The following post has been adapted from the sermon, "Remember," preached on July 21, 2019 at Peace Tree. Scroll down to watch the live stream video from that day.
Have you ever considered how important memories are? They place us in a larger story. They remind us who we are, where we came from, how far we’ve traveled, what makes us tick, and why we behave the way we do. Memories cause us to say things like “When I was your age…” Memories make us feel nostalgic; we think of simpler times, or perhaps we look back fondly and simplify the difficult times because we’re no longer in the midst of storms or battles.
Our stories are filled with memories, but oral and written stories aren’t the only mediums which arouse memories. Sometimes smells, places, people, and songs carry their own memories. Think about your grandmother’s house and the aroma which filled the air right after she had finished preparing your favorite dish. How often do you return to the restaurant you ate at when you and your spouse went on your first date? Have you ever returned to the hospital where your children were born? Do the fun songs you sang at summer camp ever pop into your head after all these years?
As individuals, we remember stories and recall memories that are important to us and our families. As the church, it’s important for us to remember too. We must share our memories with those who are younger in the faith. We have a responsibility to show others where we came from so that we have a better sense of where we are going.
We do this every time we read Scripture, every time we pray the Lord’s prayer or recite the 23rd Psalm, every time we sing a hymn like Blessed Assurance with the refrain, “This is my story, this is my song…” It’s important for us to remember God’s story and to locate our lives inside that larger story.
We’re able to recall certain memories from Scripture readings and prayers, and we remember moments in our faith journey whenever we sing certain songs. But there are particular rituals and sacred moments that have actually built memory into their own practices and liturgy.
For instance, every time we celebrate Communion, we repeat Jesus’ words: “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you…Drink this wine, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Jesus asks us to remember him. In our faith tradition, Holy Communion is one of only two sacraments with the other sacrament being Baptism. These are sacred moments when heaven comes down and kisses earth, when the community of those who have passed away surround us and celebrate with us. It’s a moment when God reaches out and imparts His grace, allowing us to glimpse the character and fullness of God.
Now, there’s nothing magical about the wine or the bread; the baptismal fount isn’t enchanted. However, there is something that can only be described as life-giving when the water of baptism touches our head. When we’re given opportunities to remember our baptism and to feel the cool, familiar touch of the water on our skin we are reminded that Jesus has washed away all of our sins.
I grew up in a very traditional United Methodist church with a pipe organ, a 40 person choir, acolytes, torch bearers, and a crucifer who lifted high the cross and led the choir in by processional every week. We even took the Bible off the altar, walked it into the middle of the sanctuary, and read Scripture while everyone stood and turned to face the God’s Holy Word.
During baptisms, the pastor of my home church would take this silver object filled with baptismal water, and he would shake it at the congregation so that drops of water would land on us, and he’d say the words, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”
One of our pastors conducted infant baptisms in a way that would make me chuckle. He’d get a squirmy baby in his arms, typically in a fancy white baptismal gown, and he’d dip his hands in the water and place it on the child’s head and say the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” But then, he’d take the baby in his arms and walk the child down the length of the middle aisle, showing the congregation this newly baptized member of God’s family.
The reason this practice of showing off a newly baptized baby made me chuckle was because it always reminded me of how Rafiki from The Lion King presented Simba as a newly baptized lion cub to the animal kingdom at the start of the movie.
The opening scene from this 1994 animated classic contains everything we see in church baptisms: parents who are proud of their child, friends and family who are there to lend their support, and an over-excited pastor who likes showing off babies to the entire congregation.
What an incredible moment it is when the sunlight breaks through the clouds and shines down on Simba, Rafiki, and all those on Pride Rock. I have to believe that the animators took some inspiration from Jesus’ baptism as seen in the Gospels. For instance, Matthew 3:16 reads, “Once he had been baptized, Jesus emerged immediately from the water. And behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God, descending like a dove and alighting on him.”
