John 15: 9-17
Fishing rod, baby photo, photos of a helicopter, “Proud Vet’s Wife” T-shirt, votive candle,
Two shot glasses, a Hank Williams Jr. tape…….
These are some of the items that have been brought and left at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington DC as noted by Kristin Ann Hass in her book, Carried To the Wall: American Memory and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.[i]
There are some who perish, and some who survive. This is inevitable when a society engages in war. Whether there is victory or defeat in the war, suffering from the loss of life is great and there is an overwhelming need for a people to remember and pay tribute. And the commemoration of fallen soldiers is the juncture at which the surviving must come, to reconcile the vestiges of political action and loved ones who perished. It is a crossroad between public acknowledgment and personal intimate loss.
Therefore Memorial Day is a transcendent moment in time where our past, our present, and our future converge. And you thought it was just about parades and hot dogs. Oh no! It is a time when we mend together the pieces of our societal fabric that have been torn apart and frayed, into a quilt of hope that gathers us together as a union built upon freedom and liberty. It is a time when, even if for only a few hours, patriotic and faithful men and women, buried for centuries are given a chance to live again.[ii] So how we spend part of this day matters.
And we call upon God to consecrate this moment for it is sacred. We honor and remember America’s war dead, those who have died in service to the United States of America within the collective memory of those who live. History endows the present.
Cups and saucers, false teeth, flashlight, piggy bank, bottles, cigar boxes, toys, salt and pepper shakers, Pop Tarts, a Bible….
It is out of our Christian story that we can understand that cost and begin to make sense of it all.
Let us hear now the words of Scripture from the Gospel of John the 15th chapter.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
No greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends and fellow travelers in the journey of life. No greater love, not sacrifice – love – than to lay down your life. To love in this way, for one’s fellow humans, and for God is a transformative act towards wholeness and healing in this God’s world that seems to have taken a turn for the worse. To lay down one’s life is the ultimate expression of God’s commandment to love one another.
No greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life. What would laying down our lives look like in an absence of war context? If we think together I’m sure that we can come up with some alternative ways in which we can lay down our lives for others while we are still living. In fact, I think it is the least that we can do for those whose lives have perished. But it takes getting outside of your comfort zone and offering, at the very least, a hand of friendship to those who are in need of relationship and God’s love. And then beyond that it takes hard work and a willingness to go to unimaginable places where God is calling you to do justice and love kindness.
Christ didn’t come into this world to serve himself, far from it, he came into this world to serve others. And he did so by healing the bleeding woman, by curing blind Bartemeaus, by feeding 5,000 people on a moments notice, by being a friend, a confidant and a mentor to his disciples. Ultimately he did give of his life so that others, you and me could enjoy life. So that we may see each day anew with all of the promises that his resurrection offers and then to help others.
So too, we, the church must follow his example. The church is not about itself, it’s not about preserving the white steeples of the establishment but about rolling up our sleeves and serving others. We don’t exist to make the green in Orange a prettier place (although we do) to have parades but we exist, through the grace of God, so that people might come and recognize that they may be free from that which keeps them from fulfilling their highest potential.
Free from prejudice, from hunger, or societal restraints. Free from hatred and discrimination. The church exists to show kindness in a world fraught with pain. The Church begins with us fulfilling Christ’s mission. Through my conversations with Pauline, and by reading her personal writings, I know that she was a faithful and strong believer and that she felt deeply about freedom and our country. She was a woman of integrity and brutal honesty and we are the recipients of everything that she worked hard for and stood for. And so we remember her today with love and with grateful hearts. Why can’t we be more like Pauline in unselfish endeavors?
Texas A & M Class of ’64 button, cross, patch, medal with hate, crude metal peace sign, newspaper collage, Northwest Airlines ticket……
The war dead and the veteran’s who have died have shown their love, their compassion for life, their determination towards justice; they have understood and obeyed the commandment to love. Just as God has loved us, they have taken to heart, through their commitment to and actions for our nation, and for the lives of many, that there is absolutely no greater love than to lay down their very life so that others may live.
And so we remember them today, Memorial Day.
And we stand in reverence at their memorials today not because they are beautiful piece of art but because it is a moving and transformative experience. We don’t go to the Vietnam memorial just to look, we go to be transformed. Memorials bring death and life together, full circle, and invokes the respect for life and love of God.
War memorials, monuments, markers mean nothing unless we, the living, tend to their meaning. Unless we clean off, and cut down the weeds that might grow around them, unless we decorate and remember those graves as the original intention of Decoration Day or Memorial Day calls for, then their death was meaningless. These men and women have challenged us; and we must respond.
By naming the beloved items that people have brought to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Hass notes that it is a way for the mourners to articulate what life and death of their loved one meant for them.[iii] “In some way, she says they are gifts.” They hold communities and cultures together and are given to make, affirm, and uphold social bonds. It creates mutual responsibility.[iv] This is the challenge.
There is mutual responsibility and that is at all times we must remain vigilant in serving and helping one another in the name of others who have died even if it means losing and relinquishing personal interest. And I know that is hard.
No greater love than this, is to lay down one’s life for another. Let us practice the love that Christ came into this world to show us. His life was not laid down in vain. Let us thank those who have already laid down their life as we pick up the mantle of peace and walk forward confidently because of Christ’s ultimate love for us.
Bud can at 3W, bottle of Old English aftershave lotion, cigarette, dog tags, walnuts, funeral card for Airborne Ranger John Bradman, card Smile Jesus Loves you……
[i] Hass, Kristin Ann. Carried to the Wall, University of California Press, Berkely, CA 1998.
[ii] Soloveichik, Meir Y. ‘The Jews of the American Revolution’ in the NY Times. May 27, 2016.
[iii] Hass, Kristin Ann. Carried to the Wall, University of California Press, Berkely, CA 1998. P. 2.
[iv] Ibid. p. 91.
Oh God of holy sacrifice and love we come before you today in great thanksgiving and hope. As we pause to remember the sacrifice of fallen soldiers and remember their service with gratitude, we remember our nation and the freedoms that we enjoy today. Bless our efforts at peacemaking as we endeavor to make this a land of justice and hope. We also recall and remember when Christ intervenes for us with his sacrificial love when we can no longer bear the burdens of our lives. Thanks be to you O God for remembering us and granting to us your healing balm of love.
Our hearts are full and so we bring our cares and concerns, our joys in life to you. Hear us, bend your ear toward us now…
We pray for healing, for a balm to be upon those who are ill in body, mind or spirit we pray (mental illness, addiction)
We pray for consolation and the strength to believe in new life as we pray for those who mourn or grieve, we pray this day for the Jaensch family in the passing of Waltraud, may her memory be blessed with goodness.
And we pray in thanksgiving for the men and women veteran’s in this congregation and in this community, those whose service was an act of love for our country.
For the joy of new life in this world, newfound joy and energy renewed in the sound of a baby’s cry and coo we thank you.
God in community, Holy in One Amen.