Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
There’s no question this has been a memorable year. Decades from now people will look back on 2020 and ask each other, “Did anyone in your family have the coronavirus?” “Where did you quarantine?” “Did you have kids in online school?” Or how about: “Do you remember those crazy presidential debates?” “Do you remember our fears about election security?” I wonder if they’ll also ask: “Do you remember how you felt when you heard about George Floyd’s murder and how our nation responded to that video?” And here’s one I hope people will be able to ask in the future: “Can you believe what a problem police brutality against black lives used to be?”
So much to remember from this year.
Today is a day for remembering here in worship too.
As we dedicate our financial pledges to the church for the coming year – remembering that all we have and all we are comes from God. Remembering we can’t possibly outgive God. Remembering we give only in response to God’s great generosity toward us.
As we share again in the Lord’s Supper – remembering Christ’s love. Remembering Christ’s sacrifice for us as we share bread and cup together in his name. Do this, he commanded, in remembrance of me. And we do. Looking to what Jesus did in the past, sensing he is with us in the present, trusting his promise to be God with us, Immanuel, through every step of our future.
And as we mark the occasion of All Saints Day, remembering today family members and friends who have passed away. Remembering how fortunate we are not to have lost any of our own church members to the coronavirus or any other illness or tragedy this year, when all around us so many have lost their lives. Remembering most of us have been living in a relatively privileged, sheltered bubble as we’ve made our way through this year. Remembering others whose lives look so very different from ours, and who have not been as fortunate.
In our first Scripture text from Psalm 42 we find ourselves in a psalm of lament. If it’s been a hard week, or month, or year, perhaps you can relate today to the way the psalmist describes his plight in the opening verses: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God… My tears have been my food day and night.” (Psalm 42:1-3) But listen to how the tone shifts in verse 4 around the word remember. “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul,” going on to recall festive processions to the temple with “glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving.” (Psalm 42:4) In other words, it hasn’t always been this hard. There have been better days, and there are likely to be better days again. Not because of blind optimism but because of God’s promises, and God’s faithfulness to those promises. Leading the psalmist to ask not once but twice, in a sort of internal dialogue: “why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” And allowing him to end the psalm far more confidently: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” (Psalm 42:5, 7)
In between the two instances of that refrain, we find the word remember again plays a pivotal role. In verse 6 we read: “My soul is cast down within me; therefore, I remember you.” Unfortunately, we can’t always see God’s hand right in a moment of crisis. But later on, when we look back and remember, sometimes we can see where God was at work even in the most difficult of times. This kind of remembering gives us hope as we face each new challenge life throws our way.
“My soul is cast down within me; therefore, I remember you.” Eugene Peterson translates that same verse this way: “when my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you.” (Psalm 42:6, The Message) Which begs the question: What do you rehearse? What do you call to mind when your spirit is hurting? An experience of being healed or being rescued from danger? A memory of being awed by the beauty of God’s creation? Words from Scripture, perhaps, about God’s light shining in the darkness, about God’s strength meeting our weakness, about nothing being able to separate us from God’s love?
“When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you.” It’s been a hard year. What have you remembered to help you through it?
In our second Scripture reading, from the gospel of Matthew, we find Jesus speaking to his disciples shortly after his resurrection and just before he would leave them to ascend to heaven. The text says they worshipped him, and they doubted. And it’s right in the midst of that confusion and uncertainty that Jesus entrusts them with what we call the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations!” (Matthew 28:19) It might seem a lot to ask of a fearful, doubting bunch, but Jesus pairs the charge with the very best of promises: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So if, like the psalmist, your soul is cast down, remember.
And if, like the disciples, you find yourself fearful or full of questions, remember.
If you sense God’s got a big job for you to do and you’re not sure where to begin, remember.
And if you look around at the state of the world, and you despair of things ever getting any better, remember.
Whether you’re feeling fired up or burned out - by this week’s election, by the fight for racial justice, by COVID statistics and masks and vaccine trials - remember.
On your stronger, more confident days, and when it’s all too scary, too hard, too much, remember.
And if sometimes you struggle even to remember, that’s ok. It may be enough simply to recall that you are part of a community of faith. The communal memory of God’s saving power and God’s steadfast love is here for you. Lean on it when you need to.
“Sometimes the faith of the church, locally and historically, has to bear us along in our doubt and disability,” says John B. Rogers. He recalls a conversation with a member of his own congregation. “‘There are times when I just cannot say the creed,’” this person said to him, their pastor. Then “’I’ll say it for you until you can say it again,’ [he] replied. ‘Whether or not you were aware of it, there have been times when you have had to say it for me; and I shall probably need you to do so again… That is one thing we mean by the ‘communion of saints.’ That is one reason we are given to one another in the church.’ … There are times,” [he] concludes, “when we may have to refrain from saying to one another, ‘Keep the faith!’ in order to say more appropriately, ‘Let the faith keep you!’”
“Hope in God,” says the psalmist, “for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” (Psalm 42:5, 7)
“Remember, I am with you always,” says Jesus, “to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Amen.
 John B. Rogers, Jr., “Entering Into Advent,” Journal for Preachers (Advent 2020), p. 6.