Opening Prayer Lord, during this Memorial Day weekend, we give thanks to God for all who have labored for the good of the national community. For those who in all times and places have been true and brave, who served their country in its hour of need, and especially today, for those who gave their lives in that service. We remember with gratitude their courage and strength, and we hold before you those who mourn their loss. Look on us with your mercy. As this day brings memories of those they have lost, may this day also bring your comfort, and our gratitude for the honorable men and women who gave their lives to enable our freedom.
Now we have come together in spirit to rejoice and celebrate the wonderful and beautiful things that remain: in love, in kindness, and in the hope of a new day, and take confidence that you are faithfully working in your compassionate love for us, as you always have, do now, and as you always will. Amen.
Song Great is Thy Faithfulness (with Beginning to End) Part 1
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been, thou forever will be.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
Beginning to end, my life in your hands.
Great, great is Your faithfulness.
You never let go. This one thing I know.
Great, great is your faithfulness.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Message: Heritage and Legacy
Memorial Day reminds us of the great cost expended so that we can have such a wonderful national heritage, and it could also inspire us to leave the best possible legacy to those that follow us.
God, through Jesus paid the ultimate price to leave us a Christian heritage that grants us freedom to have power over sin, and now the torch of his mission is in our hands to pass down Christ’s legacy to those that follow us. It is a challenging task.
A couple decades ago, Then 76 year old Geneva Woomayoyah Navarro, learned that fewer than 900 people (and most of them were elderly) were able to speak her native Comanche language. She mourned: “Our language… holds our culture together. It tells us who we are, where we come from... This is more than communication; it is about heritage and legacy. It is about what we have received from generations before, and what we give to generations after.” 1
Christianity also has a language and culture of its own. Marching to Zion through Emmanuel’s ground; cherubim and seraphim and glassy seas; phrases about blood and body and sacrifice; words like piety, religion, resurrection, redemption, renewal and regeneration -- just to name a few words in our language that are becoming endangered by neglect, improper use, and even redefined into sarcastic connotations.
Our faith language helps shape us, and shape us together, into a heavenly culture. But we have the same tension as Navarro, and actually, many languages that are fading into extinction across the world. When the language that shapes us is no longer accurately understood, it can no longer effectively unify or communicate the legacy we want to leave.
As we pick up a passage in Peter’s first letter, he had been speaking about our faith heritage and is now informing us as to how it could shape us. As you hear Peter’s words, think about how someone not acquainted with Christianity would react to the vocabulary and phrases that most of us find so beautiful and familiar we feel we understand them. And yet, if we tried to explain phrase by phrase to the unknowing, or maybe even to ourselves, how the words are practically applied to modern life -- many of us might find it a bigger challenge than we would expect. This is what he writes for us who are shaped by the salvation we have accepted as our heritage…
- 13 … prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14 Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15 Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 17 … live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect of blemish. 20 … 21 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. (Portions of 1 Peter 1:13-23 (NRSV))
Holiness. A man came down from the mountains all dressed up an carrying his Bible. A friend asked him, "Elias, where are you going all dressed up like that?"
Elias replied, “I've been hearing about New Orleans. I hear that there is a lot of liquor and gamblin' real good naughty shows." The friend looked him over and said, “But Elias, why are you carrying your Bible under your arm?" And Elias replied, "Well, if its' as good as they say it is, I might stay over til Sunday."
This is a common perception of holiness in our culture. It is associated with the stereotypical artificial saint, a person who pretends to be good but isn’t -- and who condemns others for the same bad behaviors. Our culture has turned a beautiful goal of obtaining mature, positive character traits into something ugly.
Holiness does not mean hypocrite, nor does it mean perfect performance. The connection of holiness with perfection is partly why the conclusion is hypocrite, for no one performs perfectly, yet people are eager to saddle others with the hypocrite label if they can cite even one perceived errant event in a person’s life.
Holiness means to be purely devoted. I like to add the “w” so that we are wholly, in every aspect of our life, prioritizing our desire to strive for Christian maturity.
Holiness also means to be set apart by God, for God, for a special and unique purpose that he has created for you, or even a purpose for which he has created you. Put the definitions together: living a holy life means that we are fully devoted to living out why we think God has placed us here, to fulfill his mission for our lives and for His world.
Peter immediately follows up this phrase up with another that elaborates on the mission. We are to live in reverence to God while we are in exile, or some Bible versions call it strangers, sojourning, … the idea is that our time on earth is temporary, we are just traveling through, and while we are here, we reverently represent God -- Paul uses the word “ambassador” (See 2 Corinthians 5:20) -- someone who lives in one (earthly) culture while representing their home culture, (in our case) our heavenly culture.
There is a modern parable -- I’m sorry I don’t remember the source -- of an excellent boss, who by his skill and care and example, modeled company values in a way that the employees would do anything for him.
One day, the boss called in one of his best employees and said, “We’ve been expanding in the global market, but there are still some areas we have not yet reached that have great potential. I want to send you to one of those places so you can spread the word about who we are and what we are about. The response may be great, or it may be lousy -- but either way, remember that you represent us.”
