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A Memory Like a Sieve

Sermon - 5/25/08
Trudy Bradley
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Matthew 6:24-34

Remember the important life affirming, God affirming things (the big things) and to let the mind act as a sieve allowing the anxious, hurtful, prideful memories and actions (the little things) pass through.

 

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

The pastor had recently performed the marriage ceremony for a couple from the church. That was not unusual. He had done this for thousands of couples. What was unique was that the groom was over 80 years old, a confirmed bachelor, who was rather hard of hearing.  Let’s call him George. That is not his real name. It has been changed to protect the innocent. He married Gladys who had been married for over 45 years and then widowed. After the wedding, Gladys moved into George’s comfortable home. Everything seemed to be going fine in their marriage so the pastor was surprised when his assistant came in his office to say a very distressed George was on the phone. The pastor took George’s call and asked what was up. George said he needed to speak with the pastor right away. When asked what was troubling him, George said it was about Gladys. He wanted to meet with the pastor right away, it was terribly important. The pastor invited George to come to his office but George wanted to meet elsewhere. To the Pastor suggested they meet at “Starbucks” for a cup of coffee. (This is the northwest after all.) The Pastor and George ordered their coffees and took a seat. “Now, tell me what is troubling you, George” said the pastor. George began to relate how he was busy in his basement workshop and Gladys was in the house cleaning and doing laundry. “You know” George said, “that my washer and dryer are in the garage.  Gladys is not use to this house and somehow she managed to lock herself out. Well, she yelled for me to let her in but I could not hear her. She rang the front door bell, she tried banging on the basement windows but I did not know this because I could not hear her. Next she went to the neighbors and used their phone to call home but I don’t have a phone in my workshop and I did not hear the ringing phone. Finally, Gladys called her son to come pick her up. During the day, I had come up to the kitchen and made myself a sandwich then gone back to my workshop. I was having a great day! Eventually, I got hungry about dinner time and came upstairs again. I sat down in the living room to watch my favorite program and think about what to eat when the front doorbell rang. I answered the door and standing there was a very angry Gladys demanding to know “Why didn’t you let me in? Didn’t you realize I was missing?”  I didn’t know what to say. I just said, I forgot I had you?” My mom would say George had a memory like a sieve.

This is Memorial Day weekend when our nation commemorates the U.S. men and women who have died in military service to their country. You may know that this holiday was instituted to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. Although the lectionary readings for today were not chosen with this specific holiday in mind, there is a connection. We have just read the passage from Matthew in which there is an implied request to remember the important things in life. The Bible extols us to remember. In fact it repeats the words which translate as “remember,” about 140 times. I looked this up! Jesus asked us to remember. As Disciples of Christ, we comply with his request every Sunday when we celebrate communion and hear the words, “When you eat this bread and drink this cup, do this in remembrance of me.”  Memory and remembering can be a tricky activity. The scripture says man can not serve two masters. What is more important to you, God or mammon? Do you remember, as daily life impacts you and bills need to be paid, which choice you made between God and mammon? It is a curious truth that we humans need to be reminded to remember. As my mother would say, we “have memory like a sieve.”

Let us return to our scripture passage and look a little deeper. I already mentioned the first sentence of the scripture which deals with serving one master – God or mammon. Mammon is not a common word. You don’t hear, “Mammon doesn’t grow on trees” or “A fool and his mammon are soon parted” but riches or wealth is the meaning of the word. One definition of the word Mammon when it is capitalized is “a personification of riches as an evil spirit or deity” (Dictionary.com). It is interesting that the translators left the original Greek word in the text. They did not translate the word into English. Why? Perhaps to reinforce the idea of a personified idol. That is the real significance here. There is something about the original Greek word that sounds odd or bad. Our idolatry of money is not as explicit as prostrating ourselves before an idol or praying to it. Most apostasy is much more subtle than that. Perhaps that makes it more insidious.

The scripture continues on to say “do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Food and drink are hot topics right now. Church World Services tells us that “more than 800 million people in the world go hungry” and the wealthiest fifth of the world’s people consumes 86% of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth consumes 1%.” These are staggering numbers. And we know we are a part of a wealthy, wasteful nation. But what can we do about the issue of world hunger? I did not come prepared to discuss this weighty issue today. I would refer you to the EMO or CWS websites. This issue of world hunger deserves more than a short sermon. We could spend all day discussing the issues. I do not wish to demean the mammoth issue of world hunger but I do want to touch on the other part of the scripture about clothing. This issue seems silly when juxtaposed with world hunger, but perhaps for us that is part of the point. You know the apparel industry is big business in our country. We all want to look our best. My husband and I agonized over what I should wear today. Every parent strives to send their children off to school dressed appropriately. Of course, we parents don’t always know what the “in” thing to wear is. And our children certainly want their input considered when it comes to what they wear. My youngest son was always very conscious of his clothing. Even as a little guy, not yet speaking, he refused to wear certain clothing. I had many attractive Oshkosh overalls that his brother had worn. I loved them. They looked so good on little guys. But my Ryan would stand there in defiance and absolutely refused to wear them. We have an image of ourselves, and clothing is supposed to reflects the image. Do you remember what you wore yesterday? Did you consciously choose to wear something different today? Most of us have a variety of choices in what we wear.

