Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Memoriam (John 15:12-17) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Time magazine carried a story about former President George Herbert Walker Bush. It described a trip he took back to the South Pacific.  During WW II, Bush had been a bomber pilot, and was shot down by Japanese antiaircraft fire. The article detailed Bush's return to the very spot where he was rescued from his downed aircraft.  During his return visit, Bush met with a Japanese gentleman who claimed to have witnessed Bush's rescue back in 1944. The man related that as he and others were watching the rescue take place, one of the man's friends remarked, "Surely America will win the war if they care so much for the life of one pilot."

In another story Sgt. 1st class Paul Ray Smith could have retreated, but doing so would have allowed Iraqi troops to overrun an American aid station at Baghdad International Airport. Instead, Sgt. Smith grabbed a rifle and antitank weapon and continued fighting, holding off about 100 enemy soldiers. When a fellow soldier shouted at Smith to take cover, Smith refused. “He gave me the cut-throat symbol,” the soldier recalled. “He was not leaving.” Smith was severely wounded and died at his post. Yet his efforts stopped the April 4, 2003, assault.

Two years later, President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to Smith’s 11-year-old son David.  Drawing from this soldier’s example, the Army drew up a new creed as it tightened training procedures: “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”  Smith’s widow commented, “Paul showed the soldiers what it means to be a soldier.

Some observers argue that the spirit of sacrifice in America is wanning, that its not as prevalent today as in past generations.   What do you think?   One could argue the point.  Today we often hear examples of: "Me first.” “My rights above others.”  “It’s all about me and what makes me happy.”    And yet, when we see our miliary today and the sacrifices men and women and their families have made, when we see Americans generously helping others in situations ranging from neighbor helping a neighbor to an outpouring of support for communities, nationally and internationally dealing with natural disasters of fires and floods, I see the spirit alive and well.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we honor those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice; we remember those who have died in the service of America.   Today we honor the fallen heroes, America's armed service members who didn’t come back.  Memorial day events locally have been scheduled at two national cemeteries Miramar National Cemetery and Fort Rosecrans.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  The day was originally called Decoration Day.

I quote a part of that original order:  “The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, hamlet and churchyard in the land.”   After WWI, the holiday changed from honoring those who died fighting in the Civil War, to honoring Americans who died fighting in all wars.

Today we recognize the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery.  150 years ago, in 1864,  the first military burials took place in Arlington National Cemetery.  We remember the tomb of the unknown soldier, in honor of the many soldiers who have died in wars with their remains being unidentified.

Memorial Day is about sacrifice.  Sacrifice is a value, an idea.  It is also a choice.  We have the freedom of choice.  You certainly can choose to lead a self centered, self-absorbed life.  God doesn't force you to give your life away in helping other people, encouraging other people, or serving your country.    But when you choose self above everything and everyone else there is a consequence; you miss out on the greatest joy and meaning there is in this short life.   You and I were made by God to serve and give and to love others.  When you do it, it is the greatest thrill of life.  It is the secret to happiness.  Why – sin is getting off track and following another way.  Salvation is getting on God's track and following God's way.  The consequences of a self – centered life are serious, loneliness, your list of friends will shrink when they see you are only out for yourself, and that you don't really care about them, and personal unfulfillment, and emptiness, you will feel a void that nothing, certainly not material things, can fill.

Christian faith says the idea that happiness comes from living a self-centered life is a lie.  That’s what sin is all about, it’s about self-glorification and self-focus, and self-worship.  You are the center of everything.  Being created in God’s image means God has wired us to give of ourselves away, to focus outwardly rather than inwardly.  And when we come to faith in Christ, when we go deeper in our relationship with God in Christ, we discover this truth.

What is it that makes life worth living? What is it that brings meaning and joy and purpose in life?  Is it achieving celebrity status, is it wealth, is it political power?  The Bible is clear – it's to love God and to love others.  To love God with your heart, soul, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.  It's to give, to share, to make sacrifices for others of your talents, your abilities, your time, your passion, your energy, and your resources, and sometimes you are called upon, sometimes the circumstances dictate, that you are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice.

