Memorial Day Sermon from 2012

The year my Dad died we traveled to Washington D.C. to celebrate my brother earning his doctorate. We visited the Mall and the memorials. On a beautiful spring day, we gazed upon the lifelike Korean War soldiers cast in bronze moving up a slight slope. The bronze troops wore raincoats, ponchos and other winter gear. At times my dad told a story of sleeping inside a frozen tank. Mother stood weeping and then whispered: ‘they look so young, they look so young”.

We stood on hallowed ground.  That day I was caught in the tide that grabbed Lincoln at Gettysburg.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

 

The idea of hallowed ground made sacred by sacrifice or loss goes back to the OT. In Genesis Four, one of Adam and Eve’s jealous children kills the other. The Lord confronts Cain saying: “Listen, your brother’s blood cries out from the ground.”   The ground cries out for justice. The ground speaks. Today, along the roadside people erect crosses as monuments. Life is sacred so the ground calls out.

Col. Jim Apple shared a video link from Rear Admiral Lee speaking at a national prayer breakfast about the resistive rules on speaking about faith. Admiral Lee shared that for the past four years everyday 1 or more service personal will be killed in a mission related mishap or accident, on that same day; every day 10 seriously injured, each day 1 active duty member will kill themselves, every 65 minutes a veteran will kill themselves… that is 300 times the national average. Admiral Lee simply asked “I ask that you pray for them”

When anyone falls to the ground, God remembers, God cares. Jesus taught us in both Luke and Matthew: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them (who falls to the ground) is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”   God remembers even the sparrow. God remembers.

In Matthew 23 and Luke 11 Jesus speaks of “the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah”. On day of barbeques, lake parties and sheet sales it is easy to forget. The Creator and Divine Parent remember.

The blood of the righteous, the ground cries out for victims, the suffering and tears of families reaches the ears of the Almighty. Let us not forget the sacrifice and sacredness of life.

Our historic sanctuary holds a sense of the sacredness of hallowed ground. A plaque near the narthex reads. In sacred memory of the members of First Methodist Church who sacrificed their lives for democracy, peace and justice during WWII 1941-1945. In honor of DA Daniel Jr. , Robert L. Dossett Jr, Marvin E. Hammers and William King

A memorial plaque that hangs outside Col. Miller’s SS Classroom upstairs, who taught Sunday school with knowledge and wit for 42 years. Hear this prayer encased in bronze.

The tower chimes system of this church is an offering of thanks for divine protection of their sons and the sons and daughters of their neighbors from the perils of air, land and sea in World War II, given by a grateful father and mother

 

Today, we come honoring bravery, devotion, sacrifice, and liberation.

We come remembering guiding national principles like: democracy, peace and justice.

We come to pray for those soldering for justice in fatigues, clerical colors, and food pantries.

We come to mourn with those mourning.

We come today remembering the cost.

 

It is not an easy day to preach. It is not an easy day to speak truth. When we are stirred by deep emotions it is hard to speak or to hear truth. It is not easy to speak truth about current events.  We want to honor service and sacrifice, but not to glorify war. To glorify war seems to miss the realities, the casualties, the deep sacrifices of armed service. To glorify war seems to dishonor the soldier’s sacrifice- as if to say the troops are doing the glorious instead of the difficult. To glorify war is to gloss over any mission to end oppression, injustice or evil. It dismisses the call of the gospel. I am not the first preacher to struggle with this.

In 1899, Walter Rauschenbusch wrote addressing the brewing controversies in Europe that would spur two world wars: “It is comparatively easy to understand the issues of the past; it is the hardest and rarest thing to understand our own times. In the din of voices to recognize the call of God: in the eddying swirl of movement, to discern the sweeping current of God’s will, that is wisdom indeed. And to have the courage and faith to seize the opportunity; and bracing you feet against the Rock of Ages, to swing the unwilling world around: that is true service of the kingdom of God.   It is hard to hear the Gospel when so many voices call out to us.

Memorial Day has a deeper significance in a church where so many have served in the armed services. I prayed over various Scriptures for this Memorial Day. I turned to Psalm 122.

I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” 2 Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem is a well-built city; its seamless walls cannot be breached.   Jerusalem’s Temple is where the people go to praise the Lord 5 There stand the thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. 7 May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. 8 For the sake of family and friends, I say, “Peace be with you.”
This prayer for peace is written by King David. David was a warrior from his youth. Before growing to his adult body, David slew the giant Goliath and then led the armies of Israel to great victory. David rose from champion to become king. He was a warrior king. David “broke the iron spear of the philistine raiders”. Each year David’s Mighty Men drove back Israel’s enemies and expanded the kingdom.

David is not a theologian locked in an ivory tower. David is part of the military industrial complex. He is no counter cultural anti-establishment hippie. Yet, David longs for peace.

