Asbury First United
A Communion Meditation
Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8
All of the Gospels remember that there were 12 disciples, but they variously remember the list of particular names. It makes you wonder, if the church could not exactly remember without dispute the names of the 12, what, in fact will others remember of us? As W. T. Sherman, who burned Atlanta, said of the warrior's fate: "to die a hero's death and have your name misspelled in the newspaper". We come in a moment to the table of remembrance. How should you like to be remembered?
Just how we remember what we remember remains a marvelous uncertainty, a strange matter. Perhaps a piercingly clear word embodied in a troubled self-emptying life stays by us better than anything. Jesus said, "do this in remembrance of me."
I took a survey on Friday while typing out the sermon, a survey inflicted on those in the office. "Can you name the 12 disciples?", I had asked. I will give you the first, Peter. "Matthew, Mark, Luke", offered one. "Paul", offered another. "I don't remember", said another. "I just read their names, but I was reading for spelling", said one. "Here, I see, James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus" said another. (James now has two dads!).
Can you name them? I cannot even remember the pastors' names. Let's see: Margie….Susan….Robin…and, and…you know the other one…not the blond, brunette, or redhead, the other one….the ugly one who is always asking for money? Yah, him.
Matthew has the order as read this morning. He has shifted Mark's order, who names James and John before Andrew, and Matthew before Thomas. Matthew has also made Matthew the tax collector. Luke lists the same first four, in Matthew's order, the same second four, in Mark's order, and a different final four, scrapping Thaddeus (above thought to have been one of James' two dads) for another Judas. Luke changes his own lineup in Acts, same crew, with different spots, except Matthias replacing Judas Iscariot. And John? Like Paul regarding the virgin birth, John never mentions the twelve as a group. Are you confused yet? You would think the church at least could remember its first twelve right! It makes you wonder just what else may have been partly remembered. In the Gospels, the order of the disciples differs, even in the first tier, their family or group names differ, in one case the given names differ, and it is not clear whether this is a group of apostles or disciples. They agree on the total (12) and the first (Peter). For comparison, I checked the recollection of the 12 tribes in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy lists 10. 1 Kings has 11. Genesis 48 has 13. So it goes.
Other than imagination, and perhaps will, it is memory that most makes us human. It is frightening to sense the limits, frailty, inaccuracy, weakness of memory. How do you want to be remembered?
On the road the other day, I saw and heard faces and voices from the past. I heard their piercing words and saw their self-giving struggle. I think we remember what is said out of pain by those we love. Many of the forebears in faith who have truly influenced me, I clearly remember for a single sentence. A college chaplain, whose own fifth child was run over and died in their home driveway: "Don't stay in Ohio, go to New York, love life in the large!" Clear speech, real pain. A teacher with generations of family troubles: "You Christians know how to let the dead bury the dead". Clear speech, real pain. A scholar injured in the second war: "There are some things we should not have to learn from experience". Clear speech, real pain. A Presbyterian leader who worked in Harlem for 15 years: "Be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour" (I thought of him with the 14 year old's death this week). Clear speech, real struggle. A seminary teacher unable to come out of the closet: "God can speak God's word through a dead dog". True speech, personal hurt. A navy chaplain and pastor after 40 years of preaching: A bishop whose great dream died: "Anyway, it is the personal moments in ministry that matter most". Honest speech, heartfelt struggle. A dad after superintending draft dodgers and feminists: "Because I am loved, I can love". A New York theologian, who saw his school decline: "God is at work in the world to make and keep human life human." Truth hard won. A poet preacher whose gifts the church only dimly saw: "Feel lucky if you please 50%". Clear speech, real pain. A college chaplain whom cancer took after his wife left him for another woman: "Jesus called us friends." A preacher scholar after years of work: "Our culture languishes in the doldrums of a pervasive malaise." Good English, a life of service. A philandering bishop who never escaped the identity prison of race: "Might as well move, there is never a good time to move, it is never the right time to move". Another Episcopal leader, devout and deterred: "We can block others from seeing Christ more easily than we know". A thesis advisor who was a boy under the Nazi's and saw his school teacher father arrested: "Relax, life is long, take your time." An old testament teacher who lived in Rochester, "If you are going to read the Bible, theologize before you moralize". The best preacher of his conference and time, rejected and unattended, "the ministers are the conference program." Yes, I could list their names, but would you remember them?
Out of what struggle shall the stated truth that is your life emerge?
Jesus is remembered in bread broken and wine poured. Today in baptism and communion we touch again the primal bath and primordial meal that constitute the church. Amazing, isn't it, what can come from a bath and a meal?
The authors of the 27 New Testament books variously remember Jesus. For each one, there is a high moment of memory that includes a clear word from real hurt. Matthew remembers: "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Mark remembers: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me". Luke remembers: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." John remembers: "it is finished". Paul remembers: "I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me." The other Paul remembers: "His perfect patience, who came into the world to save sinners". James remembers: "the lord of glory". Peter remembers: "Christ suffered in the flesh, and died for our sin". The other John remembers: "If we walk the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleans us of sin". John the divine remembers: "Christ the faithful witness, who loves us and frees us from sin." The whole of the New Testament is a clear truth wrought out of cataclysm. Truth and struggle.
How do you want Jesus to remember you? You come now to receive him, body and blood. How shall he receive you? You come to partake of his pardon, over against our penchant for using other people to our own ends. What shall he remember of you? You come to seek the living among the dead. What shall the risen Christ remember? What word and what struggle? What truth and what pain? What speech and what longing?
It is standard to ask students, as they forge out into a career: Think now how you would like to be remembered. And you, thou disciple, thou learner? What sentence wrung out of what patterned hurt will others remember of you? Do not fear your own voice and do not begrudge your troubles. Voice and struggle are what you bring to God.