THE POWER OF MEMORY
May 29, 2011
Rev. Richard P. Smith
Senior Pastor, Germantown United Methodist Church
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them
fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people
before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them
to their children.”
You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds
and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form;
there was only a voice.
He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them
on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in
the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.
The Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament encompasses the farewell speeches of Moses to the
Hebrew people as they prepare to enter the Promise Land. For forty years they have journeyed from
Egypt toward Canaan and now they find themselves camped on the outskirts of Canaan ready to enter it.
Because Moses will not enter with them, he shares with them his farewell thoughts.
In chapter four as read this morning we find him saying:
Watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart
as long as you live.
Moses says to the Israelites that they must not forget; they must remember.
He tells them to remember how God freed them from slavery in Egypt.
He tells them to remember how God sustained and guided them in their wilderness wanderings.
He tells them to remember that God fulfilled all the promises He made to them.
Moses tells the Hebrew people you must remember.
On this Memorial Day Sunday there are some things you and I must not forget; some things we must
remember. Let me share four thoughts.
We Must Remember the Sacrifices Made
My father fought in World War II; he was in the Marine Corps. In all my growing up years he never
would talk about it. Sometimes I would come across some memorabilia from the War and he'd take it out
of my hand and say, “Son, I need to put that up.” Thus, I grew up with no clue to the sacrifices my father
had made and the heartache he faced in that grisly war. It was only when I was in college and in my
young adult years that I began to learn from my mother my father’s experiences in the war and that he had
won a battlefield commission for his leadership and bravery in protecting his troops. Ultimately, it was
Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation which helped me understand the sacrifices so many made
during that great conflict. Brokaw writes about those who fought in WWII:
They answered the call to help save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines
ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds. At a
time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and
the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting; often hand to hand; in the most primitive
conditions possible, across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Germany. They fought their
way up a necklace of South Pacific islands few had ever heard of before…Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal,
Okinawa. They were in the air every day, in skies filled with terror, and they went to sea on hostile
waters far removed from the shores of their homeland,,,”
Brokaw’s point is that we must come to realize how thankful we ought to be for the sacrifices made
for us and others. You’re here free to worship today because someone fought for your freedom. Justice is
more prevalent across this globe because some men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice. Evil and
tyranny have often been defeated because of the price so many have been willing to pay.
I know you, as with my family and me, are going to enjoy this Memorial Day holiday. I hope you
have some really special and joyous time with family and perhaps friends. But let us also take some
moments tomorrow to remember the sacrifices made, to contemplate the courage so many showed, to give
thanks that ours is a better and freer world because of what they did.
We Remember Those Who’ve Made a Difference in Our Personal Lives
I hope you know that there is no such thing as a self-made person. There are people who think
they’re self-made but the truth is there is no such thing. Each of us, to one degree or another, has
benefited from those who’ve crossed our path in life and helped us along the way. As one thinker puts it..
There are no self-made persons. First of all, keep in mind that w are all recipients of the collective
wisdom and knowledge gained by those who’ve come before us. And then there are the countless people
who’ve encouraged us, loved us, helped us, guided us along life’s journey. And how about the advances
in science and technology we inherit? It is clear that we each have been and are dependent on others
along our life journey.
You and I have been the beneficiary of those who’ve shaped our lives by encouraging us or believing
in us or helping us. Again, none of us are who we or what we are by ourselves alone. We are who we are
and what we are because of the difference others have made and do make in our lives here and now, many
of whom indeed have gone on to be with God.
In my own life it begins with the emotional and spiritual foundation laid by my parents; then the youth
director in high school who encouraged me; the pastor who helped me understand God’s call to the
ministry; the professors in college, seminary, and graduate school who helped shape me theologically and
spiritually; on and on the list goes.
The Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:3 speaks these moving words, I thank my God every time I
remember you. What a fitting way of describing how you and I should feel as we think about those
through whom God has enriched our lives.
Perhaps each of us could during this Memorial Day period pause to remember and give thanks for
those who have indeed helped us become the persons we are. If that person is still alive, perhaps a card or
a phone call would be appropriate.
