Remember The Former Things
Isaiah 46: 9
Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Remember the Former Things
The attached picture is a section of a larger photo that hangs in a hallway at Greene Street UMC. The larger photo, taken in front of the church in 1923, is of the entire congregation of the old Green Street Methodist Church.
Today Greene Street UMC begins a new chapter, as they consider the potential sale of their building and property. It is a day for prayer and for reflecting on the past, present, and future. It is a day for giving thanks to God for the blessings that we receive through our life together in the Church.
Our thoughts today go towards those in our past who loved and guided us, and we honor their memories. And we honor the ones who loved and guided them, and the ones before them, and so on. We remember parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and extended family. We also remember teachers, pastors, and other ‘church people’ who lived the life of faith and bore witness to God in their daily lives. We remember the ones that preceded them and did the same thing, back through many years and multiple generations.
In the Old Testament, we read about how God has a sense of history, and is a God of generations. Those generations are listed often, beginning with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and continuing through to the day the history was written. God calls us to remember “the former things” and to honor those traditions by which we develop understanding of God.
At the same time, of course, we cannot live in the past. Church Leadership Consultant Gil Rendle reminds us about keeping proper perspective with regard to our memories. He writes, “Perhaps one of our greatest challenges now is nostalgia – our fine-tuned and rose-colored memory of how good things once were.”
Rendle suggests that ultimately, when it comes to the Church, nostalgia is not our friend. If we over-value our past, he says, it may keep us from being able to appropriately change and adapt to the present. It may keep us from committing to the mission of serving God in a world that is now very different from what it once was.
Currently, there is a wider debate in our culture about the proper way to honor public figures and symbols from our past, and about how we interpret our collective history. It is appropriate that we have these discussions. Simultaneously, in the Church we can honor those who have come before us, knowing that they were not saints – at least not in the truest sense of the word, and that the Church was far from perfect, just as it is now.
So today we hold on to our sacred memories, but we look also look forward to the future with hope and with a commitment to grow and evolve. We recall the words of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.” Together we recognize that while we value the past, we seek to practice the Christian disciplines of caring, mercy and justice in our personal lives each day, beginning with today.
A hymn that speaks to this is “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” The words say:
A thousand ages in thy sight, are like an evening gone; short as the watch that ends the night, before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all who breathe away; They fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come; be thou our guide while life shall last; and our eternal home.
We honor the generations that have gone before us, and we remember the former things of old. May we seek to be faithful, knowing that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.