There’s another part of Jesus’ baptism that I swear the writers of the Lion King ripped straight from the Bible. After Simba’s birth, baptism, and presentation on Pride Rock, his father Mufasa dies at the hands of Scar; however, Simba blames himself for his father’s death and runs away. But then, Rafiki, the shaman mandrill from the beginning of Simba’s story, is able to track down Simba. Rafiki finds a lion who is all grown up, and he tells Simba that Mufasa still lives before leading him to a pool of water.
Simba looks into the water and sees himself. He mutters to Rafiki, “That’s not my father! That’s just my reflection.” Rafiki says, “No, look harder. You see? He lives in YOU!”
Immediately, Simba hears his name called from the heavens: “Simba, you have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself…Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember who you are…remember, remember, remember.”
Compare this scene to Matthew 3:17 which reads, “And behold, a voice from the heavens was saying: “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’s baptism this way: “The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit - it looked like a dove - descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: ‘This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.’”
Simba forgets who his father is and thus loses his identity. It’s only by working through the tough memories, by reclaiming his place in the larger story, by remembering who is father is that Simba fulfills his purpose and recovers from the trauma of his childhood.
The baptisms and epiphanies we witness in Matthew’s Gospel and in The Lion King are enough to make us ask: Have we forgotten who we are? Have we allowed ourselves to be distracted by outside influences? Have we allowed the hurts from our past to cloud our memory and cause us to lose our identity?
Perhaps it’s time remember who you are and whose you are. Remember that God has claimed you. God has adopted you. God has spoken your name. The Almighty has covered you with grace, has anointed you, and has washed away your sins.
Let’s remember our baptisms and be thankful! Let’s live according to the example of Christ. Let’s demonstrate love and forgiveness to each person we encounter. Let’s continue making disciples of Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Let’s remember who we are. Amen.
This morning, Pastor Kris joined with local pastors to pray for the town of Collierville and the city of Germantown as we observed the National Day of Prayer. Prayers were lifted up for parents, first responders, those serving in the military, young people, teachers, elected officials, local pastors, and local business leaders. The 9:30 a.m. observance was held at Central Church with singing led by The Orchard Church. The Noonday observance was held in front of Germantown's City Hall, and several lay people participated by leading prayer.
It truly was a blessing to see neighbors, government officials, and faith communities come together for a single purpose. Below, you can read the prayer that Pastor Kris shared, and at the bottom of the post you'll find some snapshots of the ceremonies. We hope that you will be in prayer today for all Americans as well as our neighbors in countries near and far.
"A Prayer for our Neighbors and for Those in Need"
God of all peoples, we thank you for your presence with us today. We approach your throne this morning as a community which is made up of many different people. We look to the future excitedly, and at the same time we hold onto our traditions and remember our heritage. We preach tolerance and inclusion; however, we tend to favor our own tribes, customs, and ways of living.
As human beings, we often put our own needs ahead of others — our access to housing, food, education, and security. And yet, your Son taught us to die to self. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus called his disciples to deny themselves, to take up their cross, and to follow him. Later, the apostle Paul wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Father Almighty, help us to look past our own selfish ambitions. Challenge us to put the needs of others above our own. Encourage us to not only read the Bible but to follow the example of your Son, our Messiah, in how he lived his life.
Send us your hungry so that we may feed them. Send us your thirsty so that we may offer them a cup of cool water. Send us the stranger so that they may be fully seen, fully known, and fully loved. Send us those who are shivering so that we may clothe them. Send us out to visit those who are sick and in prison so that they may know that they are not forgotten.
Gives us eyes to see and ears to hear, so that when we encounter a neighbor who is in need, we may see them as a beloved child God. And help us to understand that when we serve the least in our midst, we are in fact serving Christ.
Who is my neighbor, Lord? Your Son taught us to look in unexpected places. Is it the church leader from my local congregation? The lay leader from my Sunday school class? Lord Jesus, what about the person who practices a different religion from me, the one who comes from a different country of origin, the one who speaks a tongue other than English as their primary language?
