Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Remembering Fallen Heroes

A Memorial meditation, used at Winema Christian Camp Heritage Conference, May 27, 2007.

On this memorial weekend we remember fallen heroes. The news keeps us painfully aware that war always produces fallen heroes, and we all agree that fallen heroes deserve to be remembered. If I were to ask you to name some fallen heroes you especially remember today your answers would probably range from friends or loved ones in the Second World War to the current conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Our formal remembering began when General Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the republic, officially proclaimed May 30, 1868 to be a day of Memorial for soldiers who had fallen in the Civil War. Flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery. However, the Southern States did not recognize this day and observed other days for honoring their dead until after WW I when Memorial Day became the day to honor those who died fighting in any way, not just the Civil War.

In 1915 Moina Michael, inspired by the poem, "In Flanders Fields," contributed her own short poem that led to wearing poppies in honor of those who died:

We cherish too the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led.
It seems to signal to the skies
that blood of heroes never dies.
At this particular moment, at this table, we focus on a fallen hero whose life was given in the greatest battle ever fought, and who's blood, as the poem says, "never dies." Every human war ever fought is simply a microcosm of the deeper, greater spiritual war that goes on behind the scenes. As Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the ... spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." We are still engaged in this struggle and we come today to remember and to celebrate the fallen hero who won the decisive battle.
Its been said that every war has a decisive battle. In the Second World War the decisive battle came with D Day and the successful invasion of France. While many battles were yet to be fought, the war was essentially won at that time. There were many fallen heroes on the beach whose sacrifice ultimately led to victory.
Today we remember another fallen hero -- but with a difference. He fell, but rose again, enabling Paul to say in Romans 5:10, "If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." Reconciled by his death ... saved by his life. Death and all of this world's sin and evil met its match on Calvary when Jesus Christ became our fallen and risen hero. We celebrate victory, won for us by our fallen and risen hero.
Therefore, on the first day of the week, on each resurrection Sunday, when we break the bread and drink the cup, I like to think it is accompanied by those described in Revelation 5, "... myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.'" As you take the Lord's Supper this morning, listen for the Hallelujah chorus!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Telling The Truth Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30

As we approach Mother's Day lets consider a bright and brave woman whose concern for her daughter led to a memorable verbal joust with Jesus. When scholars of the law crossed words with Jesus they went away confounded but when this woman challenged him she went away victorious.

Prior to this event Jesus had been engaged in a strenuous and demanding ministry. Also, Jesus must have known that King Herod, who had beheaded John the Baptist, was disturbed at his popularity. Kings like Herod were notoriously paranoid about large crowds following popular leaders and had ways of controlling such situations. Perhaps for a little R&R, and also to escape Herod's spies for a time, Jesus took his band of followers out of Herod's territory into Gentile country to the region of Tyre. There, Mark says, he entered a house and wanted no one to know of it, but he could not escape notice.

Soon, a woman, a Gentile of the Syrophoenecian race, came to see him and dared to tell him the truth.* Jesus focused his ministry on the House of Israel and it appeared to her that he had overlooked an important truth. First, she made her need known to his group by crying out: "Have mercy upon me, Lord, son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon possessed." Jesus refused to answer her. She continued to pester his disciples who went to Jesus and urged him to send her away. It seemed that he would do so because he commented that he had been sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Just then she managed to get close to him, knelt before him, and pleaded, "Lord, help me." He replied with what was probably a well known proverb. Focusing on the Jews, he seems to reject her request by saying, "Bread is for the children, not the dogs." She didn't hesitate but came right back with a truth that his proverb overlooked; "Even the dogs under the table get some crumbs."

Martin Luther marveled at her reply and said, "He is silent as a stick. Look, this is really a hard thump. Her reply was a masterpiece." It was indeed a masterpiece. It made Jesus stop and think. When he replied it was probably after a pause and with a smile as he said, "For saying that you may go -- the demon has left your daughter."

For a truthful, penetrating response, he granted her wish and healed her daughter. This unnamed Syrophoenecian mother tells the truth and her daughter is healed. Someone has said, "when we lie we die." But when we tell the truth life has a chance.

We come to the table to tell the truth. Like this woman, we come to ask for what only Jesus can give, secure in the truth that his power is for us as well as for others. He does not put a fence around the table and say that only certain privileged people may receive his blessing. But we come also to admit that sometimes we lie, or cheat, or sin in some other way. We admit that we do what we ought not to do and that we fail to do what we ought to do. And Jesus honors our truth telling. He heals, forgives, and renews our life and our hopes. So let us come confessing our sins, but also confessing our faith in the one who loves us and gave himself for us.

*The ideal of telling the truth based on this story is from Joseph R. Jeter, Jr. Re/Membering, p 123)