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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Immemorial Days

2017-05-28 John 17 01-11 Immemorial Days


John 17:1-11

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. "I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.




Memorial Day – or, Decoration Day, as it was first called – was born in the hope of restoring unity to our nation. After the Civil War, Decoration Day was when people decorated the graves of fallen soldiers and gathered as citizens of re-united states to be solemnly thankful that we are united, no matter what state we're were in. Lest we forget, while we honor the individual sacrifice of men and women in service to our country, this Memorial Day was created to remember the enduring meaning of their death, that as a nation we are one. We are one.


In his Second Inaugural Address, only weeks before his death, Abraham Lincoln turned the hearts of this nation toward the work of Memorial Day.


He said,


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.



Memorial Day Weekend is a time in which we decorate the graves and memorialize the lives of fallen soldiers. But it's also a living memorial to the fierce work of democracy. This is a time to dream of and work toward a day when we achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. To this we rise to continually re-dedicate ourselves as Americans, as one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. We are one. Let us be one, despite our differences.




You don't have to be Christian to be American. And you don't have to be American to be Christian. There are Americans of every creed and color, just as there are Christians all over the earth. We don't have to agree with each other to be Christian. And, Lord knows, there are plenty of Americans who are just plain disagreeable. It's hard to achieve "malice toward none" when your default is malice toward everyone who doesn't "Like" the same things you do. We will never all be Americans in exactly the same way. Nor will we ever all be Christians in the same way. What unites us is not our sameness, but the absence of malice and the presence of charity for any and all who are different. This is what makes us one.


Jesus prayed. Prayed – for his disciples. Because from the start, this rag-tag group of 12 were very different from each other. Jesus prayed – prayed – for his disciples, saying, "Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."


Jesus prays that God will protect them. Protect them from what? There were a lot of things early Christians needed to be protected from. But mainly, I'm guessing, they needed to be protected from themselves, and from each other. Because malice and the lack of charity gets us every time. If you're looking for the bad in people, you'll find it. If you're looking for reasons to disagree, you'll find them. We have to pray – pray – that God's power in the name of Jesus Christ by the gift of the Holy Spirit will protect us from our own dark angels, and will make us one in spite of ourselves.


In the mysterious sacramental gift of Baptism, we ask each other, standing before God, standing before the church, the living Body of Christ, we ask, "Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?"


And everyone thinks, "Well, I guess so." But they all say, "I do." We don't. And we know it. As soon as we go out those doors, or maybe even before, we are turning right back to our ways of sin and wondering what evil and its power is doing in the world now let's check the phones and think about what someone might have done to disrespect us. It's true and you know it. We're all the same.


But being the same does not make us one. Having the same faults, the same malice, the same predilection to sin doesn't make us one. It just makes us separate little sinners. We can't make ourselves the Body of Christ. That's the work of the Holy Spirit. And without the Holy Spirit, church is just a social club of fairly nice people. What makes us one is the mysterious, sacramental gift of God. God's gift of gracious mercy calls us, compels us, baptizes us in ways we can't explain as people who have chosen to turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as our Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love. By Christ's calling, we pledge ourselves to be his faithful disciples, obeying his word and showing his love, personally and publicly, as part of a body of faith. We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord. We may be weird and different in all other possible ways, but God – God – makes us one. We are different. We are baptized. We are the one body of the Risen Lord.




In 1868, Gen. James Garfield, Senator from Ohio and soon-to-be President, gave the first Decoration Day, Memorial Day, Address. He stood at Arlington National Cemetery and said,


With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept; plighted faith may be broken; and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.


Garfield understood the sinful nature of human beings. Only in death is our baptism complete. Only then can we truly turn away from the ways of sin and evil and its power in the world.


But the spirit of the Living Christ empowers us, so that in this life, we can work together, and will, with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right. The prayer of Christ is that we will be protected from each other and from ourselves. And the hope of the Risen Christ is that in this life, despite our failings, we can be one, and will be one even as he and the Father are one.