Yes, this is my personal Samaritan, the one who shows me mercy, the one who would pull me out of a ditch, bandage my wounds, and restore me to health. Humble me, Lord, so that I may see this person as my neighbor, that I might lay down my own prejudices and biases to see all people as my neighbors.
Mold us into your likeness, so that others would no longer see us, but would see you living through us. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that our cups would run over. And use us to build up your Kingdom here on earth as it is in Heaven.
May we love our neighbors as you first loved us, so that others would know who we are and whose we are.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In January, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel and visit the holy sites on a Christian pilgrimage. On the first day of our trip, we visited Cana of Galilee, the site of Jesus’ first miracle in which he turned water into wine for a wedding celebration at the behest of his mother.
While we were in the basement of a church built over the spot where this miracle took place, I noticed a minister performing a ceremony for several couples who had come to Cana of Galilee to renew their wedding vows. What better place to renew your vows than the wedding site where Jesus performed his first miracle!
In that moment, I was reminded of a lesson we receive from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. Whether a couple is renewing their marriage vows, or an engaged couple is standing at the altar reciting wedding vows for the very first time, we all need to remember that marriage involves three important individuals: you, your spouse, and God.
Ecclesiastes talks about the value of a friend. Chapter 4, verse 9 reads, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil” (NRSV). This same sentiment can be heard in the words of Lyn Collins’ 1972 funk hit “Think (About It):” “It takes two to make a thing go right. It takes two to make it out of sight!”
The Scripture goes on to say that friends help each other up, keep each other warm, and watch each other’s backs in a fight. Then verse 12 ends with the words, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Up to this point, we’ve only read about two friends. So, why does a THREEfold cord suddenly appear? This is where God is reminding us that His presence is a necessary part of any relationship, including the marriage relationship.
As we consider God’s presence in the midst of our relationships, we must first acknowledge that we are made in God’s image. We see this in Genesis 1:27 where it says, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NRSV).
Those who practice the Christian faith believe in the Triune God. In the midst of the Trinity’s mystery exists a community: God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just like our Creator, we are meant for community, and at the center of our community is God. It is God who blesses and sustains our communities. In our hearts, we know there is no life apart from the Divine Presence. Jesus demonstrates this with his own life by surrounding himself with friends and family as he begins his three year ministry in Israel.
He healed individuals, families, and entire groups of people. Before He was arrested and ultimately sentenced to death on a cross, He taught his disciples a new commandment: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
When a couple marries, they start a new family. If they decide to have children or to adopt, then their community grows larger. God desires to live at the center of this community, to bless these relationships, to serve as a necessary strand in the threefold cord.
Whether you’re planning a wedding and preparing for a lifelong marriage this year, or you’re celebrating another anniversary with your spouse, I encourage you to always put God first.
Abide in God and remember that you are made in God’s image. God the Father exists as community, so be mindful of the community surrounding you and your significant other. God the Son cared deeply about relationships, so remember to invest time and energy into the relationship and friendship you share with your spouse. God the Holy Spirit holds everything together, strengthening your marriage so that it will not be broken. Love each other the way Christ loves you.
Treat your spouse the way Christ would treat them. And together, ask yourselves how the two of you may make a difference in your world, in your community. God is part of yours and your spouse’s threefold cord, ready to bless you both as you tie the knot. Thanks be to God!
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
(This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of Tour Collierville Magazine)
How many of you remember the climactic scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? If you’ll recall, Indiana has to pass through three challenges in order to reach the Holy Grail and save his father from certain death. His father, played by Sean Connery, had been researching the Holy Grail and wrote down three clues to allow for safe passage through the challenges, allowing someone to successfully reach the Grail.
Indiana makes it through because he has a book to guide him. Now, I don’t know how often you feel like you’ve had to make a Leap of Faith. For me, agreeing to be on the Peace Tree Launch Team in 2015 was a Leap of Faith. Like Indy, I’m not sure I would have made the leap if I didn’t have my book, the Bible.
