Church Camp Reflection 5th May: Matthew 13: 51-53

Remembering

 

So this conversation takes place just after Jesus has told 7 parables, yes 7 in a row. And after all those parables he asks, “have you understood all this and they (the disciples) said “yes.”

 

Maybe although they were not renowned for their understanding.

 

And then Jesus says, “therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things that are new and fresh and things that are old and familiar.”

 

Here again, as we have been talking about over our series on John we are being asked to hold two things in tension. The new and fresh and the old and familiar. There are of course some people who just want the new and fresh and think the old and familiar is a bit boring and monotonous. And then others who just want the old and familiar, who fear the new and fresh and struggle to imagine a future in which God is doing a new thing.

 

At the ASUC we try to hold both (I hope). I think it is in this tension that we encounter something of the Kingdom of God, which is in fact what the previous parables are all about.

 

But what does that mean, what does it look like? I think the Hebrew Scriptures do offer us something of an example.

 

This is something I really learned from Walter Brueggemann this week as I prepared for this camp. And, this sermon really is just my paraphrase of his much, much longer work on this topic of remembering.

 

So Walter reminds us that, ancient Israel almost always lived under Empire – Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman. And each Empire wanted to erase their identity. And so their task became to maintain their distinct identity and faith, that had theological rootage as well socio-ethical implications.

 

And to do this required “sustained intentional remembering” through liturgies, storytelling and practices such as Sabbath and their festivals. Over and over again, they re-tell the story of their ancestors and God, particularly the story of the Exodus from Egypt, their wilderness wanderings and arrival to the promised land.

 

And they apply these stories to their new contexts.

 

It is not straightforward, it is dynamic, complex, conflicted and has vitality.

 

Every generation not only receives the tradition but also constructs the tradition in their context. The old and the new.

 

It turns out Walter says, “the past is quite unpredictable.”

 

He calls this receiving and constructing of the tradition “agile remembering.” This agile remembering is always done in an imperial environment, and it is always concerned with both holiness and justice. From the Hebrew Scriptures through rabbinic tradition and church tradition this complexity of holiness and justice that is the work of remembering.

 

As so, we are going to delve into Hosea and Deuteronomy to unpack some of this.

 

Hosea is the great exegesis of forgetting and what happens when Israel does forget. The book of Deuteronomy on the other hand is the great text of remembering.

 

It is probable they were written at a similar time around the 8th century BCE. The prophetic critique at that time was all about the wealth gap between the haves and the have nots.

 

So Hosea:

 

In chapter 2 there is a long indictment of Israel for going after other gods, giving thanks to givers who in fact did not give any gifts. This long indictment is difficult for many of us due to its incredibly patriarchal language. But this poetic text on divorce and marriage is a reflection on the cost of forgetting.

 

It ends in verse 13 which says, I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, and forgot me,” declares the LORD.

 

In chapter 4 Hosea declares that this will be the undoing of creation. It says,

 

“Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.

There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land.

Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed.

Therefore, the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.

 

Forgetting the law of the Lord has consequences. It has consequences for our relationships with each other, it has consequences for the land, who in fact mourns.

 

In a world ravaged by intimate partner violence, war, climate change this all feels very contemporary. Old and new.

 

In chapter 8 Hosea goes on, “For Israel has forgotten its Maker and built palaces; And Judah has multiplied fortified cities, But I will send a fire on its cities that it may consume its palatial dwellings.”

 

The implication here is that act of forgetting is building big houses, big churches, big cities, big armies. Forgetting leads to the pursual of money and power.

 

The implied positive alternative is that remembering ones Maker precludes this pursuit.

 

Again, how very contemporary.

 

And finally Hosea 13 says, “But I have been the LORD your God ever since you came out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me. I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.”

 

Jesus too as we know will have much to say about the impact of wealth and greed on our relationship with God. And it is something we see all around us.

 

And yet, Hosea moves beyond the toxic amnesia of his contemporaries who are so enamoured with their big house and armies and imagines a different future. A future bought about by the God who remembers.

 

“I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.

I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.

His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.

They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.”

 

Does this cancel out the cost of forgetting. I think not. Does it bring hope despite it. I think so.

 

And now Deuteronomy. Remembering that every generation not only receives the tradition but also constructs the tradition in their context. Deuteronomy insists on contemporary readings. That the story of Moses and the people in the wilderness has implications for the people at the time it was written and for us today.

 

For example, in the Exodus version of the so called 10 commandments, it says “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

 

In the Deuteronomy version in chapter 5 it says the same thing except it ends not with God resting on the 7th day but with, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”

 

Clearly here, Deuteronomy appeals to the old Exodus version, but in the more contemporary version, the practice has become an act of resistance against Empires who saw people as commodities who’s only meaning comes from producing more and consuming more.

Chapter 6 verse 10-12, again seeks to remind people not to forget this time, “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

 

The author clearly knows that affluence and self sufficiency will do this.

 

And again Deuteronomy 17: 14-16. “When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me’, you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You must never return that way again.’

 

And how do they not return that way, they remember, the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

 

Exodus memory leads to exodus ethic.

 

In Deuteronomy, the Lord outlines an alternative emancipatory economy and structure to that of Empire that deals with wage theft, debt slavery, how to ensure even the most vulnerable – widows, orphans and foreigners – have enough. These are not the underserving poor but our neighbours – because we remember that we too were slaves in Egypt.

 

These sermonic rants affirm that the antidote to crippling wealth gaps is memory.

 

And as said to do this required “sustained intentional remembering” through liturgies, story telling and practice.

 

This is why every week we recite ancient psalms together, why we confess and tell the old stories in ways that relate to out lives. It is why we gather around the communion table, at bible studies and share meals together. It is why we practise Sabbath and follow a liturgical calendar that includes festivals of Christmas and Easter and times of restraint like Lent. It is why we baptise our children and get married and attend church camps where we spend a weekend reflecting on our history.

 

These are acts of resistance, an antidote to our own culture who sees us as commodities, whose only meaning comes from producing more and consuming more.

 

And no it does not always feel like that. Sometime it just feels old and monotonous and boring and exhausting especially compared to the gifts of consumer culture.

 

But dare I suggest with Hosea, a suggestion that comes from my daily reading of the news, that the cost of not doing these things is greater.

 

I will finish with Brueggemann remember, that

 

wherever you live is probably Egypt.

But there is a better place – a promised land.

And the way to get there is through the wilderness. There is no better way to get there than by joining up and marching.

 

May it be so.

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