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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Where Did I Put That Rainbow?

2015-02-22 Memories

Genesis 9:8-17 and Mark 1:9-15


And God said, "When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember...."

I like the idea that even God has to have help remembering things.

What tricks do you use?

People used to tie strings around their fingers.

That helps, as long as you don't forget what the strings are for.

I set alarms on my phone.

That helps, as long as I don't lose my phone.

God set a rainbow in the sky to remind him not to flood the earth with rain again.

Lovely idea.

Except rainbows don't come out until the rain stops and the sun is shining.

Little late, then.

Poor God. He needs help.

Don't we all.


(Note to God: Frozen precipitation counts just as much as liquid.)


We all need help remembering things.

Little things – like, what day of the week is this?

– to big things – like, don't wipe out life on earth.

Coming to church is a big memory aid.

Just being here reminds us of Jesus, and God, and not to wipe out life on earth.

Because, knowing how easily distracted people can be, we need all the help we can get.


Both scriptures today put memory and remembering front and center.

The story of Noah and God's covenant shows us God's colorful memory tricks.

In the gospel passage, we get Mark's memory cues to help the church remember – and tell – the good news.



Did you know there are Cliff's Notes on The Bible?

I've only heard about this, secondhand.

$9.99 on Amazon.

Saint Cliff isn't the first person to write an abridged version, though.

Saint Cliff's got nothing on The Blessed Saint Mark and the Gospel According to Him.


Mark covers a ridiculous amount of ground in today's six little verses.

Jesus moves out of Galilee, is baptized by John, blessed by God, driven into the wilderness, tempted by Satan.

John's arrested, Jesus moves back to Galilee, tells everyone, "The time is fulfilled… the kingdom of God has come near… repent and believe in the good news."

That's all.


What strikes me (and others) about this and Mark's version of the gospel as a whole is that there are almost no details whatsoever of some really important things.

It's the Reader's Digest Condensed Gospel.

Why so short, Mark?

Printer ink too expensive?

Still is.

So, maybe it's a technology issue.


But think about YOUR short message systems.

When you're texting someone, Snapchatting them, IM'ing, PM'ing, M&M'ing, whatever you do, you're brief.

A lot of you abbreviate your words, typing "K" instead of O and K.

You might use little pictures.

Smiley faces.


When our plumber's coming, he sends an emoji of a toilet.

Didn't know they had that.

But it's worth a thousand words.


Or, think about when you're together with really good friends or family.

Maybe around a Thanksgiving dinner table.

You don't say, "Beloved family, do you recall many dinners ago when Father's mother's sister, our Great-aunt Beulah, laughed so hard her false teeth fell into the mashed potatoes?"


You say, "Look! My potatoes are smiling!"

And everybody remembers.

When you're with people who get it, who already know it, you don't need to introduce and explain.

You just need a word or two, a picture, a symbol, to bring it all back.


We know that Mark was writing to people who already knew all about Jesus.

He didn't have to explain.

He just had to cue the memories.

The act of remembering – remembering in community – was holy.

It reminded the church of the gospel they already knew and too easily forgot.

Mark went short because he didn't need to go long.


God used a rainbow.

Message remembered; message received.


People who study the brain tell us that our memories grow and change, just like we do. 

Contemplate that for a moment.

Remembering isn't just opening up a file cabinet and grabbing a folder.

Memories aren't souvenirs "pressed between the pages" of your mind.


We now know memory is alive.

Remembering is an organic, living, creative act.

It's way more than digging a file out of your hard drive.

To remember is to create.

This is verifiable, scientific fact.

But it gets even weirder.

To remember isn't just to create, it's to RE-create.

In Biblical terms, it's to resurrect, in a way, to new life.

When we remember something – an event, a person, the taste of bacon – we're not just calling up one thing; we're calling up memories of the memories, of the memories.

Which is why memories sweeten over time.

We don't intentionally "misremember," (like TV anchormen and how cool you were in high school), and that's a whole 'nother sermon, anyway.

Each time we call up a mental picture, we add another layer, we filter it, just a little.

We retouch the image; we Photoshop it.

We fix the Red-eye.

We smooth the wrinkles, or maybe add some new wrinkles to the situation.

We create and we re-create.

We resurrect the memory to new life.

