(art courtesy of markroberts.com)
One of the remarkable characteristics of being human is that we all live to be remembered. No one sets out to live an inconspicuous life; not one of us is born to live in the shadows; no one wants to go through life to death unremembered. All of us live to connect with other humans and thus to be remembered.
I know that is certainly part of my humanity. I want to be remembered as a person of integrity, character and values. As a Christian pastor I want to be remembered as a leader, a follower, a disciple and a visionary. And I want to be remembered by my family, my friends, and the communities that I have had the chance to be a part of. Just as I want to be remembered, I know that it is a commonly shared vision others carry as well. People want to be remembered for their accomplishments, for their vocational prowess, along with many other things; we all want to be remembered and we want to be remembered positively.
Dr. Alex Pattakos who is the author of Prisoners of Our Own Thoughts and co-founder of OPA! Center for Meaning in Santa Fe, NM recalls seeing a bumper sticker that read:
“Be the kind of person that your dog thinks you are!”
We not only want to be remembered but we want people to remember us favorably. Let me frame it a different way – I heard that you should live like you are dying; that a good exercise in life is to sit down and write your own obituary and eulogy and whatever you aspire to be remembered for should guide the rest of your life and your actions. To be the kind of person you want others to think you are!
But the reality is that this life is not all that we have to be concerned about – for those of us who believe in eternity then we are concerned with this life and the life yet to come. I am curious though how much time we actually invest thinking beyond the grave. Is it once at our confession and conversion? Is it periodically based upon a movement or activity at church? Or is it more routine, daily even?
While all four New Testament gospels record that Jesus was crucified with two criminals only the Gospel According to Luke records the conversation between the crosses. One thief is unrepentant – he encourages Jesus to save himself and to save them as well. His concern is for this world, this life only and he wants to live. The other thief who according to other gospel accounts had been reviling Jesus now comes to a realization – Jesus is innocent and unworthy of death. Jesus is dying for a different reason – to liberate humanity from sin and to welcome repentant sinners into his kingdom. Thus the criminal asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. This dying thief wanted to be remembered.
The Old Testament speaks of God who remembers and when God remembers, God acts to help or save. God remembered Noah and saved him from the flood (Genesis 8:1). God remembered Abraham and spared his nephew Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29). God remembered Rachel and opened her womb so she could conceive (Genesis 30:22). God remembered the covenant with Abraham and delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:24). And so on. When God remembers God acts to help or save. The dying thief asked to be remembered and God acted!
Jesus replied to him that “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The operative words of promise are “with me” and “today.” The promise of God’s activity is that when we call upon the name of the Lord we are saved – which means that we are brought into relationship with God. Jesus said “if you have seen me then you have seen the Father.” When Jesus said to the thief “with me” then the promise was to also be with “the Father” for eternity. God’s remembering was salvific and eternal for this dying thief. And it was for “today.”
Simply stated the kingdom of God is now but not yet. I believe that the kingdom of God is emerging on earth as it is in heaven but it is not yet complete – that is the work of God still to be accomplished. Any of us who call upon the name of the Lord are saved today to live in the emerging kingdom of God that is today, tomorrow and yet to be fulfilled…it is not some far off, distant, other reality place. The word “paradise” speaks of a king’s garden – a lush, cool, place with flowing water. In the garden God walked with the our human parents and it was paradise. My eschatological view is that God is working to recreate His perfect garden here and that one day all of us who call upon the name of the Lord will walk in the cool of the garden with Him. But until that day comes, we can walk with the Lord in the kingdom that is coming – that is now, but not yet fulfilled. For there is much kingdom work still to be done.
There are many in our world who are estranged from God’s kingdom. Our mission is to share with them the good news that they have not been abandoned or forsaken; they are not alone because it would be out of character for God to forsake anyone. Instead we are a people who Jesus prayed for from the cross when he said “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” It was a prayer for all of humanity across the span of time past, present and future. It calls upon God to remember on our behalf. Our task is to help others see this as a present reality, to hear God’s invitation to the kingdom and to come and call upon the name of the Lord. We cannot be derelict in this.
So who do you know that is dying in their sins just like the criminals next to Jesus? Who do you know that is estranged from God? God has already remembered them and has reserved a spot in the garden – will we help usher them in? When your divine appointment comes, be bold enough to say that God has already remembered and is waiting to welcome into paradise. Today is the day.
Blessings for the journey.