The text below comes from an old sermonette I gave way back on May 26, 2001. Normally, I do not write my sermons or sermonettes verbatim — and even on the odd occasion when I do so, I do not give them exactly the way I wrote them (no one wants to see someone up there just reading his notes!). But sometimes, when I sit down to the computer, they just sort of flow out that way.
Anyway, it occurred to me that the thoughts in this old sermonette — addressed to my fellow members in the Living Church of God in Dallas, Texas, six years ago — would make for an appropriate blog entry for this Memorial Day weekend. I hope that I am right and you will benefit in some way from the reading. Personally, these are things I try to reflect on each Memorial Day, though I am generally not as diligent as I would like to be. (Sometimes I think the story of my life is wrapped up in those last 12 words…)
I hope you had a great Sabbath yesterday and a meaningful Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) today!
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This Monday most of us will be off work, perhaps manning our barbecues, or perhaps sitting in front of the TV. Very few of us will actually be doing anything in relation to the actual reason we are being given this Monday off.
We will, of course, be observing Memorial Day (though Memorial Day is officially on May 30). This morning, I want to give you some thoughts to meditate on for Memorial Day.
On our way to Church this morning, we did not have to show our papers to an armed guard at the door… We don’t have to wear jackets with a yellow “7” on the breast to indicate that we are Sabbath-keepers… We don’t have to live in daily fear of being hauled from our homes without explanation by soldiers without mercy… We can pretty much go where we want, when we want, doing what we want. We are free.
Very few peoples on this earth can say that: “We are free.” Yet by the mercy of God we are free — free to raise our families and pursue our dreams and to worship our God. But until this nation fully recognizes the need for spiritual freedom and the blood of Jesus Christ, it will pay for its physical freedom with the blood of its sons and daughters.
Remembering those who have paid that price, those fallen heroes who have died in America’s wars, is what Memorial Day is all about. It is not so much a day of national mourning but one of remembering — preserving the memory, service, and sacrifice of our war dead.
To me, it makes sense that this American observance occurs so frequently near Pentecost, for it is Pentecost that marks the beginning — or at least the escalation — of another war, a war concerning true freedom. 1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” For nearly 2000 years, the Son of God has been manifested to the world through His church — His Body — and it is in His church that the war against the devil is now raging. If you have been called by God (John 6:44), then it is a war to which you have been drafted. If you have been baptized, then it is a war in which you have been fighting.
Some have characterized the war as a desperate struggle to save the entire world — a cosmic contest between God and Satan. But this is incorrect. There is no “contest,” and the end of the conflict has been predetermined. Our side wins! Yet, this does not negate the imagery called up by the apostle Paul of true Christians as soldiers for Jesus Christ, fighting against the devil for not only our own lives, but the lives of those we love, and to spread the news of His glorious, literal Kingdom, soon to come to this earth. It is a message that Satan the devil, the ruler of this age, would rather have us keep to ourselves. And so we fight.
It is a war that has its share of fallen heroes… Matthew, Mark, Luke, Peter, Simeon, Andrew, the two Jameses, Stephen, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Jude, Matthias, Paul, Barnabas… All these were killed by the enemy in this war. If the tales surrounding their deaths have any truth to them, some were hanged, some were stoned, some were beheaded, and some were crucified. One was dragged through the streets to his death while tied to horses, one was shot with arrows, one was flayed alive, and one was thrown from the top of the temple and beaten to death where he landed.
And although this war began in its current configuration and scale on Pentecost, it didn’t really begin there, but has been raging for some time. In Hebrews 11 we read —
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented — of whom the world was not worthy.
Tacitus, the ancient Roman historian, writing within only 10 to 20 years after John wrote the book of Revelation, tells us that “[m]ockery of every sort was added to [Christians’] deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”
Brethren, we have our war dead to remember on Memorial Day.
I would like you to take some time to think of them this Monday. Considering those who have blazed the trail before us is a Biblical thing to do — hence Hebrews 11.
In Hebrews 12:1-2, we read,
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
With their example before us, what will we do, now that we carry the banner? The message Peter preached, Paul preached, Barnabas preached, Matthew preached, Jesus preached — it is now OUR message to preach. The banner they carried into the fight is now OUR banner to carry.
What are we going to do with it?
It has not been my purpose to be morbid this morning, but, brethren, we need to KNOW — and to KNOW THAT WE KNOW — WHAT we are DOING here! WHAT we are in the MIDDLE OF! WHAT is TRULY AT STAKE!
Do we know? Do we understand?
We are not here to play church.
We are not here to play social club and who’s in/who’s out.
We are not here to play coffee pot wars or pot luck wars.
We are not here to play debate club.
We are in a struggle against Satan the devil and the ultimate powers of evil in the world, and our lives — temporal & fleshly, as well as eternal & spiritual — and the lives of those we hold most dear are at stake.
This Memorial Day, consider spending a few moments thinking about our war dead…
— about the commission with which they were entrusted
— about the devotion, loyalty, passion, and commitment they gave to it
— and about the prices they paid to serve their God and to do His will
…and on this Memorial Day, consider reflecting on the fact that you are now entrusted with that same commission. Consider reflecting on what levels of devotion, loyalty, passion, and commitment you are giving to it. Consider reflecting on the price you would be willing to pay for your service.
The official U.S. Code for Memorial Day states the following (emphasis mine):
“The President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe each May 30, Memorial Day, by praying, each in accordance with his religious faith, for permanent peace; designating a period during such day in which all the people of the United States may unite in prayer for a permanent peace.”
Brethren, the message that God has given us is the only hope that this nation, this world, has for that “permanent peace.” Let’s reflect on the sacrifices that have been made to pass that hope of permanent peace and true freedom on to us, and in doing so let’s gird ourselves for the sacrifices we must make in order to pass that hope on to others.