My first year on the Launch Team was my last year of Disciple Bible study (six years earlier when I started the Disciple series, I wasn’t sure I would get past the first year much less complete the whole series). Planting a church was not on my radar. I had no thoughts of leaving Collierville United Methodist Church.
I was comfortable. Paul and I had joined Collierville UMC in 1999. We had been members long enough that we had been involved in several areas and knew many people. We liked our Sunday School class a lot. I even started to occasionally fill in for our Sunday school teachers during the summer months to give them a break.
Our youngest child, Caleb, was very involved in all of the children’s programming and continued to be involved as he grew up and joined the youth program. He earned a trophy memorizing the books of the Bible and taught himself guitar so he could play in the youth praise band. Rev. Harry Durbin had invited him to be on his team in a Scrabble tournament, and he went on numerous youth trips to Mountain TOP, Breakthru, BigStuf Camps, Lake Junaluska and Lakeshore Camp.
I had been intrigued by Disciple Bible Study for a while. I knew many members of my Sunday School class had taken Disciple lessons, and they all spoke highly of the courses. I had enrolled once before but I was still working a full-time job, and with the kids’ schedules it was a struggle to keep up.
Finally the time came where my husband, Paul, and I could take the course at the same time. We started with over 20 people that first year. People came and went over the six years we participated in Disciple, but a core group of six made it through all six years. We formed really close friendships with those people as we studied Scripture together and prayed for each other during that time.
Little did I know that as I was working through these lessons throughout the Bible and on Christian & Methodist theology, God was preparing me to take my Leap of Faith. Just getting the overview of the Bible in the first year and understanding how the Old Testament and the New Testament work together was eye-opening. By Year Six we compared the Gospels and talked about what was the same, what was different, and why.
When we heard at Collierville UMC that Pastor Kristofer would be planting a church and putting together a Launch Team, I was immediately excited. But that excitement was followed by a great sense of doubt. What if I wanted to serve on this team but my husband didn’t? What if we wanted to do this but Kristofer had enough volunteers or didn’t feel he needed us? How long would we have to commit before we could return to CUMC?
I am not sure how called my husband felt to this new church plant, but he agreed to join me for a face-to-face talk with Pastor Kris. I do remember telling Paul after our talk that I did not want us to be at separate churches, so if he wasn’t comfortable with moving forward then we would stay at CUMC. However, since we had built up a better Biblical foundation through Disciple, and because we truly believed Kris was answering God’s call, we decided to take the leap.
Then as Rev. David Atkinson, the senior pastor at CUMC said, it got real! It became clear to us with each passing week that church planting was bigger than we realized and better than we hoped.
Faith is not a one-time thing. Faith is part of the lifestyle of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Faith is trusting Him. John Wesley was particularly concerned about inviting people to experience grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through disciplined Christian living. He emphasized that Christian living is putting faith and love into action. Wesley believed in salvation by God’s grace but was convinced that salvation should evidence itself as faith and love in action.
We each are called to take a Leap of Faith. We each must answer our own call. Your call may be the similar to someone else’s call; it may be completely different. The point is that we have a Good Book to help us get ready and to prepare for that call. The Bible is a book that will help us see the signs and recognize them. It’s a book that teaches us the correct response to God’s call. It leads us to the understanding that faith grows through our participation in the church community — a community where we are nourished and equipped for mission and service to the world.
Every House Group host at Peace Tree takes a Leap of Faith when they open up their home to both church members and guests. Young people and families take Leaps of Faith when they come forward to be baptized and when they decide to join our congregation as members. Our service groups SIS and BRO have taken Leaps of Faith when they decided to organize and begin serving the people of our community with their time and energy. Our students have taken Leaps of Faith by joining multi-generational House Groups instead of joining a more age-specific children’s program or youth group.
So, now the questions for you are: How is God calling you? Are you ready to take your Leap of Faith? May God bless you as you answer the call.
Follow the journey of a new church as we answer the call to reach people in Collierville, Memphis, and the Mid-South.