By the time these words from Deuteronomy were actually written down, and the people to whom they were directed were able to come back and read and study them, the events they are telling about that will take place in the future have already happened. The future of which Moses speaks and for which the people hope has already become the past which they are commanded to remember. Does that make sense?
Thinking about it reminds me a time travel movie, and those sometimes make my brain hurt. The one I grew up with was Back to the Future, featuring a twenty-something Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly. Marty is a typical teenager in the mid-1980s, with a pretty unremarkable family. The bright spots in life are his love of music, his girlfriend, Jen, and his unique friendship with the local “mad scientist,” Doc Brown, who somehow figures out how to invent time travel. In fact, Marty becomes the first person to try it out when he is accidentally thrown back 30 years into history to prom season in his own home town - - the night his parents fell in love.
His unexpected presence in town threatens to change the course of the future, though. Marty carries a picture of his family in his pocket while he wanders around the past, and he notices when it checks it out that he and his siblings are sometimes fading away as it seems like his parents may not get together after all. The reset of the movie is the story of how Marty tries to get “back to the future” without disrupting his future-parents’ romance. They have to end up together to ensure his own survival in that future.
It’s not the most complex of all time travel movies, but still, trying to keep it all straightened when I first watched it as an 8 year old was sometimes confusing. Really I’m not a huge fan of the time travel genre. They frustrate my more pragmatic mind. They seem to imply that all of our happiness can pivot on a single event, a single moment in time. They seem to imply that if we miss this one particular moment in time we’ll find ourselves careening down a wasteful path toward the wrong and definitely less happy future. I can’t stand that view of time, happiness, and the meaning life. I guess I’m not much of a romantic, am I?
But maybe what these time travel movies get right is that our past can shape our future. The temptation in each new generation is to become obsessed with what is new, improved, and better than before. The temptation in each new generation is to assume that because something is old it is no longer useful or important or valuable for today. But that just isn’t the case, and Scripture reminds us of this again and again and again. Scripture reminds us and God commands us, giving us sacraments and rituals to help us relive the formative events of our collective history and our personal faith and telling us to share with one another our memories, to witness to each other how we have experienced the grace of God and the blessing of community.
And that’s what we‘re going to do today - - We’re going to LIVE this Scripture. We’re going to tell our stories where we have come from. We’ve spent a lot of time recently talking about where we are going, but today we need to hear about the rest of the story. This time of sharing is not just for those who have been in this particular church for a long time, but those who have come to us from other place. What I want you to think of and testify to the rest of us are times when God worked through the church - - times when the church got faith and discipleship right.
Remembering from where we come will do that. Remembering from where we come will transform us as it propels us to our future. That’s why this value is written the way it is. First Presbyterian Church values where we have come from and where we are going. Go ahead and repeat after me – “We value where we have come from…” “…and where we are going.” It’s not either/or. It has to be both/and. It’s not “We value where we have come from” over here and “where we are going” over there. It has to be both of them together, mixed up, part of one unified story and body. Our faith puts such an emphasis on knowing our history, trusting that what God has done for us in the past is what God will do for us in the future, finding hope in covenants made and promises fulfilled. We can’t survive, we can’t flourish without both our past and our future, which means our present needs both.
We are best together. We are best when the generations mingle. We are best when those who have been here for more decades than we can remember share in ministry with those who only know this building. We are best when we share our varied journeys of faith, those who can’t remember not knowing Christ, and those who know the day their lives changed forever. We are best when we tell our stories to each other and help each other find the common thread of the faithfulness of God, the redemption of Jesus our Christ, and the life-giving and transforming power of the Holy Spirit that runs through them all. We are best when we remember in faith together.