"Remember - Remember No More, Part 4: The Spirit Will Remind You"

    05.19.24 | by Dr. Lewis Parks

    Remember – Remember No More, Part 4: The Spirit Will Remind You

    May 19, 2024

    Most of us have experiences of absent-mindedness and many are laughable. I had a colleague at Wesley who lost her keys on a regular basis. She would lock the classroom during lunch but not be able to unlock it. In pity faculty and students provided her with various lanyards: bright colors, glittery, oversized. You wouldn’t think you could lose a lanyard filled with a half-pound of keys, but she could! … My specialty has been losing checks, especially discarding them in the trash. I blame it on the gremlins! “Absent-minded”: taking a trip away from your working memory. Often laughable but sometimes very serious. In 1990s car safety experts said it was no longer acceptable to carry small children in the front seat because of airbag. So, car seats should go in back seats and pivoted for the very small. Since 1998 more than half the 40+ who have died in hot cars were forgotten!  So experts work on backseat reminder technology… From the silly to the serious we need memory “retrieval cues.”

    There came a point in his ministry when Jesus must help the disciples come to terms with his imminent departure. In John’s detailed version of the farewell speech Jesus says to the disciples something like, “you’ve followed me on the hillsides of Judah; you followed me across the waters of Galilee; you followed me when I set my face to Jerusalem. But where I’m going [next] you cannot follow me” (14:2). He’s talking about his arrest and punishment. All they hear is “he’s leaving us”… Perhaps seeing the fear of abandonment in their eyes, Jesus makes a promise only he can keep. “I will not leave you orphaned (orpanoi)”. Orphans are stripped of natural support. Without parents they are adrift in a world they are not equipped to navigate. Street orphans may be one meal away from starvation; they have no advocates; they are easy prey to predators. “I would not do that to you,” says Jesus, “I will not leave you orphaned…  Jesus says I will ask God and God will send them “another “Advocate”:parakletos, “one who is called alongside as a helper, or defender, a friend at court”. Jesus knows the disciples will encounter resistance, hostility, false accusations. They’ll need a friend. But don’t miss the adjective, “another”. What Jesus has been for them -defending them against the Pharisees’ charges; the pressures of the daily crowds; picking them up when they fail – what Jesus has been for them, another Parakletos will be for them when Jesus is gone.

    Then Jesus names that second Advocate. It’s not the first time the Spirit appears in John’s Gospel. (1) the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove at his baptism by John in the Jordan. (2) When Nicodemus complains “I’m too old to be born again, Jesus says the second birth is not of work of biology but a work of the Spirit. (3) When the woman of Samaria debates the best place to worship God, Jesus says it is not just a matter of place, but of attitude, God must be worshipped in Spirit and truth. But now that Jesus is about to be taken away from the disciples first by death and then by ascension, the Spirit must step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Jesus builds anticipation for another Paraclete by listing his benefits. “When I am returned to the Father, the Spirit will step in and do this and this and this.” And in that list, there is one promise that begs for attention if you are studying what the Bible has to say about memory and faith. I want us to linger this morning at John 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” 

    “Remind you of all that I have said to you” … (1) It means Christian believers are promised a divine agent at work in memory. Believers have the same memory equipment as everybody else: same sections of the brain dedicated to memory; same information processes for turning data into memories; same health, age, culture factors; subject to the same things that can go wrong with memory: curve of forgetting, absent-mindedness, false memories. But believers are not alone with their memory equipment. There is a supernatural agent at work in a believer’s memory: making connections; retrieving lost data, resisting the natural decline of aging.

    (2) And this supernatural agent, the Spirit, provides Christian believers with benevolent flashbacks that make the ancient words and deeds of Jesus come alive in the present. Before we think to ask what would Jesus do? (WWJD), the Spirit brings to mind a certain word, story, or action of Jesus that applies to the situation…  So, I get the call that for budget reasons could I along with several senior faculty please retire from my full-time position. I realize now this is the way of life in institutions and also in the seasons of life. But when it happened, I alternated between anger and shock. I was an agitated state for several hours. And then a voice inside kept bringing to mind -of all things! -  the parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16). Remember him? He mismanages his master’s funds. The master finds out. Throws him out. The steward throws up his hands. “I’m too weak for hard labor and too proud to beg! What will I do?” Then he comes up with a scheme: he works out a discounted collection scheme with the masters’ debtors. That makes them happy. The master is relieved to recover some of his loss. Jesus seems to enjoy this rascal, this dishonest steward, and lifts him up as a model. “Sometimes the children of light need to learn from the children of this world,” Jesus says. I don’t know if I was supposed to get something from the fact that the main actor of the parable was a crook, but of this I am sure, I was haunted and inspired by that parable. I came up with a scheme to re-negotiate the terms of my retirement and to open some new doors for part time work in the local church. And anger and depression gave way to peace and constructive action. All credit to the Spirit!

    (3) Believers have a divine agent at work in memory, providing flashbacks that make the ancient words and deed of Jesus come alive in the present. I love the flashback Paul talks about in Romans 8. He imagines a believer in a state in a state of doubt and confusion, maybe even tempted to go back into the slavery of their former life. But then the holy spirit moves and connects that fragile believer to a discipline of Jesus, “when you pray, pray like this “our father…”. Paul calls that flashback a “spirit of adoption” -no abandoned orphans among believers! In the Spirit we call Abba… One more technical point before we stop.

    The ministry of the Spirit in memory is miraculous but not magical… There is a phenomenon observed in dementia patients called sacred words below the frostline. Below the layers of forgetfulness some persons seem to have residue of scripture and hymns. I can still remember my first experience of it as a pastor. Rest Haven, below  Well Span York. I’m holding the Wednesday  afternoon chapel and it looks like I’m striking out with all but a visiting relative or two. I turn it over to the pianist and when she breaks into Old Rugged Cross, and to my amazement they do too. I realize now it is a common experience. Hymns and texts below the frost line are surely another act of the Spirit… But I want to point to this: the Spirit “calls to mind”, works because something is already there to work with… Will it be so for our generation? Please joint me as we plant another seed below the frostline: let’s recite the Apostles’ Creed.