Every time we re-member, we re-build the memory in a beautiful, imaginative, artistic firework swirl of brain cells and proteins and other stuff nobody can pronounce.


OK, so why so much science, nerd-preacher?

Because memory.

Memory and humility.


Back to the Gospel According to Mark.

Notice how Mark titled it?

He called it, "Euangelion Kata Markon," which translated means, "The gospel (dot, dot, dot) according to Mark" [dots and emphases added].


Sometimes people ask – not often – but sometimes they ask, "Why do we have four gospels?"

And the answer is scientific.

Scientific AND humble.


About a hundred years after Jesus, one of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, was born in Smyrna (not Tennessee).

Irenaeus became Bishop of Lyon in what we call, (air quotes) "France."

Irenaeus used the science of the day to declare that, as everyone knew, the world had "four zones," and the earth had four winds (north, south, east, and west).

So, logically, there should be four and only four gospels, those according to, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 



Furthermore, in a fit of humility and providence, EACH of the four great evangelists titled their gospels, "According to."

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John knew they were telling versions of the truth according to their personal and communal memory.

They KNEW their memories were biased and their knowledge was incomplete.

Each of them knew they were creating and re-creating THEIR visions, THEIR versions, THEIR memories of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

So when you put the science and humility together, it should give us pause.


One of the great criticisms of youth is that gray-haired people (like me) remember "the good old days," like they were so much better.

Well, they were. Get over it. You… kids.

Every generation says this.

But as Saint Springsteen said, those glory days'll pass you by "in the blink of a young girl's eye."

If we're not careful, we fall head over heels in love with our memories.

Obsessively, and idolatrously in love with them.

We can start to think we don't need help.

But even God needed help remembering well, hence, the rainbow.

If what we know about memories being sweetened with time is true, we should be careful, lest they turn sour.

Because we're not remembering how things were.

We're remembering how we thought they were through memories of memories of memories.

And that should give each of us pause – and humility.

Even God needed help remembering well.



Lent is the church's season of humility.

Lent is our time to remember that we need to confess the idolatry of our memories.

But on the other hand – Lent is also the season to dream.

Do you remember (remember!) that passage from the Prophet Joel when the Bible talks about how things will be on the great and glorious Day of the Lord?

'In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

    and your old men shall dream dreams.

(Joel 2:28 in Acts 2:17)

The Bible's saying that when Christ comes, when the presence of Christ is with us, our memories of the past are resurrected into visions for the future.

That's what so many memories really are: longing for lives we never quite lived.

Dreaming of do-overs.

Yearning for things to be better for future generations.

As good as we wished they had been.


Which is why we can take a horrible, destructive story like God getting so angry that He wipes out all of life on earth, and by remembering it, turn it into a children's story about a zoo. On a boat.

You see, that bow in the sky?

That beautiful bow?

It's God's bow.

God's hunting bow.

God's tool of warfare.

God's implement of anger.

God promises, like a parent to a child, never, ever to make that mistake again.

Even God needs help remembering well.

Even God needs to put the past in its place, in the sky, and let the memory become something new, a vision for the future, a sign of hope, and promise, and rainbows.



These past weeks of ice and cold were a real wake-up call for some of us.

For others it was a "roll over and go back to sleep" call.

Facebook was bursting.

Judging by some of your posts, these past weeks reminded – re-minded – us of what's really important.



Cable TV.


(Not naming any names, here.)


When they lost power at Camp John Knox, Penny had to move all the reptiles and small animals from the Nature Center into her living room.

You should friend her just to see the pictures.

It was like she had her own ark.

I'm going to start calling her Joan.

Because that was Noah's wife's name.

Joan. Of ark.


Times like these remind – they help us remember how creative we can get when we need to.

To find alternate routes.

To tell ourselves it's OK to be dependent on other people.

They remind us we're at nature's mercy – whether flood or ice or wind.


That what we think, what we remember is always insufficient.

That we're not in charge.

Weeks like these make us remember our powers are pretty puny compared to the One who builds rainbows out of light.

We forget that.

We need help.


God's promise arches over us.

God's mercy re-creates our broken parts.

God turns us into new creatures, new creations, every glorious and icy day.

Even when we can't remember where we put our car keys, even when we can't imagine what good can ever come, that's OK.

Because God says, and Jesus remembers, that "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near."

 We can remember that, and repent, and believe in this good news.