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.