Remember me (Part 2)
Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 23 February 2020
Readings were Isaiah 46:3-4 and Matthew 4:18-22
Last week I shared with you some thoughts and reflections on dementia, which was based from a summer paper I took called The practical theology of mental health presented by Professor John Swinton. However, I think it would be good to quickly summarise what was talked about. First we recognised that dementia is a disease that causes a person to lose their rational thinking and memory. It is a disease that is greatly feared because it affects the mind, and primarily Western society sees the mind and the ability to remember as crucial to being a person.
Steven Post said that
We live in a society that is “hypercognitive”, a society that places inordinate emphasis on people’s powers of rational thinking and memory.
It is as though our humanness is tied to how well we remember and think.
I think therefore I am
If we can no longer remember or have rational thought it seems as though we have lost our humanness, our personhood.
We reflected a little on the mind, which is so much more that what happens in the brain and how other cultures define being human as
I am because we are
And then we reflected on the Good News of Jesus Christ, through two readings. Psalm 139: 1-12, where we were reminded that God knew us before we were born, remembers our forming, our creation, our development, our lives. And Luke 23:39-43, where we heard through the words of Jesus to the criminal on the cross, the promise, that through the joys and trials of life we are remembered – or better put re – membered, into eternity. Nothing will separate who we are from God.
In response to dementia, the Good News is that God holds us in God’s memory and what should be the underlying truth of our lives is this: Jesus says to those who follow him
The great I Am statement that Jesus is God – therefore we are.
I AM therefore we are
Therefore we will never stop being who we are, even if we lose our memory or ability to have rational thought, because we exist and have our being because Jesus is and always will be.
Today I want to reflect a little more on what are some of the profound things those with dementia have to teach us and how we as a church can care for those whose lives are changed dramatically over a relative short space of time.
In his book Becoming friends of time: Disability, timefullness, and gentle discipleship John Swinton offers a reimagining of discipleship and vocation for those both with dementia and those who offer care, including the faith community.
If we were to quickly share our understanding of discipleship probably most of us would say it is primarily what we do as we follow Jesus. To take up our cross, to question and to doubt, to pray, to do all Jesus taught and continues to teach us to do. And if I was to ask you to tell what vocation, Christian vocation is about, maybe you would say it is what we are especially called to do in life for God, whether that is to be a teacher, a cleaner, an accountant, a minister, a parent, a grandparent.
However, what if we understood that following Jesus and our primarily calling in life as human beings, is about the worship of our creator by simply being the created?
People with dementia remind us of being present in the moment, present in the presence of God, as human being rather than human doings. I’m not saying that this is something they have sought to do or desire to do, because as we explored last week, dementia is a disease that causes great dis-ease and suffering. And yet, there is a profoundness in that, even if the person has lost the ability to remember who they are or who Jesus is, they remain His disciples – he has still called them, like Peter, like John in the reading we’ve heard today, to be his, even when they don’t know who he is or where he is going.
Moreover, being solely in the presence of Jesus rather doing things for Jesus, reminds us of God’s grace. It reminds us that we are created beings, we can let go and allow God to hold us, to love us, to re-member us.
Harry Huebner in an article he wrote titled ‘On being stuck with our parents’, adds to this thought:
Dementia makes us more intimately aware that faithfulness in exile, in a place of homelessness, strangeness, speechlessness, is after all possible.
It may help us see that our salvation, [that is our restored relationship to God and all of creation into eternity], lies not in our control over life but in our life in Christ when we have realised that we are not in control.
The story of salvation is not principally about Jesus Christ equipping his followers with new insights or tools or strategies or power to fix things. Rather salvation lies in the drama of God’s grace and mercy into which we are invited as participants.
Another things that those with dementia challenge us with is ‘time’. One of the most common phrases I’ve heard this year is ‘I’m so busy.’ And I wonder if our biggest idol in life is ‘Time’ – we no longer see time as helpful to life but rather something that must be followed and obeyed, sometimes at great costs.
Time is completely different when it is solely based in the present moment, where the past and present hold no power. When we visit those whom have dementia we are challenged to rethink ‘time’ and its power over us, – is our presence in the moment, our loves and care ruled by looking at our watches or are we willing to be, as they are, people held in the mercy and grace of God?
And in that time recognise our own humanity as created beings, also held lovingly in the arms of God who says
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
So what does this mean for us as disciples of Jesus as we lose our memories or as we care for those who do?
One, I believe that as we are all remembered, re-membered by God, our task is to hold the memory of those who can’t remember – to retain who they are, even if they don’t know who they are – to tell their stories – they may not seem who they were but in Christ they are and always will be. John Swinton said something that extends this thinking,
We need to make it possible to belong – to and to truly belong means we need to be missed – those with dementia are often not missed.
So to be a remembering community also means to truly miss those who can no longer gather with us for worship.
Two, as we are remembered we are to remember what it means to be disciples of Jesus called to be in his presence – we are called to do many things but primarily our call is to worship the one who made us by being who we are, loved and held by His grace.
Three, I think it is about taking away the power of time in our lives – or should I say it is about taking time rather than being taken by time to sit and be and love as God incarnate, took time, to be, to love, to save .
Let’s pray to the one who will always be with us, always remember us and always love us.