Sermon at the 2007 STS Council Retreat
7 February 2007 (Wednesday of the Week of Epiphany 5)
The Rev. Patrick J. Rooney, STS
Dean, Susquehanna Chapter
Pastor, Christ Lutheran Church, York, Pennsylvania
Text: 2 Timothy 1:15—2:13
Reds and yellows, brilliant oranges, sparkling oceans blue. A painter remembers what he has seen and then his brush touches the canvas and the memory of one becomes the experience of another. It is that way with memories. Warm and pleasant, cold and foreboding, light and joyful, dark and sad, all of us have our memories. Of all the faculties we have, memory is among our most treasured, for in memory an event is recreated within us and the truth of the event can then be passed on. Perhaps that is why there is often apprehension that comes with the dulling of our own memory, especially as our length of days grows longer. Once sharp, now we sometimes wonder where that memory of old has gone. For in those good memories of our past, we often find a welcome escape from the boring routine of daily life and sometimes we even go back to those better days as an escape from the present. But we also cannot deny that at times we find the dark side of memory ruling our lives. With tentacles of tyranny, our memory binds us to a limited, imperfect and inadequate image of ourselves, telling us again that we are not good or worthy or successful. At such times our memories, unbridled and uncontrolled, dominate our lives and our being. But whether in such darkness or light, joy or sorrow, we know that it is the memory of what we have seen and heard, tasted and felt which forms the central framework for understanding both ourselves and our world.
Little wonder then that, like the good painter, the writer of the lesson this morning makes memory the central issue in his letter to Timothy. Having encouraged Timothy to be strong in the faith, to bear suffering as a good solider in Christ and to rekindle the gift from God that was within him from the laying on of hands, the writer now draws attention to the essential memory that Timothy will need in order to accomplish his calling of being faithful to Christ. For a memory, he says, is nothing less than that which is central to the life of faith. "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead...this is my gospel." It is this memory to which the church has borne witness down through the ages. It is this memory that is at the heart of Timothy's work. It is this memory that is central to our faith.
In the ever astounding way of God, this is both memory and more than memory, for this memory comes from the very Word of God, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who came to suffer and to die for us. In that act lies the essence of this memory's power to convict and convince, its power to move us to confession and repentance, its power which stems from the power of the living God to be a part of our lives. This is no ordinary memory but divine memory for it flows from the very Word of God.
Such memory is important not only to Timothy but to us. As heirs of the reformers, memory lies at the heart of the proper and rigorous use of our liturgy where, in movement and action, in color and form, in music and in word, we keep this memory keeps us strong. In our ritual actions through liturgy, in the celebration of the sacrament of the altar and holy baptism, in the observance of festivals and commemorations, in the practice of pastoral care, in the mission and ministry of our congregations, we remember and proclaim that Jesus is raised and lives among us still and that this is the Good News of the Gospel.
While seemingly straightforward, there are implications to this memory. For if you have died with Christ, says the writer to Timothy, you will also live with him. Now Timothy faced the real possibility of martyrdom, the fate which awaited all those who held to the memory that Christ is risen, a fate not likely to be ours. But since we hold to the same memory we do share in Christ's death through our baptism and because of that we also share in His resurrection. Living daily in that baptismal memory we too are called to endurance. In the midst of our lives as sons and daughters of God, we know how many times we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This has led many to throw in the towel or to give up, rather than endure in the faith. Some quit the church altogether, painting over the canvas of sacred memories, to walk in their own pathways and so claim that Christ and His memory no longer have hold over them.
But for those of us gathered here, Christ's memory still has its hold on us. Though battered and broken at times, we have not come to a point of abandoning the faith nor have we fallen into heresy, for we still remember and in remembering we endure. As members and leaders of this Society, we find ourselves challenged on every side. Our orthodoxy in proclaiming the centrality of faith in death and resurrection is ridiculed by others who want us to solely embrace the social gospel, proclaiming that Jesus only came to free the poor and the subjected, thereby removing any such actions from the redemptive and salvific work of Christ. Our liturgical practices, and the inherent memory they contain in word and deed, are dismissed as being old-fashioned at best or having no meaning or relevance for today's culture. Our ecclesiology, which speaks of a teaching magisterium holding fast to the faith through trials and tribulations and passing that faith on intact to the next generation, is rejected in favor of everyone being permitted to do their own thing in the moment as though the words of Paul, "I pass onto you what was passed onto me..." have no meaning in this generation. In the face of an increasingly revisionist agenda, which seems to grow more encompassing every day, surrounded by church leaders of every denomination who seem more concerned with social justice issues than the proclamation of the cross, in light of an ongoing process of Scriptural reinterpretation that blatantly ignores the clear teachings and commandments of God, we, who hold to the memory of the faith, are called into such endurance. We, who have signed the Rule of this Society for the sake of our ordination vows, are called to live into such endurance in the face of skepticism and even defeatism. We, who in baptism were entrusted with the sacred memory of Christ's death and resurrection, are called to live in faithfulness to that memory, to hold it precious and undefiled and, in endurance, to see that it is passed on intact to those who come after us. We hold to this memory not in boasting, as though we only have the truth and they have none; not in self pity as though we were the only ones suffering; and not in an arrogant self righteousness as though we alone are right and they are all wrong. Rather we hold to this memory because it has been entrusted to us as called and ordained ministers in this Church, as those who are clothed in humility, as those who seek to live in obedience to God's will. And it is because we live in the firm confidence and assurance of the truth of the memory proclaimed to Timothy so long ago, that we can echo the writer's words that this saying is sure, "If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him. If we endure, we will also reign with Him."
There is much to remember as that broad brush of memory sweeps over the canvas of our lives and indeed there will be yet more memories made this day. But now, here in this moment and in the moments to come as we return to the ministries to which we have been called, I pray that we will keep just one memory before us, the memory of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, this one who in death and love could not be held in the grave, this Jesus in whom we live and move and have our being, this Christ who is our way, our hope, our very life. Paul called to Timothy to remember Christ Jesus even in the face of suffering because Jesus the risen Christ remembers us. He who is the Risen One cannot deny Himself and in remembering Himself He remembers us for we who are His Body and who have died with Him, will now live eternally with Him. May the memory of His name be on our minds, on our lips and on our hearts forever.
Copyright © 2007 Society of the Holy Trinity. All rights reserved.
Posted -- 13 March 2007