The holiday we celebrate this weekend reminds us what a wonderful and essential gift memory is. I know, we joke about the loss of memory. We talk about absentminded people – like the man with three pairs of glasses: one for nearsightedness, one for farsightedness and a third to look for the other two. But what we all know is – it would be a terrible thing to have to live without memory.
It is tragic to live without memory, for a person's memory rightly utilized can result in extraordinary growth. But not all persons who have memory use it creatively.
For some people, memory is an escape – a way of avoiding the present. For these people, memory is a filter which admits only good experiences and pleasant thoughts. All the bad or unpleasant is filtered out. Not only does this prevent a person from living responsibly in the present, it also causes him to glory in a past which realistically never was.
For other people, memory is a depressant. It is a continual recollection of all that was not good. Again there is a sifting process. But in this instance, the fragments which are retained are all negative. This, too, is unreal and thus detrimental.
You may wonder why I would make memory an important issue, why I would devote an entire message to our consideration of it. Because it is Memorial Day weekend? That is part of it. Because it is a force of such strong positive or negative potential? Yes, that, too. But even more, because memory is an essential ingredient in Biblical faith.
Today, I invite you to remember your spiritual ancestry by looking back at one towering patriarch of the Old Testament. He is called “the father of faith,” and “the father of us all.” His name was Abraham. I am convinced this spiritual ancestor has much to teach us about our own faith.
In the cycle of Abraham stories, it is clear that religious faith is never something safe or static. He was never meant to interpret his relationship with God, his salvation, if you please, as that which would keep him in safety and security.
If there is one word which sums up Abraham's experience with God, it is the word “movement.” Instead of giving Abraham a secure place to hang onto, what was given to Abraham was a call to mission, a ceaseless invitation “to get up from this place and set out for a place that I will show you.”
To be secure with this kind of God is never to sit still or to possess something static. It is to be on the way toward some purpose beyond yourself, some purpose greater than yourself; the symbol of this religion is not a lowered anchor but a hoisted sail. Its goal is not a haven of rest but a promised land toward which to strive.
Let me ask you seriously, is this not an exceedingly important insight as far as our lives and faith are concerned? Like it or not, the fact of change is with us. On this earth, none of our circumstances is permanent.
Many people see faith as something only to create stability and security. They see the church as an institution only to conserve the past and maintain the status quo.
Looking deeply into the experience of Abraham, we find he saw God working through change to achieve His purpose. He found God in the midst of change calling him not to look for safety but to launch out into that which was risky. But for all of Abraham's heroism, don't let what he did make you think he was superhuman. The same document which lets us know how courageous he was, also lets us know that Abraham was not a perfect believer. And this is the second great spiritual lesson I have learned from our spiritual ancestor. It is that God does not demand perfection in persons before He begins to work His purpose with them. On the contrary, God is willing to take us where we are, and patiently and slowly move us forward.
This truth is illustrated graphically by Abraham. This man had to struggle terribly with temptation and sin, as we do, day by day. Again and again, he slipped and fell into distrust and disobedience.
For example, soon after he arrived in Palestine, a famine arose. Just as it seemed he had trusted God so magnificently, Abraham showed how capable he was of mistrust. He tried to take matters into his own hands. He fled into Egypt where there was more food.
There his fears continued to get the best of him. His wife, Sarah, was obviously a beautiful woman. Abraham was so scared that he would be killed in order that some prince could have Sarah for himself, that he asked Sarah to do an incredible thing. He concocted the scheme that Sarah would pose as his sister. And if necessary, she should even go to live with another man so that Abraham's skin might be saved.
Any way you look at it, this was a shabby, shoddy, sinful situation. God had to step into it and untangle it. And the point is, Abraham was never a perfect man. Yet God remained willing to work with him and eventually was able to do great things with him.
Don't let Abraham's heroism make you think he was super-human, for spiritual struggle was the hallmark of his life.
The story of the Bible is not an account of super-human beings doing heroic things out of abnormal resources. Instead, it is a story of chicken-hearted people, like you and me, but people who did not give up when they failed, who even when they were afraid kept on daring to put the keys of their future into the hands of a merciful God.
If some of this has happened to you, then today I would invite you to take another look at your spiritual ancestry. Even Abraham found himself in the most difficult circumstances, often of his own making. Even the father of faith kept falling down. But God did not give up on him. Abraham found that God did not save him from difficulty, but God wanted to be with him to save him through the difficulty.
The great fact about Abraham is that he kept letting God pick him back up. He did not give up when he failed. He dared to put the keys of his future into the hands of a merciful God.
And you and I can, too. Our heritage has lessons to teach us. On one hand, God calls us to be responsive to Him. He commands us to move out toward a future which God promises to reveal as we go along. If we will be faithful, then we cannot stay where we are.
God does not require our perfection before dealing with us. God wants to work with us where we are. Right now in the spiritual struggle of life, we can be cleansed and forgiven. We can be picked back up and set on course.
If we would really know who we are, and what we can become, then we need to know the realistic spiritual heritage which lies behind us. I invite you to take a long look at yourself in light of Abraham. Out of this spiritual heritage of faith and love, there is hope.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken's First Baptist Church.