Thursday, November 24, 2016

Remembering the Alamo: A Thanksgiving Homily



The crumbling facade of a stone building is missing its roof and part of its second floor. A pile of stone rubble sits in the courtyard. In front of the building are a horse-drawn carriage and several people in 1850s-style clothing: women in long dresses with full skirts and men in fancy suits with top hats.
By Unknown - Frank Thompson, The Alamo (2005),
p. 106, Public Domain 
"Remember the Alamo!"

The cry, unbidden, echoed through my mind the moment I saw it. I was staring at Google Maps, locating my hotel in relation to the rest of the conference venues. And there it was: "The Alamo." Right across the street from my "home base" in San Antonio.

I paused, 5th grade history lessons distant and faded.

"Remember the Alamo?"

What exactly was I supposed to remember? Something about Texas, I think. An old fort, maybe? But that's as far as I got. Whatever happened there had long ago had been discarded as one of those "useless" facts that would not help me in real life.

Israel was also called to "Remember!" Remembering was not just the means to an "A" in history class. It was the key to the survival of their faith. Without memory, faith fades.

And here's where the Alamo comes in. Why don't I remember the Alamo? Because I only heard about it once, in a history class. In order to truly remember, in order for it to matter, the story must be consciously inscribed on my memory through recital. I don't remember the Alamo because the story has not become part of my story. I ceased to tell it as soon as the childhood test was turned in.

Psalm 135 and 136 are psalms of remembrance. They walk through Israel's history, retelling what God has done and thereby keeping those memories alive for each new generation. Psalm 136 sounds the rhythmic refrain, "his love endures forever."
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever...who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever...to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever...and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1, 5, 16, 24)
For Israel to cultivate a faith that endured, they knew they must keep telling the story.

My quick weekend trip to San Antonio left no time for sightseeing. I attended three breakfasts, two receptions, ten paper presentations, a council meeting, seven meetings reconnecting with friends and mentors, a podcast interview, and two publisher meetings. In between all this I wove my way through the book displays, hunting for spring textbooks, pitching book ideas, and buying the books on my list.

I was told it only took a half hour to see the Alamo, but since my hotel was a 10-minute walk from the conference venue, and I was going strong from 7am to 10:45pm each day, I missed the opportunity to see it.

The Alamo (Photo: Rex Koivisto)
Ironically, though, I will always remember the Alamo. I will remember it as the place where God came through in a dramatic way for me. I arrived in San Antonio with a "hole" on my resum√©. I was (essentially) unpublished. Sure, I had written several book reviews, and I had a small contribution in a student resource on the Septuagint, and I had been blogging for years, but in order to get a permanent job, I would need a book contract. This was the next crucial step in my transition from "student" to "professor"—to demonstrate that I could and would make an ongoing contribution to scholarship.

I went to San Antonio with one prayer and one goal: a book contract.

And I came home with two!

It was a miracle weekend, and we will always be grateful.

Wikipedia tells me that the Alamo was an important battle in the fight for Texan independence. It was not a victory, but a battle the Texans lost to the army of Santa Anna. That defeat became a rallying cry for Texans to join the cause and take back territory. In a sense, then, my Alamo was years ago, when I stared failure in the face and considered giving up.

I am so glad I didn't. God has carried us through thick and thin.
His love endures forever!

What has God done in your life this year? Today is the day of remembering. Tell the story as you gather with family and friends. Only in the retelling will we "remember the Alamo."

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