I was supposed to fill the pulpit at West Fayette Presbyterian next weekend, but when I found out my daughter would be in town from Ohio, I made some quick adjustments and switched pulpit supplies to fill in this week instead. I mean, after all, how often do you get a chance to preach to your adult children?
And it was extra special because my other local daughter also decided to show up!
They heard the message, but as I often do, I thought I would share it with my other, extended family. I hope it brings a positive message, but, more important, bring glory to God.
So, here goes … straight from the pulpits to your eyes.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Next week, we will be celebrating — and commemorating — Memorial Day. It’s a time set aside to remember those who served in the military and made the sacrifice.
It all started right here in Waterloo (NY) when Henry Welles, a local druggist, mentioned at a social function in 1865, while it was good to honor the living heroes of the Civil War, it was also important to remember the dead of that war by decorating their graves.
It didn’t take legs until the next summer when Welles passed along his thoughts to General John Murray, then the Seneca County Clerk, a Civil War hero and known as a “man of action.” Murray quickly developed a plan, a committee was formed and plans were made to close all business May 5, 1866 and devote the day to honoring the dead.
The citizens of the town embraced the idea. Women met and prepared wreaths, crosses and bouquets for each veteran’s grave. The village was decorated with flags at half mast, evergreen boughs and black streamers. Civic groups joined a procession to each of the village’s three cemeteries, led by veterans marching to martial music. There were services at the cemeteries, including speeches by General Murray and a local clergyman.
The ceremonies were repeated the following year, and then moved to May 30 in 1868 in accordance with General Order No. 11 from General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Over the years, the commemoration was expanded to include not just Civil War casualties, but veterans of each and every conflict. It was the said the formal, dignified manner in which Waterloo observed the day created the pattern for future Memorial Day observances across the country.
On Memorial Day 1965, Congressman Samuel Stratton made a speech at Maple Grove Cemetery in which he said he would encourage Congressional recognition of Waterloo as being the birthplace of the holiday. It easily went through the legislative process with President Lyndon Johnson signing a Presidential Proclamation designating Waterloo as Birthplace of Memorial Day May 26, 1966.
What does that have to do with our readings today?
Not much … and everything.
The lectionary convolutes the readings this week. Our Gospel reading (John 17-1-11) actually takes place well before the events in our first reading from Acts (Acts 1:6-14) and our second reading from 1 Peter (1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11). In fact the Gospel account is from the Last Supper.
Here Jesus acknowledges His time is at hand. Here He prays to the Father for protection for the men gathered at the table. …the words You gave to Me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth I came from You … they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them in Your name that You have given Me, so they may be one, as We are one.
It all started right there. The Son brings the trinitarian nature of God to the front. He explains in detail how He and the Father are One and calling on the Spirit to be with the apostles as they move to spread the Good News.
It’s our Christian commemoration. It’s our Christian Memorial Day.
Shortly after this prayer Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice … the sacrifice for you … the sacrifice for me. He was the bridge re-connecting us to God and everlasting glory.
John repeatedly emphasizes that connection. People were created for a relationship with God, although we don’t always recognize that. God’s presence is hidden until God chooses to reveal it. Jesus is telling his merry men this is the time for the revelation.
The crucifixion completes Jesus’ work of glorifying God on earth. By His resurrection and ascension — we’ll get to that in a minute — Jesus returns to the heavenly glory God prepared for Him in love, and Jesus prays His followers will one day join Him in the Father’s presence to share in this glory and love (17:5, 24-26).
I wasn’t there at the Last Supper, despite charges I may be old enough. But I suspect this prayer — this huge prayer — was missed by Jesus’ boys. Some of them were bickering on who was the “favorite” — what family hasn’t experienced that. Judas skipped out a little early — perhaps before the prayer — to carry out the betrayal. Peter was too busy defending himself when Jesus told him he would deny Him three times.
I could see them scratching their collective heads the next day as Jesus hung on the cross. They had seen the miracles — from water into wine to raising Lazarus from the grave and hundreds of healings in between — but their eyes remained closed. Hmmm. Sound familiar today?
That brings us to our reading from Acts. … You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When He had said this, as they were watching, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. While He was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”
Didn’t get it again! Where did He go? Is this when Jesus restores Israel?
I’m just speculating, but maybe they were thinking, here we go again. First He dies, then He returns to us, now He disappears again. Obviously they were still looking through secular eyes. I can only imagine these blue collar workers — none of them were theologians or preachers or teachers — scurrying back to safety of the upper chamber. At least we’re told they devoted themselves to prayer. At least they were trying to make sense of all this. At least they supported each other.
