Thursday, May 29, 2014

Memorial Day - Remembering

You never know what memories you might find when you look through old boxes. A few years ago, I was blessed with a tremendous opportunity to serve. That’s what we call “very difficult and long tasks” in my house, “tremendous opportunities to serve.” My grandmother was “downsizing.” She had previously had every item she had accumulated in her many years placed in a storage facility and the day arrived to empty that storage facility to prepare for an enormous sale. Thus, we were given a “tremendous opportunity to serve.”  In the piles of boxes and dusty drawers, we found all sorts of memories. We found visual evidence of trips taken to Europe and Hawaii. We found an old, faded maroon polo shirt with the Morrilton Devil Dogs logo on the chest. My grandfather served as team physician for the high school athletic teams for over 40 years. It wasn't just a shirt. There was a memory attached to it. But my grandfather passed away years ago, so that memory remains hidden. We also found a picture among the possessions of my grandmother. It is a drawing of a large ship. The picture says simply: “Liberty Ship—World War II.” But if you look toward the top of this picture you see smaller print:

Ted O. Crawford EM3/C
USS Mulecta

At first, I thought the picture must belong to my father. His full name was Theodore Osborne Crawford. But then I remembered, my father was a 3rd. This picture belonged to his father. That is, my father’s “real” father. The only grandfather on my father’s side that I ever really knew was my step-grandfather. My grandmother married him when my father was only a boy. This picture belonged to my real grandfather, my father’s real father, my grandmother’s first husband. For some reason she kept this picture all these years. When I found this picture, I had no idea what the USS Mulecta was so I did some research. I found out that this boat was a cargo ship used during World War 2. I found out from this picture that my grandfather was an “Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class” aboard this ship during World War 2. I also found out from some posts by folks that this was a pretty difficult, dangerous, and extremely important job during World War 2. This ship sailed to Pearl Harbor in the fall of 1944 and spent time in the south Pacific throughout 1944–1945. I never knew my grandfather was in World War 2. All I have is this picture. I cannot ask anyone. My grandmother is passed away. So is my father. So is everyone else who might be able to tell me stories about the events that took place aboard the USS Mulecta in the fall of 1944 and 1945. For the most part, the memories that this picture represents are lost.

Memorial Day is all about remembering. Some of you in this room have memories of war. Some of you have memories of people who gave their lives for this country in war. This weekend reminds us of the importance of remembering, of never forgetting.

Because if we do not remember, there are always consequences for failing to remember…

In Psalm 137, the psalmist warns Israel about failing to remember. The people of God were far from the city of God. They were living in captivity in Babylon. What happens when you live a generation or two away from home? There is the temptation to forget. So the psalmist warns Israel:
If I forget Jerusalem…my hand will wither away.
If I forget Jerusalem…I will forget how to speak.
Let my memories of Jerusalem be my highest joy!
On another occasion, the people of Israel found a memory when they were looking through old boxes. Hilkiah, the priest, was cleaning out the temple at King Josiah’s orders. As he dusted off an old box and opened it up, he found a book, a book that had been lost for centuries, the Book of the Law. Some scholars believe this book was an ancient copy of the book of Deuteronomy. If that is the case, how ironic would that be? The book of Deuteronomy, more than any other book of the Bible, speaks to the importance of remembering.
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt…”
“Remember that the Lord brought you out…”
“Remember what God did to the people in the wilderness…”
“Remember what your enemies did to you while you were there…”
“Remember how the LORD rescued you…
“Remember, remember, remember…”
This command is given 16 times in the book of Deuteronomy. And, here, perhaps they find that very book in some old dusty boxes and then, recognize the problem with forgetting. Because they lost the book, they had forgotten God. It had been generations since they worshipped God. It had been generations since anyone read the stories of the Exodus or of God’s power to rescue them in the wilderness.

Forgetting has consequences…

My mother is the primary caregiver for my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease. We have seen firsthand the consequences of forgetting. The other day my grandmother picked up a picture of her youngest daughter. “How is Debbie these days?” she asked. “She is fine, mother. Don't you remember seeing her yesterday?” “No, I don't remember that. Is she still dating Calvin?” “Yes, mother, remember, she married Calvin 30 years ago. They have 3 children. You have 3 grandchildren from Debbie, mother. Remember, you have 9 grandchildren, mother.” “Oh, I guess I must have forgotten that.”

There are serious consequences of forgetting. Sometimes forgetting is beyond our control, as with Alzheimer’s, but most of the time, we have the power to remember. Scripture calls us to remember because forgetting can also have serious spiritual consequences. When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, listen to what he wrote in Chapter 9…
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit. I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5 NRSV)
Paul, writing to a bunch of Gentiles, sure goes to great lengths to talk about the Jews. Why do you suppose he does that? Because he wanted these Gentiles to know that if not for the Jews, they would have no standing with God. Through the Jews came the covenant. Through the Jews came the patriarchs. Through the Jews came worship. Through the Jews came the Messiah. Through the Jews came their adoption as sons and daughters of God. Sometimes, to forget leads to a kind of arrogance…
“I got here all by myself!”
“Look at all that I have done.”
“Look at this wonderful church building.”
“Look at my wonderful family.”
“Look at what I have accomplished.”
To fail to remember, to forget the past says—“I don't need anything or anyone that came before me.”

Doug Foster is a professor of Church History at ACU. A few years ago, he was teaching an undergraduate Restoration History course. This course was taking a close look at the history of Churches of Christ. Many of the students in the class were unfamiliar with names like Alexander Campbell or Barton Stone. So, in his course introduction, Doug began to lay out that foundation.
At the end of the course, one student made his way to the front and said to Doug: “I don't care what Barton Stone or Alexander Campbell said. All I care about is what the Bible says.” Doug is someone who understands the importance of remembering. So he said: “At least one reason you care only for what the Bible says is that Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell influenced you.” He’s right. Church leaders like Stone and Campbell (and others) came up with the idea to allow Scripture to stand as our primary mode of authority. Before them, no one in the church had ever placed that much importance on the Bible.

We stand on the shoulders of people who came before us. We must never forget that! The things we do as a church have a history. Sola Scriptura—the idea that we will take Scripture alone as our authority has a history. Believer’s, adult baptism by immersion has a history. The doctrine of the Trinity has a history. Potluck dinners have a history! And the things you do as an individual or as a family—they have a history too. Do you know who came before you? What part of your grandparent’s character can still be seen, if you squint your eyes, in the character of your children? Do you know how your family first met Jesus Christ? Fred Craddock says:
“Whoever cannot remember any farther back than his or her own birth, is an orphan.”
When you start unpacking dusty boxes, you never know what kind of memories you might find. Somewhere in this room is a box labeled on the outside:
“Christian Homes and Family Services”
“Eastern European Missions”
“Charles & Judy Siburt”
“Robbie Fleet”
And the great thing about boxes of memories is that more are being filled all of the time. Our children are labeling their own boxes even this morning. And one day their children will open them up and find memories of this Glenwood family, their family. My hunch is there are some boxes going completely unnoticed in your attics. Go and search. Find the stories of your mother and father and grandparents. Our memories of the past, sometimes they help us understand our present a whole lot better. And they always make us better equipped to meet the future.

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