimes the most difficult passages need to be wrestled with the most if we are to grow our faith in any meaningful way.

The story of the Exodus has been more often told and claimed as truth by oppressed peoples everywhere over the centuries. Last Sunday we heard Moses' call out of 'the burning bush' to go back to Egypt, to speak to pharoah, to demand that he "Let my people go!" We asked ourselves what is our own burning bush, what guides us.

The Israelites, in bondage in Egypt, prayed for liberation. They rejoiced at the promise from Moses that finally, they had an advocate who would demand that Pharoah "Let my people go!" But there is such a painful shadow side to all of this.
That they would rejoice in seeing the deaths of the first born of all of Egypt, even their animals! This is too harsh, too dark, for us to embrace as God's will, even as we are told by our scriptures here that it is not only God's will but God's doing.
This is not the God of my understanding. I serve a God who is love , who blessed all creation and called it good. I believe that God is on the side of the oppressed, yes, but cares just as deeply for the comfortable and even the oppressor. Jesus taught us to love our enemies. This story doesn't feel very loving!
The Passover story has been told and retold for at least 3000 years. Rabbinical Judaism taught that Moses lived from 1391–1271 BCE. Most scholars say the stories, even if based in some historical fact, were not written down until the time of King David, about 300 years later. How much of this is pure myth? What truth can we glean from it? As Native American story tellers would say, "It may not have happened this way, but what of it is still true?"

At every Passover Seder they ask, "Why is this night not like any other night?".
Bitter herbs, unleavened bread, remembering the ten terrible plagues, blessings over the breaking of the bread and the many cups of kosher wine ~ the Passover is remembered in all its specificity.

We know that Jesus gathered with his disciples in that upper room to share his last meal with them at a Passover Seder. He asked them to remember him even as his Jewish community had been remembering the Passover for 1000 years by then. He gave us a new meaning for God's liberation story. The bread and the cup became symbols of death and resurrection. The table fellowship, a communion of love, and although all those disciples were Jewish, within a few years, it would become a communion open to all of humanity. Instead of liberation for one people, it became a liberation for all. Though we still struggle to live out that vision and meaning.

What do we remember? All week that question has been flipping and turning in my mind. I know that my personal stories have changed in importance as I have grown and changed. What defined me when I thought of myself as a rebel and an outcast are no longer the central stories of my personal life. In getting to know my Jewish colleagues and neighbors, I have learned that for most of them, though they still love their Passover celebrations, they now see Passover more as a time for building community, for asking themselves if they are truly working for the liberation of those still in bondage, for taking seriously God's call upon them to "Tikkun Olam" ~ to repair the world.

And our Communion celebration in too many churches is still an exclusionary meal. There are those who are welcomed and those who are not. I am thankful that our denomination declares our Communion sacrament open to all. But we still have a long way to go before the whole world knows they are welcome at our table.

Jesus asked us to remember him. And for too many that has simply meant remembering that he is God and we are not. But Jesus lived and died as a very truly human Jewish man. He wanted us to remember his teachings, his courage and example in the face of oppression, his willingness to stand up to the powerful, to say no to evil, and to trust that even in his death there would be meaning and transformation.
If you want to remember anything about our Christian faith, I invite us to remember these words of Marcus Borg, a wonderful Progressive Christian scholar, found in our Quiet Meditation this morning:
         "God wills our liberation, our exodus from Egypt. God wills our         reconciliation, our return from exile. God wills our enlightenment, our          seeing. God wills our forgiveness, our release from sin and guilt. God wills that we see ourselves as God's beloved. God wills our resurrection, our      passage from death to life. God wills for us food and drink that satisfy our          hunger and thirst. God wills, comprehensively, our well-being--not just my well-being as an individual but the well-being of all of us and of the whole                  of creation. In short, God wills our salvation, our healing, here on earth.
         The Christian life is about participating in the salvation of God."

How we remember and what we remember tends to define us as human beings.
When we remember our faith as a living reality, rather than a list of beliefs, we can call on the presence of the sacred, the Holy Spirit, that is always with us, to guide us in times that are hard. When our faith calls us to acts of courage, we can draw on the wisdom and teachings of Jesus, to stand up for the poor, the hungry, the most vulnerable in our world, to break bread with them and share from our abundance so that all are fed.
To say these are difficult times for our species is to state the obvious. Disastrous storms wreak havoc on millions of people. The racist, bigoted, cruel side of human nature holds sway in the public sphere across the planet. And yet, I believe that there is so much goodness and kindness and       compassion throughout our world  that we may yet find a way to bringing our Lord's Prayer to reality, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth!"
"Look for the helpers!" as Mr. Rogers' mother taught, and dare to be the helpers.
Stand up and be counted. Our children's children will look back on this time with pride that we were the ancestors they needed in order to survive and to thrive.

May it be so.Can I get an Amen?