A sermon preached by Bob Keller May 26, 2013, Memorial Day weekend, based upon John 14: 15 – 21.
Have you ever had to make a difficult decision? Not one of those life-changing decisions, but one of those that just has you vacillating back and forth, back and forth. You know – rye or whole wheat, pants or skirt, red tie or blue. You just can’t decide.
I faced something like that this week – how to relate something to the scripture lesson that was chosen. Memorial Day? The scandals in Washington and the ever-present distrust in a government that seems evermore unable to function for the common good? Or, of course, the massive storm that affected our fellow Americans in Oklahoma? I wondered how many of them on Monday remembered what they had likely heard in church on Sunday, Pentecost Sunday – that the Spirit would come like a mighty wind.
Sorry, I don’t mean to make light of that tragedy. Nor do I mean to imply that anything about that storm was from God. I believe that God wept, just as so many Oklahomans and many others did, at the loss of life and property that followed that storm. God will help them to recover as we do what loving Christians do – we reach out to help one another because we’ve been shown by the Spirit of Truth how to do so. It’s because we are in Him and He is in us that we show the love of the Father through our love and our actions.
That, in a sense, is also why we mark Memorial Day. In its very simplest form, Memorial Day is a Day of Remembrance. Its scope, however, is much wider than that. While the exact origins of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as was formerly called, are clouded in the mist of time.
The story is told of an elderly mother in Mississippi who, in 1863, visited the graves of her two sons. Both had been killed defending their beloved south and she went to place flowers on their graves. When she had finished, she went over to two unmarked mounds of dirt and placed flowers there, too.
Others called out to her, “What are you doing? Those are the graves of Union soldiers!”
She said, “I know. But somewhere up north there is a mother, or perhaps a young wife, weeping because these men died.”
I don’t know if that story is true or, if it is, if that’s how Memorial Day got started. But it does point out something. We are all God’s children and we all deserve to be remembered. We are all part of God’s family
Over the course of the history of the United States, more than a million men and women have given their lives in defense of freedom – freedom from oppression, tyranny and terrorists that would destroy our way of life. One of the freedoms that I enjoy because of their sacrifice is the ability to stand here with you to worship God. Because we’re in America, I know that I can stand here and freely worship God. And that freedom isn’t just for me; it’s for all of us because we are all created equal.
The men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice had no idea who I am. Many of them gave their lives for me before I was even born. But I can claim the freedom that they died for because I’m an American. The very least that I can do is to remember them.
Try this: the next time you visit a veteran’s memorial or take a walk through a cemetery and see the bronze plaques indicating a veteran’s grave, say their names out loud. Take a moment to also remember that these men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice had mothers and fathers, perhaps brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, cousins, friends and maybe children and grandchildren. The sacrifice was made by those people, too. And it was made for people that they didn’t know and would likely never get to meet. The price of that sacrifice was their blood; their very lives.
In the section of John’s gospel that David read for us this morning, Jesus is reminding His disciples of his coming death, that His blood would be shed, that He would be leaving them. I don’t know if, at that point, any of the disciples fully understood why He had to die. But they knew that He wouldn’t be with them for much longer and they were afraid of that.
I’m sure that questions were running through their minds: Who will lead us? How will we know what to do? Where should we go? How will we survive?
Jesus knew the concerns of the disciples so, to allay their fears, He promised them that, though He would be gone, another would be sent to “help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of Truth.”
Then He went on to say, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”
In other words, “Remember.” Remember what I’ve taught you and you will show your love for me.
I checked my concordance and the word “remember,” or some form of it, is used more than 250 times in the Bible. Why? It’s our nature to forget isn’t it?
The platform manager at a local commuter rail stop noticed a woman sitting alone in her car in the driveway to the platform. She was kind of slumped over the wheel. He was concerned and started walking toward the car. As he got closer, he couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying. He got close enough to call out to her and asked, “Is everything all right?”
She said, “NO! Everyday for years I’ve been bringing my husband to this station so he could catch his train to go to work. Today I forgot him!”
We need the Holy Spirit living inside us so we don’t forget. That Spirit is the one who reveals Jesus to us and through Jesus, we see the Father. Jesus made sacrifices for us so that we wouldn’t have to make the sacrifice ourselves.
Jesus was the ultimate soldier. He left his home in heaven much like the soldier leaves his or her home and loved ones. He gave up his heavenly body to put on the body of mankind much the same as a soldier puts on a uniform. He went to a strange land and lived among strangers and ultimately gave his life for them. The price of sacrifice was the shedding of His precious blood.
Should we observe Memorial Day? Should we remember the sacrifices made by so many men and women, not to mention their loved ones, who paid the price – the shedding of their blood – so that we can live free?
Should we also pay tribute to the ultimate soldier, Jesus Christ, for shedding His blood so that we can be free of the bondage of sin? We must open our hearts to that Spirit of Truth. The Spirit will enable us to do what Jesus wants us to do – to follow His commands and be loved by Him. The Spirit will help us to remember.
In closing I’d like to relate to you a story of an Army medic who served in Vietnam. It was 1969 and the unit that the medic was assigned to was on patrol. Suddenly they were under heavy fire and one of the men was shot. The medic rushed to his side and saw that the man was mortally wounded. He knew that there was nothing he could do to save the dying soldier so he did the best he could to comfort him. The medic tells us that the last words the soldier spoke just before he took his last breath were “remember me.” More than four decades later, the medic remembers.
In 2009, President Obama said, “Today, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. In the face of our common dangers, with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. With our eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, may we carry forth that great gift of freedom and deliver it safely to future generations.”
Today…. we mourn, and we remember, the brave men and women who laid down their lives for our freedom and we pray that they have found peace with God. Let us resolve that their sacrifices will always be remembered by this grateful nation.
But more importantly, let us remember the ultimate sacrifice made for all mankind by the death of Jesus Christ. It is by his death that we are all forgiven and it is through our faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the indwelling of the Spirit of Truth, that we find hope in a new life.