sermon given on May 25, 2014, Memorial Day Weekend
Scripture from the NIRV: Psalm 23
1 The Lord is my shepherd. He gives me everything I need.
2 He lets me lie down in fields of green grass.
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths
for the honor of his name.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid.
You are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff
5 You prepare a feast for me
right in front of my enemies.
You pour oil on my head.
My cup runs over.
6 I am sure that your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life.
And I will live in the house of the Lord
May We Never Forget
Each week we join in worship, seek renewal in scripture, in prayer, and in hymns. The routine keeps our faith alive even when our hearts seem broken beyond repair. Routines and traditions are practices for developing internalized behaviors and long-term memories.
This particular Sunday is part of an American tradition honoring the men and women who have served our country and even beyond our borders. Establishing a national day of tribute has expanded into a practice of remembrance for all individuals who contributed to our lives.
Celebrating the Christian holidays provides Christians mileposts by which to review and to renew the story of Christ’s ministry. Christmas and Easter may be the two most obvious, but there are others, too, even in our denomination there are days to acknowledge Methodist mileposts. For instance Saturday, May 24—just yesterday—was Aldersgate Day.
Aldersgate is a reference to John Wesley’s personal religious experience that took his own faith in God and Christ to a new level of understanding. Today we might call it an epiphany. Even though he was educated and was preaching already, he had doubts about his own faith even considering ending his preaching career.
Peter Bohler, a Moravian friend, advised him, “Preach faith till you have it. And then because you have it, you will preach faith.” He followed the advice and on May 24, 1738, Wesley attended a meeting in Aldersgate and during a reading of Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans, he had his own religious experience:
. . . “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” [Accessed on May 24, 2014 at Christianity.com]
Remembering Wesley’s Aldersgate experience is not as profound as the other Christian traditions, but it does connect us to the foundations of who we are as Methodists. The traditions are tools to maintain beliefs, historical events, and memories. Memorial Day was made law with the significant purpose to honor the fallen soldiers in our American experience.
We need this weekend. We need to remember all those who have greatly influenced our lives, who led us in our faith journey as well as our human life journey. We need to remember those who gave us birth, as well as the generations before them. We need to remember those wise neighbors or Sunday school teachers who made a difference to us. We need to remember those whose friendship made the toughest days better.
The Huffington Post posted a variety of quotes to help us reflect upon Memorial Day. One set of quotes relates to memories and a second set relates to freedom. When the quotes are read through the filter of Christianity, both categories express the importance of the American Memorial Day tradition:
In reviewing them, I found words to guide us in remembrance of those who have gone before us and are now a part of us in so many different ways.
- “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.” -Thomas Campbell
- “Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” -The Wonder Years
- “What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” -Helen Keller
- “Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.” -Rossiter W. Raymond
Memorial Day may be an American tradition, but if we work on developing memories of Christ’s stories, think how enriched our faith will become. While we are visiting the cemeteries this weekend, we are simply checking in with our memories. We are reminded of the life on earth experiences of those who have gone ahead of us.
Use this holiday weekend to look for the memories that have developed your own faith journey. Consider the people who modeled a Christian life for you. What Bible verses did they teach you? What spiritual practices did they demonstrate? What practices do you share with those in your lives now? How does your faith explain your understanding of life’s eternal journey?
The other set of quotes refer to freedom. As Americans that generally translates into the principles established for our country, outlined in the Constitution. As Christians, consider what freedom means through the filter of Christ.
- “Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose. Anything less is a form of slavery.” -Wayne Dyer
- “True freedom is tolerant. It gives people the right to live and think in new ways.” -John Twelve Hawks
- “Freedom lies in being bold.” -Robert Frost
- “The secret of happiness is freedom, the secret of freedom is courage.” -Carrie Jones
- “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” -Nelson Mandela
When Christians view freedom as that given to us by our acceptance of Christ as our savior, freedom as defined by the Constitution is incorporated by the one commandment to love one another, as we want to be loved. In fact, our Christian faith allows us complete and unlimited freedom. American freedoms are worth fighting for, true; but as Christians that freedom supersedes the constitutionally identified freedoms of Americans.
Each time we stop to honor an American serviceman or woman, we acknowledge the freedom they have worked to preserve or to share with others in our global community. Each time we see the flag, we know it symbolizes our American heritage.
As Christians, we can participate in all these traditions, but we can also honor the traditions that have developed because Christ died for our ultimate freedom. At each grave, at each family gathering, at each event that fills our calendar, we honor those who have taught us our life lessons. We honor all that God has provided us to continue the life journey he gave us. May we continue living our lives so others’ memories will preserve what Christ has taught us.
Dear Gracious God,
We enter summer with all the fanfare of barbecues,
gatherings, travel, and more.
Memories will be made; memories will be honored;
and Americans will salute sacrifices made.
Keep the travelers safe on the busy roads.
Dry the tears of those who feel pain.
Teach the young the value of traditions.
Teach all that memories live eternally.
Teach all that faith fuels freedom.
Thank you for all the grace and love you give.
Thank you for the unconditional love of Christ.
We pray that others may see your reflection in us.—Amen