Auld Lang Syne and 2012: The Year of the Prophet?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

In what has got to be one of the cruelest twists of history, Robert Burns (The great bard of Scotland) was the author of some of the most powerful and thoughtful poetry ever written by a common pen (To a Mouse; A Man’s a Man for a’ That;  Scots Wha Hae, etc…).  Yet, the one poem he is most known for is his very forgettable song, Auld Lang Syne which is often sung at the turn of the New Year by highly inebriated people.  It is likely Burns actually took an old poem by the same name and merely re-worked it a bit, since it lacks his usual poetical power. The phrase “Auld Lang Syne” is a Scots phrase meaning, “old long since.”  I recall this phrase because it does call us to remember – and that is the theme of this blog entry.  Indeed, this is my deepest prayer for the church of Jesus Christ in 2012.

Walter Bruggemann, the Old Testament scholar, observes that the main function of a prophet is to awaken the spiritual memories of the people of God.  The church in the West is plagued by spiritual amnesia which has cast us into a perpetual state of forgetfulness.  I sat in a Christmas Eve service this year in a United Methodist church in Maryland where the pastor had clearly forgotten the Gospel (no difference between believing in Jesus Christ and believing in Santa Claus, the pastor cheerfully declared, because it is not about ‘facts’ and ‘history’ but about child-like faith and believing!). Perhaps you’ve had a few experiences like this as well.  I sometimes leave church filled with joy and the memory of God’s mighty deeds.  Sometimes I leave church angry and upset.  Why the difference?  It has nothing to do with the style of the service (contemporary or traditional, modern or liturgical).  It comes down to the capacity of the pastor and leadership to invoke the memory of God’s mighty acts and apply that to our lives today.  Today, at almost every turn we meet Christians who have forgotten.  We forget the apostolic message, we forget our beginnings in God and we forget our final destiny in the New Creation.

The value of recollection – of remembering the “old long since” –  is crucial to the life of the church.  It is surely one of the great challenges for men and women preparing for full time ministry.  How do you awaken the spiritual memories of the people of God?   It is the church which must remember God’s mighty deeds (See Psalm 77 for a great example of this).  I think Bruggemann is pointing out to us that this kind of renewal cannot happen without the re-kindling  of the prophetic gifts.  The pastoral calling will always be central to the life of ministry.  But we desperately need a generation of prophets.  We need men and women bold enough to remember and to call the church to remember.  In so doing, they will touch on the moral nerve of the Old Faith.  We need that prophetic capacity which is the dogged refusal to forget.  A little more prophetic courage is not only good for the church – but it helps the world to see that we really are different.  We are not mere peddlers of religious commodities, we are bearers of God’s word and mediators of his divine presence.  I don’t know about you, but I’m praying that 2012 be the year of the prophet.

Comments

  • Jim Bradshaw says:

    Professor Donald Boyd rightly taught in his preaching classes that the kerygma, the content of preaching the gospel, would be found in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. When compared to Paul’s sermon in Acts 13, you can find amazing similaries concerning the proclamation of Christ. Today’s prophet will remind the Church of its true kerygma!

  • Kurt Brown says:

    Amen…speak to your people Lord!

  • Shawn Morris says:

    Amen! Let us remember. But let us remember the acts of God with and for the faithful people of throughout history. Let us remember that our God who was faithful to the people of God in history with be faithful to the people of God today.
    I wonder if the spiritual memory that most people think of is the “good old days” when Sunday schools were full, everyone came to church because there wasn’t anything else to do on Sunday. I hear “old long since” the good old days.
    Let’s remember and may the memory prompt our action to be the church in our world today.

  • Pastor Tim, I hear what you’re saying. Please don’t see this as wrong motive, but I wrote a book about the issue of remembering and forgetting. The premise of the book is that we have misapplied Philippians 3:13-14 and we teach people to forget things that are behind us and look only for those things which are ahead of us. This message is popular this time of year. The only things we are called to forget or leave behind are the self-righteous acts we have performed to be right with God and we are called to look ahead and upward to Christ.

    Personally, I don’t think many of use ever forget the things we have done or experienced from the past. We work through them and allow the grace and mercy of God to set us free from the guilt and shame. We still our stories of the things God delivered us from – our testimony!

    I also agree that the things from the past that have been healed by God are the very same tools we use to help others going through similar situations. If we cease to remember God’s grace, we have nothing to share – no hope in dark times of God working in and through us.

    You are right! The Bible is full of commands to remember the mighty acts of God from the past to encourage us to seek the same mighty acts in our own time! And oh how we need the mighty works of God in our midst!

    Preach on Brother.

    Steve

  • The right kind of remembering helps us to see where we (and where we’re going) from God’s perspective. It connects us with our own journey, missteps and all, and offers the possibility of purposeful change. This is true most of all with Scripture, but also with our Wesleyan (and catholic) heritage. There is power in knowing our story, noticing how far we’ve fallen, and finding inspiration for a change of direction.

  • Kim London says:

    I agree with Shawn and I believe that things are just as we do them, so if we decide to change situation – this is up to us!

  • Elizabeth P. says:

    And another AMEN! Thank you for these words, Dr. Tennent.
    Also, I wonder if the UM pastor from Maryland is one of your readers–I hope so.