Monday, May 30, 2016

Remembering the Faithful

Preached on the Sunday before Memorial Day, May 29, 2016

Scripture readings: Psalm 77; Hebrews 11:1-3; 11:32-12:3

 Memorial Day is a day for remembering. That is what the word “memorial” means. We remember those who have died; not to hallow their dying (though death, itself, is holy ground). We remember those who have died in order to hallow their living.
Photos at White Bluffs, Hanford Reach National Monument
May 2016
It is easiest to hallow lives when those lives are in some way shaped by faith. Faith works on many levels. We were created for a life of faith and for a world where faith could be expressed in every kind of relationship.
The thing we call sin came from the decision to not live by faith. Our first parents were given a life in paradise by a loving God, and they chose to not have faith. They chose a life where they would not trust the most trustworthy source of love that they knew.
The people who live faithfully by faith, and who trust in something besides themselves show us what this world has lost. The root of all faith is faith in God, but we can show the power of faith in all our relationships and all our great loves: the love of God, the love of one dear person, the love of family and home, the love of neighbors and enemies, the love of country.
The people who have some kind of faith live in a way that makes hope real. They live in a world where reality seems dark, and yet they decide to live in such a way as if they see better things than this world shows. They see better things than other people see.
The heritage of people of faith is about lives not deaths, because their deaths are not the only point. The point is how they lived through to the end. Whether we are talking about life in a home, or a school, or a community; or whether we are talking about life in a hospital room, or a nursing home, or a battle field; there is a way to live all the way through, seeing what so many others don’t see.
The word of God teaches us about the heritage of the imperfection of the people of faith; so that we can see how they learned from grace, and were shaped by grace.
The word of God teaches us about the heritage of the variety of people of faith. It tells us of people going forth to live, or going forth to fight. It tells us that the call to join the life, or the fight, is the lot of all different kinds of people: husbands and wives, parents and children.
The heritage of the people of faith is the result of their choices: choices about family, choices about how we are called to serve and worship God, choices about how we are called to serve our country, choices of whether to blend in or stand out, choices of whether to fight or surrender, choices about where to stay or where to go.
The New International Version says: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The King James Versions says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
I like the older translation at this point. I think that older translators and earlier scholars knew more about the substance of faith, and were not blinded by our modern love of feelings.
Substance is about reality. Reality is real, whether we feel sure and certain about it or not.
Faith takes hold of a substantial reality that it cannot see. Then faith gives substance and reality to those invisible things. Faith builds our will, and our actions, and our way of life. Faith makes what we believe real substantial in our own lives, and faith makes what we believe real for the purpose of serving and blessing other people.
Faith is not about feelings of certainty. If faith is assurance, that’s because the assurance comes from outside of you. Faith comes from something real and substantial reaching into you and changing what you know, and how you live.
Faith is like the pipe that the old timers drove into the hillside behind their house, on their homestead, where a spring seeped out. That’s why they built their house there in the first place. The pipe in the hill connected to the spring, and (if that was a good spring) the water came out as if you had turned on a faucet and left it running forever.
That is the connection between faith and the reality of the life of God that comes to you through Jesus. The pipe let the reality come through. The pipe of faith lets the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (hidden in the hill) come through.
Faith is about a living connection with things that are real, whether you see them, or feel them, or not. This is how the best life goes on. This is how ordinary, imperfect people become our heroes. This is how these heroes change our lives.
Here again, my Baci (my Polish grandma) is an example. Baci was always poor, and she didn’t have very many nice things, and she lived in a tiny apartment. Before I moved with my family to a small town in Northern California, we lived close to most of our relatives and, during the Christmas season, we always had several Christmases. One of the Christmases, every year, was always at Baci’s.
There was no fancy table for our Christmas feast. We all ate on TV trays, and the little kids ate on the floor, and there were hardly any Christmas decorations. But Christmas was just as real at my Baci’s as it was at any of the other Christmas celebrations we were part of.
Christmas, at Baci’s, was “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” My Baci will always be one of my heroes.
In families, and communities, and churches, and nations, the things that matter most are real even when people are struggling, or weary, or worried, or afraid. The things that make a family, or a community, or a church, or a nation continue to be real. They continue to be in force.
They just pass unseen, except for those who see with the eyes of faith and live accordingly. Those who live accordingly live by faith; and they do the things that are worth remembering. They are the heroes.
The mutual “substantiality” of faith and the things hoped for “realize” each other. They make each other real.
The most important part of our heritage is the story of the faithfulness of God; who continued to love a world that didn’t love him back, who died on the cross for a world that wouldn’t live by faith and trust in him. In Jesus we see that our God is a hero who does heroic things. The faithfulness of God makes him our hero.
