A Witness Transformed-Memorial Day-May 26, 2013
Memorial Day is the last Monday of May each year. When we think of this day many are content to see the day as another day off from work or school, still others think of Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. The day is to not only honor our service men and women but to especially honor those who gave their very lives serving this country. There is no greater gift that a person gave give than their life for another or others. For those of us who are the beneficiaries of this selfless sacrifice there is nothing we can do to truly repay that sacrifice. We will, however, attempt to honor not only their great sacrifice but the memory of the lives of those who have given so much in service to our country.
The sacrifice and sufferings of the families who have lost those serving in the military while dealing with the great loss of a loved one know that their loved ones willingness of serve was also based on a belief. Many serve because they believe that their life and service is to help preserve the hope of freedom for American and for the world. Freedom itself does not originate as a something tangible as an ideal or belief. Freedom is never tangible of the ideal or belief first is not in place. It is this belief that the promise of this ideal is so precious if it is realized that men and women are willing to fight and yes even die to preserve that dream for others.
It is in this ultimate sacrifice that will advance the hope of their belief and add weight and substance to their convictions. It is their very willingness to put their lives on the line that is the strength of their convictions and the realizing of the true reality of freedom they are seeking to preserve. There is power in suffering, commitment, love, and sacrifice that many do not understand. This world’s way is to tell us to become slaves to our own selves and our selfish desires. It is in this kind of living that, men and women seek for themselves the greatest rewards and glory as if trying to steal what really belongs to God will bring blessing upon us.
When a person thinks about any sacrifices or the ultimate sacrifice it will be the hardest transformation to make. Ultimate service whether to God or Country begins with the belief that our beliefs and ideals are greater than our selfish attempts at faded glory because it may be easier for the enemies of God or our Country can kill or harm the body, but the belief with which the sacrifice is given is present in a people not just an individual. The enemies will have to kill and destroy something that at its core is not tangible but nonetheless very real, and that is nearly impossible to do. There can be a hopeful sacrifice is there is also a full belief that the purpose is greater than our part of it. In a great sacrifice to God or to our Country there is a transformation in the hearts of those who witness and understand their sacrifice. It is in this place the things we say we stand for that begin as belief or ideals are becoming very real in the tangible gracious sacrifice of those who see the reality of that transformation quicker that we often times do.
The Apostle Paul in writing what is now the letter to the Roman church is doing so as a prisoner himself. Paul does not know if he will be released from prison or put to death for his belief and preaching of Jesus as the Christ the true King of Kings. This is perhaps one the most reflective letters of Paul. Paul who was once known as Saul of Tarsus, this same Saul who sought to justify himself and his actions in relation to the letter of the law rather than the giver of that law. The tangible reality had become more important to Saul that the belief that the one who gave it to us for our benefit and His glory.
We are not worthy because of the law, we are worthy because of our belief in the giver of all good things, God. In one very real and yet surreal moment Saul of Tarsus is confronted with what he could not deny or physically fight. The real presence of Jesus is a reality Saul had not counted on and now he is confronted with Christ. Saul might could round-up and kill the followers of Christ but how do you kill a man who was already killed once, rose from the grave three days later, remained some forty days before ascending to His Father, the God of all the universe and now is in his face as a blinding light on a road to Damascus.
I cannot imagine the horror that Saul must have felt he had forgotten God the giver of the law for serving the lesser god of his interpretation of the law and now truly understand that he has been fighting for the wrong team. This great God that the law and Prophets that Saul had been studying for his whole life had not been silent but had spoken His Word into flesh and bone. Now this Word of God who had been dead was very much alive and had questions for Saul.
The encounter left Saul blind for three days until God sent another faithful believer to pray over Saul to receive his sight and he became a new man. No more was his name Saul of Tarsus but Paul an Apostle of Jesus Christ whom he formerly persecuted. We may never know the impact that our lives will having during the years we have on this earth. Paul became a faithful servant of the Christ he once believed was a phony and the greater belief that he could not see was also not something he could control nor kill. Paul is given credit for writing what is now roughly two-thirds of the New Testament.