King David, the courageous champion of battle, knew the pain of war. David knew the grief of war. Indeed, David endured a civil war, lead by one of his sons. Absalom schemed, plotted and raised a rebel army.   Absalom drove David from the Royal city. The King fled for his life absorbing the crowds’ taunts. The once King regroups with three loyal generals and musters the loyal troops. Joab, David’s closest long-time confidant caught up with the rebellious. Absalom flees riding a mule. An oak tree catches Absalom’s thick flowing hair in its’ low hanging branches. The mule rides off from under him. Joab strikes down the Kings’ son as a treasonous ingrate. The rebellion is crushed.   Upon hearing of victory and the rebellion’s defeat David does not rejoice. No, like our heavenly father David weeps for his lost children. Absalom, my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”    The King-Father mourns the traitor’s death. Our God mourns every lost son and daughter.

King David, the warrior king, longs for peace.

The soldier longs to come home from battle.

I rejoiced when they said unto me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” 2 Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem. ( back home)

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.”
How beautiful it is to go into the House of the Lord. How beautiful to know peace.

Jesus preached: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9)

 

How beautiful to come home and experience peace. Should not we long for peace? Should not we work for justice? How beautiful to come home to peace.

 

Bunny Comer brought her Dad’s picture into the office this week. She shared about her father going off to WW II and faithfully serving for “democracy, peace and justice”. As a 4-year-old little girl, she longed for him to come home. Some of the mean children on the playground would bully her saying “Have the Germans killed your Father yet?”

One day, living in New Orleans, her father came home. She shared the recollection of a 5-year-old: the starch in her best dress, curling hair and readying for the return. She walked into the dining room and there stood her father, back after almost 2 years. She just kept looking up at him. “He looked like a giant to her.” He embraced her and she sat in his lap. Over 70 years later she recounted “This was the most beautiful day of my life.”

To Come Home—

To enjoy peace,

To bring peace to others,

To bring freedom from oppression,

to bring justice,

to liberate the oppressed,

These are the longing of every loving soldier.

 

King David returns home ready to enter the Temple and worship. Let us cherish our freedom to worship. Nations that deny people the freedom to worship are categorically oppressive.  The soul that is not allowed to convert, openly pray, or openly assemble is denied it most fundamental human right.

King David sees the thrones of justice. The supreme courts, the local cops, and the law offices off the town square defend the oppressed.   Law is a basic human right. May we cherish our courts, our laws, our freedom to speak, to print and to vote.

How beautiful is the city… it’s walls.” Modern armaments make walls less effective, but walls, towers, and palaces are defensive fortifications. How beautiful are its towers-watch towers-citadels. David celebrates a secure peace. We cannot find security in swords, arrows, palaces, and walls alone. We must place our security into something greater than force and weapons.

 

Perhaps our strongest defenses is upholding ideals greater than the survival of the fittest warrior. Jesus cautions in Matthew 26:52 Put your sword back in its place; for all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”  

 

We must long for peace. We must live as peacemakers.   We must not live for battle. Indeed, we must live for peace, even if at times we feel we must take up arms. Indeed, we must wage peace.

We must live into our baptismal vows: “resisting evil, injustice and oppression”. We must work for justice and stand against oppression.   We must be counted on to act in accordance with our core principles, not just “in our interest”. We must resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We must be salt and light.

 

Dietrich Bonheoffer, was a pastor in Germany during the rise of National socialism there. Bonheoffer warned of the runaway patriotic fervor that gripped a hungry broken Germany. Bonheoffer, in time would participate in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. He stood opposed to the National Socialists-The Nazis. Bonheoffer died in German consecration camp, just a few days before it was liberated. His beautiful theological mind early on saw the danger of the church not standing in judgment over state. Bonheoffer decried pulpits caught up in the spirit of the patriotism engulfing Nazi Germany.

In a sermon entitled “Gideon,” Bonheoffer preached: “In the church we have only one altar. And that is the altar of the most high, the Only One, the Lord to whom alone is due honor and adoration; the Creator, before whom all creatures must kneel, before whom the most powerful but is nothing but dust. We have no auxiliary altars for the adoration of _______. The Worship of God, not _______, happens here at the altar of the church. Anyone who wants anything else may stay away; they cannot stay with us in the house of God. Anyone who requires an altar for themselves or anything else mocks God, and God is not mocked.”

Run away patriotism leads to all sorts of atrocities.

God stands above every nation, every government, and every loyalty.

God remembers every lost child.

God is the giver of human rights.

The very ground calls out for justice.

There is room but for one altar in our lives.

 

So today, let us come and celebrate all who have served.

Let us mourn with all who mourn.

Let us remember all who are serving right now in the war on terror that has spun over 12 years.

Let us remember our soldiers who are recovery physically and mentally.

Let us celebrate valor. Let us honor bravery. Let us not glorify war.

Let us not take lightly hard-fought values like democracy, peace, freedom, and justice.

Let us honor every life.

Let us remember that oppression and injustice breed much evil.

Let us never be blinded by emotion, patriotism, “our interests” , or politics.

Let us have but one altar in our lives

Let us move forward and work for peace

 

As we close I thought of a beautiful prayer, one prayed by president Lincoln

I love it for its noble aspirations.  It calls for us to work for peace.

It reminds us that we are as only as noble as our last action.

I love it for it reminds us to press on with firmness to do the harder right thing.

So I today. let us pray that we might live

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

4

Amen.

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