The heritage of faith is also the story of a faithful memory: a selective memory; a “some-timers” memory.
This is what I mean. Are there terrible troubles, and hurts, and griefs to remember? Yes!
Are there gifts, and graces, and pleasures to remember? Yes, absolutely!
How do the bad things render the good things unreal? They don’t. So remember the gifts, and the grace, and the pleasure, and live accordingly.
Sometime or other you have smiled.  Sometime you have laughed. Sometime you have known that it was an easy thing to give thanks.
This is what the writer of the psalm meant, when he wrote, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” (Psalm 77:10) The “right hand” is the hand of the handshake, or the hand raised high in blessing. The psalmist remembered the times when God had shaken his hand, and when the most important things were easy remember, and when faith saw things the most clearly.
A heritage of faith speaks to how we live in this world as individuals, as a church, as a community, and as a nation. Faith renders its judgment on the continual crises and dangers of this world. Faith decides whether we are doomed or not.
The news, and our politicians, often surround us with a message of continual crisis. Faith creates life by not surrendering to crises, and angers, and messages of doom.
Some communities are famous for their fighting. My home town was like that. You would hear about a meeting of the city council where a citizen invited a council member to step outside for a fight.  You would hear about shouting at a meeting of the church elders. Our town was famous to me, in my young days, for how many good projects and ideas could be destroyed by the envy and rivalry of others. My home town had a lot of churches, and a lot of Christians, but not so many signs or examples of faith.
There is a humble form of faith that comes from asking yourself what you would do in a “worst case scenario”. What is the worst thing that could happen? Then what would you do?
You can always do something. God designed the world so you can always do something: even if it is only to wait, and to watch, and to pray. But sometimes you can do much more.
In the little town where I served before I was called here, I was asked to fill a vacancy on the Park and Recreation District. I must have been on that thing for about ten years. I went on it because no one else wanted the job. I ended up being president for years. I have to confess that I never felt like I knew what I was doing. I made some big mistakes. I didn’t want to be doing it. I had no agenda. I had no plan. I didn’t want to take any side. I didn’t want to be against anyone. All I wanted to do was try to make good things happen, and to avoid making bad things happen. That’s all I wanted, and I still hope that was inspired by a desire that came from faith.
Then there is the faith that is shown when a person commits themselves to serving their country in the armed forces. Until my teenage years, the big war was World War II. When I was a kid playing war with my friends, World War II was the war we fought.
Every kid’s parents were affected by that war. Most of our dads were in the service during that war. It was the last truly unquestionable, noble war. Once we were in it, nobody doubted it. It was a war of faith, in its way.
That changed in the 1960’s. In 1966 the Vietnam War was getting fierce. I grew up in conservative places so, when “The Ballad of the Green Berets” hit the top of the music charts, in 1966, it was the favorite song of almost every boy in Live Oak. But even in Live Oak it was a questionable war. We had the sons of a college professor in our school, and we all knew that they were commie sympathizers.
The fact is they (the questioners) were on the winning side. Veterans came back from Vietnam and got heckled and spat at: never in Live Oak, but in other places. Heroes were not treated as heroes. Because of the draft, people who had not chosen to fight and lay their lives on the line did it anyway, at the bidding of their country, and they never got the respect they deserved.
My point in this: it takes faith to see the real value of the world. This world is a created and much died-for place; and it is full of created and died-for people. It takes faith to see that a country, such as ours, with such a great heritage, and with such a confused and conflicted present, means something far greater than it seems to be. Faith sees that those who serve their country are exercising a kind of faith that is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Their rightful place is in a cloud of witnesses.
The creation of our world has its roots in the invisible. That means it has its roots in God. And this world in which we live has been died for by Christ.
Even for those who don’t know Jesus, even for those who don’t believe in God, the people who live for others, and who give of themselves, and who even pay the ultimate price for their giving, are acting out a kind of faith in people, and in home, and in country that implies that all these things are far greater than they seem. A world that is created and died for means something, and these faithful givers and “sacrificers” have given of themselves for something far greater than they know.
 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Our world has a heritage that is invisible to many people. Our world, and all of life in it, exists in the shadow of the cross and the God who hung there for the sins of the world. Our heritage is the story of a Jesus-formed memory. He is the beginner and finisher of our faith. Jesus (truly human and truly God) joins together our faith and God’s faithfulness.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

If the life of faith is like a race, then Jesus is the prize we set our heart on. Jesus will make the race worthwhile. And our race will be a memorial race. We will run it well by remembering the many, many people who have run faithfully before us.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds so trite to tell you this is a good sermon but it truly is.
    It is terrible that the vets returning from Vietnam were treated so badly. To connect faith in God with Memorial Day is not only moving but absolutely correct. Thank you for posting this. God bless you and God bless America! (Not to leave out the rest of the world, God bless us all!)