Clothing also says a great deal in society. You can often tell a person’s occupation by their clothing. Construction workers, cowboys, bus drivers, even preachers and priests. You know who they are because of what they wear and if you pay close attention, you can probably judge how expensive a certain piece of clothing was. Some of you may think this only relates to people we would call “clothes horses,” but think about your cars. Isn’t that just another form of clothing? Do we not “put on” the car so to speak? We can make assumptions about people by the type of car they drive. The advertising industry plays upon our assumptions. There are even books written about what type of person drives what type of car. We remember our cars.  Especially our first car.  Pastor Michael Turner tells this story about one of his first cars:

            He was in college. And he worked three jobs. His parents’ did not have a lot of money, and he wanted to save his parents from the burden of spending money they did not have on his pricey undergraduate education. He also knew that he wanted to go to divinity school.   

            He studied, worked and saved. Then the time came to graduate and go to divinity school. He was pleasantly surprised to learn that much of his schooling would be paid for by scholarships, but he needed a way to get to the school. The car he had been driving died. And so, he took the money he had saved for four years from his three jobs and bought a brand new Honda Civic.

He was proud. He washed that car every week. When the time came to start divinity school he packed the car full of stuff and moved to Durham, NC into a neighborhood called Duke Manor.

Duke Manor may sound like a ritzy place but it was not. It was actually pretty rough. The week after he moved in, the building next to his was raided. It was the largest heroine bust in Durham history. There were always rumors circulating about cars being vandalized, broken into, or stolen.

He was so worried about his car that he parked it right under his bedroom window to keep tabs on it. Occasionally, he’d walk by the window and peer out. Every time there was a noise in the parking lot, he’d sit straight up in bed and do some quick surveillance of the parking lot. There was constantly noise in the parking lot. After several restless nights, exhaustion set in and he said to the Lord, “Lord, I can’t keep this up. I came to divinity school to grow in my faith, draw closer to you, learn your scriptures, and learn how to be a leader in your church. I know something’s got to give.” After a short pause, the Lord replied, “Yes. Yes, it does” (Pulpit Resource).

The writer of Matthew goes on to say, “26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?” When I read this passage I immediately think of one of our Disciple congregations, The View Christian Church. The people of The View are in a process of discernment which involves 40 days of prayer. They are striving to listen and understand what plan God may have for them. They send daily reminders to their prayer partners with suggestions of thoughts on which to meditate. The other day, the thought was this:

Sit quietly, close your eyes and remember:

Remember a sunrise you have seen

Remember a sunset you have seen.

What made each of them special?

Remember, remember, remember how beautifully spectacular are the colors of sunset and sunrise. What did you do to make them so gorgeous?  Nothing! It was God who did and as beautiful and special as they are, Jesus says you’re even more beautiful and special to God.

There is a prayer that Jewish people pray that is called the Shema. Shema Yisrael -- "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" -- is perhaps the most famous of all Jewish sayings. The Shema is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to One God. It is said upon arising in the morning and upon going to sleep at night. It is said when praising God and when beseeching God. It is the first prayer that a Jewish child is taught to say. It is the last prayer before death. It’s a call to remember (Simmons).  You will find it in Deuteronomy 6:4-16. Verses 4 – 7 go like this:

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

The Shema may be, “Hear, O Israel”, but it’s a call to remember. “Remember there is only one God and that God is our God.” We parents say to kids, “Are you listening to me? Then repeat what I just told you.” We remind our children to remember. Maybe we grown-ups need to be reminded to remember the important things in life. God remembers us but God seems to choose to have a memory like a sieve. That is, God has demonstrated through Jesus an inclination to love us. God is like a sieve that allows the little particles to pass through the holes of the mesh. God keeps the big particles – the love, the acts of kindness. God loves us unconditionally. God does not say, “I forgot I had you.”

You remember the story of Jesus and the scribe? The incident where they are discussing  which of the commandments was the most important? It’s in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12. It goes like this,

Mark 12:29-34

"Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32 Then the scribe said to him, "You are right,

Sound familiar? It’s the Shema. Jesus is just remembering the Shema. That’s what’s important. Jesus says to remember. Remember that God loves you unconditionally, that’s what’s important. Love yourselves and treat others like you’d like to be treated. That’s what’s important.

It’s the day before we celebrate Memorial Day. Let’s remember the life affirming, important things in life and let the rest go. Shema Yisrael, the Lord our God, the Lord is One! Amen.

 


Bibliography

Bible - New Revised Standard Version

Matthew 6:24-34

24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. 34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.

Dictionary.com

1.

New Testament. riches or material wealth. Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:9,11,13.

2.

(often initial capital letter) a personification of riches as an evil spirit or deity.


[Origin: 1350–1400; ME < LL < Gk mam(m)ōnâs < Aram māmōnā riches]


—Related forms

mam·mon·ish, adjective

—Synonyms 1. possessions, money, gold.

Pulpit Resource

http://www.logosporductions.com/pr_online.php?action=view&site_uid1=9832&hallway-uid1=9...

Simmons, Rabbi Sharaga. http://www.aish.com/literacy/mitzvahs/Shema_Yisrael.asp)

 


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