Paul has in the years since that fateful day that he met Jesus made many sacrifices for his belief that Christ is the Son of God. Paul is has been willing to go where God said to go, he has been shipwrecked, beaten, put in prison, almost killed. Although his sight and body maybe failing his he sees more clearly than ever the glories of God and is strengthened day-by-day to live for Christ. It is out of this lifetime of service that Paul writes about suffering that eventually leads to hope and that hope does not disappoint because of the love God has poured out on us. The legal scholar Saul is now Paul, a much older man who sounds more like a dreamer and a poet seeing both things as they are and trying to help with world live into the reality of how God wants it to be.
Paul begins to talks about how at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Paul then reasons, that there might be a man who would be willing to die for a righteous person, just maybe someone who would die for a good person, but God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. It is Christ’s sacrifice that has made us worthy, not us and the glory is His and His alone.
Christ’s sacrificial death was so that we would not have to die for our sins and that also we would be set free to live for Him who made all this possible. Once a person believes, and I mean really believes, it may be possible for an enemy to kill the body but not that belief or ideal for which that life stood for. It is in this reality that our individual lives can find purpose and meaning that will outlive our time here one earth, for if we live for ourselves the fleeting glory of our lives will fade with the ending of our lives.
On Memorial Day we honor our heroes of peace, liberty, and freedom. These brave men and women, and their families paid a great cost with the ultimate sacrifice of their lives or the lives of their loved ones. It is to those of us who have known or have had a loved one that has paid the ultimate sacrifice that the weight of that cost becomes personal. In honoring and remembering these we stand now in their place proclaiming that peace, liberty, and freedom cannot be killed with by an act of terror, enemy fire, or the will of any one individual. These ideals are such a part of the fabric of our everyday lives that they have become our American identity that makes us all proud to be Americans. Most people today define what it is to be an American by embodying the very ideals that these brave gave their lives to advance.
It is interesting early on that American was referred to as the “American Experiment.” Some four hundred years after the first settlers arrived our identity is shaped by this collective national identity that we will be a people who seek peace, liberty, and freedom for ourselves as a national and for our global friends and neighbors.
Perhaps too, we should look back to an older time of belief that extends beyond the ideals that shape our national and personal identity. We should also look back to the brave men and women who have given their lives by following the Christ very few believed in and have been willing to enduring suffering that produces hope if not for their own lives but that those future generations who stand in the power of Christ.
Paul himself now as an older man has bravely given the younger years of his life for the risen Christ that he could not kill. Many of the other men and women who knew Jesus paid that ultimate price with their lives when they were younger, but Paul suffered for the gospel for most of his life. In these later years he finds himself a prisoner for the very Christ that gives him freedom. He looks through the sufferings of his present time to the hope that it will produce not just in his own life, but for all those that believe. He was uncertain about the future but unafraid of the outcome for the glory of the eternal Christ whom he served would outlive and outshine his own.
Paul in his letter to the Romans takes an honest look at his life of suffering and finds hope. Although he is uncertain about the days ahead he is making plans to continue the work of Christ with the days he does have even making plans to go into Spain. He also trusts that the outcome of his life will bring honor and glory to the one whose glory will last forever. Paul found out throughout his life that one may be able to kill the body of the believer but not his soul and certainly not the Christ whom he loves.
My friends on this Memorial Day let us remember our patriotic heroes and our martyrs of our faith. We honor our heroes for their commitment to the ideals of our founding identity and the martyrs for the Christ that died to set us free from the meaningless life of self to live for the glorious life of Christ. Patriots and martyrs alike are not identified as such by their ages but for their transformation they have seen in their own lives because of their ideals and or faith. Their transformation was not because of what they did but what they believed to be true. It is this belief that their lives are different because of this reality is beyond them. They have come to know that the secret to losing their lives is that apart from these greater realities life that their life has no meaning if it is only lived for our present desire or fading glory. So these men and women gave their lives for the only things they believed their life was worth living and dying for.
What about us? Would you be willing to lose your life to embody the greater realities of peace, liberty, freedom, and faith in Christ? Even if we are never asked or called upon to make that ultimate sacrifice there are many who have done so, so that we can live for the greater reality for which they gave their very lives. Will you stand for the things that these brave men and women laid their lives down for? It is not a question of if their lives were lived and given in vain, but are ours lived in vain because we can’t find what is worth living for and worthy of dying for?