By Rev. John Zehring
When he commemorated the life and courage of Rosa Parks, former President Barack Obama proclaimed, “Rosa Parks reminds us that there is always something we can do.” There is so much that could be said in tribute to Rosa Parks, but the key word in Obama’s celebration of her actions is the verb: remind. Of all she accomplished, her legacy is that she reminds all people in everyday life that there is always something they can do. Hers is a legacy of reminding. That is likewise what President Obama did: he reminded the world of her legacy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. also engaged in the act of reminding. President Joe Biden, proclaiming the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday, spoke of King’s legacy of reminding: “He reminded us that we have a duty to uphold our founding ideals and work to perfect our Union… From a Birmingham jail, he reminded us that ‘human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability…injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action’.” There again is the key verb, to remind. Focus closely on the word remind.
When John Lewis returned to Selma during the 50th anniversary celebration, reminding was the goal: “We come to Selma to be renewed. We come to be inspired. We come to be reminded that we must do the work that justice and equality calls us to do.”
Perhaps the greatest reminder of all is, well, God! Reminding is one of the primary functions of the Holy Spirit. Jesus put it this way: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Underline the word remind, for if reminding is the work of God’s Holy Spirit, then reminding is a holy act for us to strive to do as our own ministry and as our own legacy.
When you remind others of God’s grace, justice, mercy, and love, you are a messenger on behalf of God, an angel. That is what the Greek word aggelos, translated “angel” in the New Testament, means. An aggelos is a messenger. The Bible does not say it is always a supernatural messenger. Any messenger is an aggelos. The guy next door bringing you some news is an aggelos. A messenger from God is an aggelos. Angels deliver a message. When you remind someone of information that lifts them up – encouraging them to call to mind something which they already knew before – you are an aggelos.
The Apostle Paul labored as a reminder.
- He wrote to his young assistant Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6) “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you…”
- To the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:1) he wrote “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news…”
- To the Romans (15:15), he emphasized that he was reminding them of important information when he wrote “Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder…”
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the job description of the Prophets was to remind Israel to be faithful to God. When Jesus shared his Last Supper with his disciples, he asked his followers evermore to be reminded of him, which Christians celebrate at every Sacrament of Holy Communion. The purpose of Communion is to be reminded: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
As I consider my own legacy, I wonder how well I have served as a reminder of God’s way. Consider your legacy. What would be your legacy of reminding? Would anyone ever say of you, as Obama said of Rosa Parks… “S/he reminded us that there is something that we can do”? Of all the superlative achievements and accomplishments that you might attain, perhaps the act of reminding is highest of all. Of what did you remind those around you?
The great thing about the service of reminding is that you do not need to be creative, original, on the forefront of progressive thinking, or to possess credentials or experiences which certify you as an expert or an authority. All you need to do is to remind others of that which is planted within them, deep in their souls and their memories.
It has been my life’s goal to be a reminder… to remind others of God’s love, compassion, grace, justice, and mercy. Like the Prophets of old, I have sought to remind people to be faithful to the Divine. I have hoped to be an advocate for social justice, after the manner of Jesus of Nazareth. But friends have told me, “That’s easy for you. You are an ordained minister, a preacher, an author of articles and books. You have a voice in the world. But what can we do? How can we make our voice heard? We are common, everyday people. How do we make a difference with our lives?”
Many of the churches I have served have printed in their weekly church bulletins a listing of staff, and then include this listing: “All members are ministers.” Right they are. To minister means to serve. To serve is to be a minister. Whenever you serve, you are a minister. Perhaps no one put this more eloquently than Martin Luther King, Jr. In his classic sermon “The Drum Major Instinct” which he preached at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on February 4, 1968, King preached, “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.” To serve is to minister. To minister is to remind of God’s way of love, forgiveness, grace, justice, inclusive acceptance, and God’s kingdom, where God’s will is done.
As I consider the legacy of many who have paved the way for me, and of my own legacy, and as you consider your legacy and your calling, perhaps the best thing that could ever be said about you is that you reminded. Such is the very work of the Holy Spirit, and such can be our own humble ministry to those around us.
Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations for 22 years as a pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. He is the author of more than 30 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.”
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