At the very least, however, we should not let Memorial Day go by without remembering and giving
thanks for those whom God has placed into our lives as encouragers, mentors, supporters, helpers. We
would not be who we are and what we are without them.
We Need to Remember and Celebrate the History of This Church
Germantown Methodist Church is 171 years old. Every one of us here at Germantown UMC stands
on the shoulders of so many laity and clergy who’ve helped this Church be all that she is today. I
certainly know that I am privileged to stand on the shoulders of some of the finest clergy in our
Conference who’ve pastored here at Germantown Methodist; so many whom I’ve know well and
respected greatly over the years of my ministry.
One church I pastored had a wall on which it had pictures of all the Senior Ministers who had ever
served that church. It was quite an awesome – and humbling – sight. The church had been founded in
1832 and there at the start of the pictures of all the pastors over the years was the picture of that first
pastor, the founding pastor. I was the 41st Senior Pastor of that church. I can remember many an
occasion walking by those pictures of those pastors and reflecting on the awesome privilege and
responsibility of following in their footsteps. It put in perspective how privileged I was to stand in such a
long line of faithful and dedicated pastors who had brought that church to its present state of ministry and
The fact is that you and I worship in this beautify sanctuary, participate in meaningful ministries and
dedicated outreach, and have such fine facilities because others went before us.
Don Rhoads and I just this past week were looking at the beautiful McVay property and he showed
me a plot of ground which is literally on top of the foundation of the original Church which was
established sometime around 1840. How amazing! That you can literally stand on the foundation of the
original Church. That first Church was built when Germantown Methodist had 45 members.
After those inaugural 45 members hundreds more came. By 1978 this Church had 1300 members. In
1989 it was 2000 members. By 1992 it had risen to 2500 members. At the close of 2009 our membership
was 3655. And now here in 2011 we’re very close to being a 4000 member Church.
We take in approximately 175 new members a year. Each of those members, as with each of you,
stands on the shoulders of all those who’ve come before and who’ve, again, built buildings, started
ministries and programs, launched compassionate outreach work, and grown together in Christ.
This Fall or early next year I want us to launch an annual History Sunday in this Church. We will
celebrate our long and rich history and recognize “our longest serving living members.” In the meantime,
you and I need to remember and even now give thanks for the gift of this Church in our lives.
We Need to Remember God’s Ongoing Goodness In Our Lives
I don’t know if you’re aware of the delightful book Children’s Letters to God or not but it’s a real
jewel. It’s a compilation of actual letters children have written to God; either telling Him something or
asking Him a question. As you would imagine, it’s humorous, insightful, and certainly honest. Let me
share just a few of the wonderful thoughts of children as they write to God.
Is it true that my father won’t go to heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house?
Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?
Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy
Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my
The one, however, on which to focus this morning is this one: In school they told us what you do. Who does
it when you are on vacation?
While it’s trite, it’s true – God is never on vacation! There is never a moment of any day of your life
or mine which is absent the active goodness of God. There is never an experience, never a difficulty,
never a heartache, never a disappointment in which God is not present and at work on your behalf. God is
never on vacation when it comes to the moments and needs of your life.
I often have people ask me, How do I know God is at work in my life? I try to answer as politely as
possible, Pay attention! Pay attention to all that’s going on in your life and you’ll see the many ways God
is at work. Have eyes to see and ears to hear and you will discover God is indeed in your midst. It may
be some incident, some conversation, some experience, some event but if you’re attentive, you will
clearly see God working for good every single day of your life!
Moses told the Hebrew people that they must not forget all the ways God had been and was at work
in their lives from Egypt to Canaan and so we too must remember daily the goodness of our loving God!
So, On This Memorial Day Sunday May We…
1. Remember the Sacrifices Made On Behalf of Freedom, Justice, Goodness and to Defeat Tyranny
2. Remember and Give Thanks for Those Who’ve Made a Difference in Our Lives
3. Remember and Celebrate the History of This Church and All Those On Whose Shoulders We
4. We Remember Along Life’s Journey the Active Goodness of God in Our Everyday Lives