By the way, we celebrate this event as Ascension Day — 40 days after Easter. According to my calculations — and the liturgical calendar — that will be Thursday (May 25). And still today, are we thinking here we go again? First we lament Jesus’ death, then we celebrate His resurrection and now He ascends out of this world. Are we looking through secular eyes?
Except for our Mennonite friends, very few of us recognize Ascension Day as a lynchpin of our faith. Yet, do we devote ourselves to prayer as we try to make sense of it?
I can’t speak for you, but I confess it’s just another Thursday for me.
Jesus’ promises in this text affirm His ascension is not the end of the story. His departure initiates the next chapter in the story of God’s salvation.
Of course, our enlightenment (hopefully) will come on Pentecost in a couple of weeks (June 4). That’s when our merry band of apostles were enlightened by the Spirit. And as I’ve stated previously, the work of the apostles extends to all believers. And just what was expected of the Spirit-endowed apostles? What is expected of us as Christ followers?
To be witnesses for Jesus.
That brings us to our second reading. 1 Peter tells us that road is not easy. In fact, it is downright hard. It cost some of the apostles their lives. It cost thousands their lives as witnesses for Christ. It could cost us, hopefully not our lives, but by being scoffed and ridiculed for our beliefs.
But 1 Peter puts it in perspective. Do not be surprised … rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so you may also be glad and shout for joy when His glory is revealed…
It brings in the glory Jesus was talking about way back at the Last Supper. That’s what He was praying for. Give these guys … give you and me … the power to share the glory of God.
Ethicist Dr. Miguel de la Torre pointed out, “The early churches were persecuted not for what they believed but for what they did. They preached a message of liberation. To preach good news to the poor, freedom to the imprisoned, sight for those blinded and liberation to the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19) is to reject conformity with the prevailing power structures.”
Contemporary churches — or at least God honoring, Bible believing churches — are also being persecuted not for what we believe but for what we do. We preach good news. We preach liberation. We reject conformity. We see with “different” eyes … and it’s not a revolution against the world — this world — but a harbinger of another world, a spiritual world. De la Torre suggests contemporary churches might become more relevant if they again focused on “orthopraxis (correct action)” rather than “orthodoxy (correct doctrine)”
1 Peter reminds us since Christ suffered, Christ-believers can expect to suffer as well. Part of our responsibilities as Christ-believers are to be in solidarity with others who suffer in the world because of Christ, and to resist the devil, which, as the strong metaphor of the prowling lion represents well, will not rest until it finds someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
We may not face the trials of the early Christians, but we face our own, contemporary trials. And since the devil is not resting, neither should Christ-believers.
So, how does all this relate to Memorial Day. It is right to remember and honor those who served and died. That’s the mortal realm. How much more should we remember and honor those early followers? That’s the spiritual realm.
God had faith in a rag tag bunch of misfits — Abraham … Moses … Eli … Jeremiah … Jonah … Hosea … Mary Magdalene … Paul (when he was Saul). Jesus chose 12 … headstrong Peter … temper tantrum prone John and James … tax collector Matthew … nationalists Judas and Jude … fishermen.
God has faith in you. God has faith in me. Warts and all. With all our baggage. We’re all in this together. Your joys are my joys. My tribulations are your tribulations. We’re called to support each other through the good times and the hard times. And we’re called to share our incredible blessing — the known love of God for us.
We are all inter-connected — the apostles, the faith community through the ages, the Union and Confederate soldiers, our friends and enemies — through the love of God, the example of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.
It reminds me of a story that keeps getting hits on my blog. Ironically, I can’t take credit for it. It was passed to me — and shared with family, friends and on my blog — from actsweb.org originally published in The Daily Hug, http://www.2nspireyou.com/.
A mouse looked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife opening a package. What food might it contain? he thought. But he was aghast to discover it was a mouse trap!
Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning, “There is a mouse trap in the house. There is a mouse trap in the house.”
The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it.”
The mouse turned to the pig and told him, “There is a mouse trap in the house.”
“I am so very sorry Mr. Mouse,” sympathized the pig, “but there is nothing I can do about it but pray; be assured you are in my prayers.”
The mouse turned to the cow, who replied, “Like wow, Mr. Mouse, a mouse trap. Am I in grave danger? Duh?”
So the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected to face the farmer’s mouse trap alone.
That very night a sound was heard throughout the house, like the sound of a mouse trap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught.
The snake bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital. She returned home with a fever.
Now everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient.
His wife’s sickness continued so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.
The farmer’s wife did not get well. In fact, she died, and so many people came for her funeral the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide meat for all of them to eat.
So the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think it does not concern you, remember, when the least of us is threatened, we are all at risk. We ARE all inter-connected!
And the faithful say, Amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Lord the day ahead will be full of distractions. In the midst of it all help me to always be aware of You by my side.