Last week I spent a few days in my native Iowa visiting my elderly Mom. She has dementia. Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. I have watched her faculties slowly erode and decline over the past few years. My Mom is now at a point where she rarely remembers my name, only knows me once in a while, and never recalls the conversation we just had thirty seconds ago. It is difficult to watch and to experience, this woman who once cared for me. Now my siblings and I care for her in ways that were unthinkable to us five years ago.
As I made the drive home from my visit I spent the hours reflecting on how much church ministry needs to be a memory unit experience because Christians are continually forgetting their identity and what they are supposed to be doing. This is not a new issue that is endemic to the contemporary church; this is a problem as old as sin itself. There is even a book of the Bible, Deuteronomy, completely given to memory issues. The constant refrain of the author of Deuteronomy is to “remember.” Since the ancient Israelites were in danger of forgetting and having a kind of spiritual dementia, Moses reiterated the covenant and the law for the people before they entered the land. It was a fresh re-hashing, nothing really new, of what God had already communicated to them. God’s people were to continually remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and that God had delivered them and brought them out to be a people for his name. They were to remember that they had provoked the Lord in the desert and that an entire generation of people had been wiped out because they had, well, forgotten what God told them.
The New Testament is no different. Jesus miraculously fed a great crowd of people not once, but twice. The second time he called his disciples to remember what had happened the first time in order to understand the second. In the Epistles, Paul kept reminding the Jews in the churches that they should remember the ancient covenant, and called the Gentiles to remember that they were once estranged from that very same covenant. Both Jews and Gentiles together needed to collectively remember the death of Christ that united them into a new covenant community. Like them, we are to “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David” (2 Timothy 2:8).
We, as the church of Jesus, are to remember who we are and what we are to be about: we are blood-bought people of God, belonging to Christ, and given a mission to make disciples and participate with God in the redemption of all creation through remembering the poor, seeking justice, and being peacemakers in the church and the world. Maybe the ancient words in the book of Revelation to the church at Ephesus ring true for us today: “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).
There is a difference between my Mom and the church – my Mom will never recover but will only worsen, yet the church can recover its collective memory by listening again to the ancient Word of God and being constantly refreshed with the promises and covenant of God. We must neither rely on pragmatism nor simply by doing things the way we always have done them without any understanding of why we do it.
Why does your church exist? How does the Word of God inform and influence your identity as a church? Does the mission and practice of your church intentionally remember the risen and ascended Christ? Are disciples being formed around collective remembering of God’s covenant and promises? Are ministries and policies being established based on Christ and his commission, or on something else? Let’s reverse the trend of spiritual dementia and give our memories to Christ. Amen.