Monday, January 22, 2007

“Remembering Who We Are”

Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22[1]

The animated film “Finding Nemo” is about a clown fish named Marlin. He lives on the Great Barrier Reef with his son Nemo, who has a stunted fin. Because of his own fear of the vast ocean and Nemo’s “handicap”, Marlin is to say the least overprotective. One day, Nemo ventures out too far from the Reef and he winds up in a fish tank in a Dentist’s office in Syndey, Australia. Despite his fears of the ocean, Marlin launches a heroic quest to find and rescue his son. Of course, the tagline for the film is, “There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one.”

Along the way, Marlin the clown fish encounters Sharks in a 12-step program to recover from their addiction to eating fish, sea turtles who surf a great underwater current, and a regal blue tang named Dory who suffers from short-term memory loss. Now, Dory gives meaning to the word “ditzy”! At their first meeting, Dory tells Marlin that she saw a boat go by, and so they take off looking for it, but after a very short time, Dory begins to meander, and suddenly turns and tells him to quit “stalking” her!

They survive dangers and Dory’s chronic forgetfulness and make it to Sydney, only to be told that Nemo has died (don’t worry, he really hadn’t). In his grief, however, Marlin decides to just go off by himself and try to forget Nemo and Dory, and everything else that he’s been through. But Dory pleads with him not to go. “No one's ever stuck with me for so long before. And if you leave... if you leave... I just, I remember things better with you. … It's there, I know it is, because when I look at you, I can feel it. And-and I look at you, and I... and I'm home. Please... I don't want that to go away. I don't want to forget.” Of course, in the end, Nemo and Marlin are reunited and Dory joins them in their home on the Great Barrier Reef.

I think that we in the church are a bit like Dory. We have a kind of spiritual “Attention Deficit Disorder.” We come to church and worship with great hymns and are reminded of the great truths and promises and hopes of our faith, and then we get distracted by traffic, kids, jobs, money, etc. etc. And before long, we have forgotten who we are and what we’re doing.

The prophet of Isaiah addressed a people in a similar situation. Israel had been exiled to Babylon, where they found it too bitter to sing the songs of Zion and to hold out hope that God would redeem them. And right into the midst of that despair, the prophet calls them to remember who they are. They are the children of the God who created them. They are the chosen ones of the God who redeemed them. They are the beloved and precious people of the God who called them. And because that is who they are, the prophet promises them that God will be with them, through floods, through the fire, no matter where they go.

I sometimes think that we, like those forgetful people of old, tend to think that if God promises that we will not be overwhelmed by the flood or burned by the fire, it means we won’t ever have to suffer loss or go through grief or endure hardship. And when we do get overwhelmed and we do get burned, we fall into despair and pass our faith off as childish wishful thinking. At least that’s what I did.

But the promise is not that we will never get burned, it’s that we will not be consumed. When you go through the fire, at least some of your hair is going to be singed. And when you’re in the middle of the flood, you’re going to be overwhelmed with fear and exhaustion. But the promise is that the waters will not take you under for good.

I find it interesting that the story of Jesus’ baptism has a similar connotation. It’s almost as if Jesus needed to be reminded and reassured of who he was and what he was supposed to be doing. All of us who have been baptized have been claimed by the God of the angel armies and the vast reaches of the universe. We were claimed even before our baptism in that the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ sent his son to redeem us through his death on the cross.

I think it’s important to remember who we are and what we’re doing. But if you’re like me and you get distracted like a ditzy regal blue tang fish named Dory, you share my need to be reminded continually. That’s what worship is for. For me, once or twice a week doesn’t cut it. I need to be reminded once or twice a day! Without that, I can easily lose myself, my faith, my confidence in the midst of all the waves that pound me and the flames that sometime surround me on every side.

But when I take the time to remind myself that God created me, God chose me, God called me, God loves me, I go away refreshed and renewed—I feel “home” and I remember better when the flames get turned up.

[1] A sermon preached 1/7/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX

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