John 3:16 says: ”God so loved the world that he gave his only son.”  Love and sacrifice are intertwined, they are inextricably bound together.  Genuine love is always sacrificial and making a sacrifice is always an act of love.  You cannot love somebody, your spouse, your friend, your neighbor, your child, your grandchild, your colleague, your comrade, you cannot love God, without sacrifice.  Words are cheap.  Lip service is not love.  If you can show me how to love without making a sacrifice, I'll sign up right now!  But it can't be done.

Rom. 12:1 says: "So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us such great mercy, offer your lives as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, who is your spiritual worship.”  Offer your lives as a living sacrifice for God to use for His purposes.

John 15 says:– “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”   We have the paramount example of a sacrificial life in Jesus.  This is the life God calls us to emulate.  We're talking about a giving life-style, a sacrificial life-style.  But why would anyone in his or her right mind do that?   For Christians the answer is - because God sacrificed His Son for us in order to bring us back to God.  Christ's sacrifice forgave us our sins and opened the way to restore our relationship with God.  Why? Because Christ commands it of those who claim to be his followers.

A professor was invited to speak at a military base and was met at the airport by an unforgettable soldier named Ralph.  As they headed toward the baggage claim area, Ralph kept disappearing: once to help an older woman with her suitcase; once to lift two toddlers so they could see Santa Claus; and again to give someone directions.  Each time he came back smiling. "Where did you learn to live like that?" the professor asked. "During the war," said Ralph. Then he told the professor about Vietnam.  His job was to clear mine-fields, and he saw friends meet untimely ends, one after another, before his eyes. "I learned to live between steps," he said. "I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I had to get between picking up my foot and putting it down again. Every step felt like a whole new world.”

In the book The Greatest Generation Tom Brokaw writes: “This generation came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America.  This generation was united not only by a common purpose, but also by common values – duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country and above all, responsibility for oneself.  This book, I hope, will in some small way pay tribute to those men and women who have given us the lives we have today, an American family portrait album of the greatest generation.”

Now in thinking about making sacrifices, we must be honest.  Do you ever feel unappreciated for doing the right thing?   Do you ever feel resentful for giving and sharing and helping, especially when you don't receive any thanks or recognition?  You start thinking: "Why bother?”  “What's the use?”  “Why make the effort?”  “Why should I sacrifice when nobody else is?"  Do you ever wonder if your sacrifice is really making a difference?  Is it worth the effort? Is it worth the cost?  I think these questions run through all our minds from time to time.

I want you to listen to God’s word - God sees what you are doing. God knows what you are doing. God remembers your sacrifices.  Hebrew 6:10 says: "God is not unjust.  He will not overlook your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped his people and continue to help Him."    God will remember.   God rewards the disciplined and obedient and loving heart.

The question is: How are you living your life?  Do you need to make a change in your attitude or lifestyle?  Scripture says the greatest use of your life is to invest it in something that's going to outlast it, the kingdom of God, the will of God, the purposes of God.   Whom is God calling you to sacrifice for?   How can you live a sacrificial life?

First, worship God continually.  Ps. 50:23 says: "True praise is a worthy sacrifice."   When you are singing, when you are praying, when you are worshipping God, you are making a sacrifice.  True praise to God is a sacrifice.

Second, minister to others.  The Bible says Jesus gave His life for us so we should give our lives for our brothers and sisters.   1 John 3:16 says: “We ought to give our lives for each other.”

Third, give of your time, talents and resources sacrificially.  Ps. 50:14 says, "Give your offering to show thanks to God and give what you promised."

Fourth, share Christ with others.    Heb. 13:15 says:  "With Jesus' help we will continually offer our sacrifice of praise by telling others the glory of His name."   Sharing your faith with others is a sacrifice of praise to God.

“Jesus says: My command is this  - Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down one's life for one's friends.”  Amen!

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