The valued employee, (with more than a bit of inner nervousness) packed his bags and headed off to the new land. He was dumbfounded by what he experienced. It would be like Vegas to a gambler or China to a wall builder, the culture was overwhelmingly fascinating. His home company was so far away that it didn’t even seem real. He was still collecting their check, still reaping their benefits, but it seemed like the company was too distant to care or to help.
It is easy to take for granted how much grace we have received, so many blessings from the heavenly Father that we sometimes neglect to count, so busy we may fail to live the mission to which he has called us. Because, all this other stuff right in front of us is so tangible, so real, so urgent, so fun, so glittery and distracting-
On an old TV show, Harry is being sent to do something and he says he’ll get right on it, if he doesn’t get distracted by anything shiny; and he states the point by lifting up his pointing finger, which makes his sleeve fall toward his elbow, which reveals his shiny silver watchband, which immediately distracts him. 2
In the midst of silly or seriously real distractions, it is tempting to become one with this temporary culture, to adopt values about inappropriate greed for silver and gold and self-centered living. Peter reminds us to remember the true source of full and eternal life, and that we’re just traveling through this land, and we are placed here to accomplish a purpose: to mutually help each other prepare to live faithfully in Christ’s presence.
And we fulfill that purpose and represent the kingdom by sincerely loving each other. Years back on a Michigan campus, demonstrators on both sides of an issue gathered. A student who had no vested interest in the topic chided both sides: "Why can't y’all just get along!" It is easy for someone to claim someone else’s conflict is pointless. But when we have a vested interest in a personal disagreement, it often becomes deep and complicated, or at least, not so easy to let go...
Barbara Brown Taylor talks about her nephew Will’s first birthday party. My short version is that there were only a handful of family relatives and godparents. Everyone gathered in a circle as all eyes centered on the toddler as he twirled in a cute, but complicated happy dance. That is, until jealous 7-year-old Jason, the son of the godparents, couldn’t stand being ignored anymore and charged through the circle with outstretched hands and shoved Will in the chest. Will landed hard on his bottom and then his head. He was stunned. Then the shock wore off and the pain set in and he howled. It was short-lived as his mother hugged him and helped him to his feet.
Brown reflected. She thought for his next birthday she’d have to buy him a bb gun, iron knuckles, or a “karate for toddlers” DVD. She lamented that sweet happy Will would have to learn to defend himself or eat dust on the playground, buried by a bully.
Will, now back on his feet, tottered over to Jason. As an only child, no one had ever hurt him before. He had no concept of meanness, but he knew Jason was at the bottom of this unpleasant thing. Not knowing how to deal with it, he did what he always did. He put his arms around Jason and laid his head against his body. All tension and meanness melted out of the entire room. Brown realized the apostle Paul was right when he wrote “Do not repay evil for evil… and do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (See Romans 12:(9-)14-21) Paul had an incredible faith in the power of love, even if it cannot guarantee the kind of results experienced in that birthday party. We are not saying we are supposed to be weak-hearted doormats, but as soon as we begin to practice “cursing those who curse us” and refusing to forgive and seeking revenge, we have been infected by attitudes and actions that do not represent our heavenly culture. Brown wrote, “The real enemy is not whoever pushes us down in the middle of our dance but whatever it is inside of us that wants to leap up and push back.” 3
What legacy, what culture, what language are we leaving the next generation. Is it a legacy of values and priorities not conditioned by difficult circumstances or glittery surroundings? Is it revering our ultimate destiny over this temporary journey on earth? Is it a legacy of loving?
This is not only the legacy we receive from Christ, it is the legacy we can leave because we can know that from birth to death, our life is in his faithful hands that will never let go of us. If we look with our hearts, we will see his merciful provision to live spiritually rich lives every day. Hear the rest of the song we played earlier.
1 Michael S. James, Tongue-Tied: Linguists and Native Speakers Fight to Preserve Dying Languages, (ABCNews.com, 2002).
2 From Third Rock From the Sun (Season and Episode unknown).
3 Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: The Mystery of Suffering, (UK: Canterbury Press Norwich, 2018) End of Chapter 5: Feeding the Enemy
Song Great is Thy Faithfulness (with Beginning to End) Part 2
Beginning to end, my life in your hands.
Great, great is Your faithfulness.
You never let go. This one thing I know,
Great, great is your faithfulness.
O Great, great is your faithfulness.
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Prayer Mighty God, in whom we know the power of redemption, you stand among us in the shadows of our time. As we move through every sorrow and trial of this life, be it the ravages of human made or natural disasters, the loss of loved ones, of those who preceded us, and by their courageous acts of life and death, allow us to enjoy and become all we can become in our land; -- uphold us in the inequities of life with the sure and certain hope of that day when Jesus comes for us and we will live, restored, forever, in his presence.
And before that time, may we become more and more effective at trying to be your ambassadors of hope and help in this life in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Blessing Now as we go through this week, serve your God with patience and with passion. Be aware of your heritage in Christ. Be deliberate in enacting your faith and sharing his legacy to those around you. Be steadfast in celebrating the Spirit’s power. And may peace be your way as you journey through this world. Amen.