Originally Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day, meant to honor the Union and the Confederate soldiers who died during the American Civil War. By the 1900s it had become a day to celebrate all American soldiers who died while serving in the military. It wasn’t until 1967 that it was legally named Memorial Day.
Speaking about Decoration Day, Abraham Lincoln said, “it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” It is fitting and proper for us to observe Memorial Day not only as Americans but also as Christians. There should be no conflict between our loyalty to our God and our loyalty to our country. These loyalties reinforce each other. Even in this time of sheltering in place, when many people feel isolated, we must remember that by divine appointment we are members of a family, of a community, and of a nation — just as to be a Christian is to be a member of the church of Christ.
To live as God intended us to live we must fulfill our obligations to both God and Country. In Lincoln’s words, we must “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, so that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
As Lincoln was assassinated for the freedom of our nation, so too did Christ die for the freedom of another sort. Christ died that we are free to enjoy eternal life. We hear that in John’s Gospel, chapter 14, verse 19 where Christ says to us, “Because I live, you also will live.”
I have a challenge for each of you – consider taking a few minutes at the end of every day to ask yourself “Where did I see the glory of eternity guaranteed by Christ today?” I heard that eternity at 4:00 am Saturday morning when a sleepy voice said “I love you Nana” when he woke up from a bad dream. I see eternity each morning watching the sun come up. I feel eternity as I consider that because Christ lived, when we will all be gathered on that day appointed by God, I can personally thank those who gave their lives to guarantee us the freedom to worship God and proclaim Jesus Christ as my Savior.
Today it seems fitting to suggest that Abraham Lincoln’s charge to the crowd at his 2nd inaugural address would be an appropriate way of obeying Christ, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in: to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for those who shall have borne the battle, and for those they leave behind – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon reminds us that there is a season for everything; we will experience both good and bad. In verses 2-8, he lists things that contrast each other-
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
I love Fall.
Fall means the trees are changing. The trees are splashed with colors of deep amber, gold, ruby red, and darkest of purples. The leaves litter the ground, painting the sidewalks with various colors. George and I go on vacation in the Fall, taking two weeks to go to Maggie Valley/Waynesville NC where we have rented the same cabin for 6 or 7 years. I love the crisp air, being able to sleep with the windows open, listening to the sounds of the night; I love the morning fog in the valley below us; I love sweaters and the blue of the sky that is never the same color any other time of the year.
What I don’t love is winter. I hate being cold. In fact, I am a fair-weather runner and before my back surgery, I was a fair-weather golfer. As long as it is below 95 I will go out for a run, or play golf. But once the temperature gets below 55, and definitely below 50, I am inside, downstairs on the treadmill where I can remain warm and snuggly.
In our Christian walk, we too experience seasons that are wonderful and difficult. We go through seasons of pruning and loss, and seasons of growth and waiting. Often we must give up things that we used to think precious. Before the virus, before shelter in place things such as a morning trip to Starbucks seemed important. And now, not so much. But God calls us to give up our new-found time to him and to grow more in trusting Him.
God acknowledges that we may experience seasons of great abundance or great loss. We can experience great joy or great pain. But the beautiful thing of all is this: None of these seasons or experiences is wasted; God can use everything we experience and make it beautiful.
Here are a few wonderful promises to remember in our hard seasons:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
I shared with some friends last night that this been a bit of odd-feeling week for me. Not a bad week, just an odd week. It’s been a heavy week, a wearing week.
The news of the circumstances of the death of Ahmaud Abery was heavy. The continuing uncertainty, which may be greater now than when all this started, is heavy. Trying to figure out how we return to life and what normal will look like is heavy. Waiting on decisions to be made, trying to be patient. Trying to figure out, in this current normal, how to go on with life. It is hard. It is harder for some than for others to be sure, but it is wearing on us all.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t have good days. We do. It just sometimes feels like there’s a heaviness from all of this.
But that’s life, isn’t it? There are challenges happening all around us and within our own lives all of the time.
Whether we’re experiencing a pandemic or not. It’s made a bit more complicated because of the pandemic, but it’s still life. And as people who claim to follow Jesus, we experience no exception to these difficulties.
I always like to remind myself and others that God loves us all, whether we love God or not. But as Jesus followers, we have received that love into our lives. Living in the fullness of that love means living into the realities of our limitations as humans and our need of God. It means living into the reality of understanding that we were created in the image of God and, therefore, bear God’s image to the world around us. According to scripture all of mankind was made in God’s image because God desired relationship with all, not just those of us who profess belief. And not just those who believe as we do. It’s a big deal to be made in the image of God. It’s a big deal that God wanted to entrust that to us.
I wish everyone could trust that within themselves, but because that is not yet the case, it is important that those of us who live knowingly in the grace of bearing God’s image are especially aware of how we do that. And Jesus said we should do that through love. By loving God with all of our hearts our souls and our minds and that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Arguably, I think this concept of loving God and loving each other had supreme importance to Jesus. In his gospel, John records in the 14th chapter, that on the last night of his life Jesus gave a new command, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”
People need to feel loved, to feel valued, to feel known and amazingly God put a bunch of people here on earth to share that. Those people are called the church, or more appropriately, the Body of Christ. And, here’s the thing about that body, once you’re a part of it, then that command about loving others as we have been loved becomes real. People will meet Jesus and have contact with him over and over based on how we live. Whether those people are in our homes, in our families, at our workplace, the stores that we shop, or any number of the other places that we go. Whether they are Republican, Democrat, Independent. Whether they are black, white, brown, red, or any other color of skin. Whether they are young, old, employed, or unemployed. Whether they wear a mask or don’t. Jesus didn’t say “Love each other if…”, he said, “Love each other as I have loved you”.
And there’s the part that makes it possible, even if it doesn’t seem easy. “As I have loved you”. That is where we begin: with how Jesus has loved us.
If, as the old hymn suggests, “I turn my eyes upon Jesus and look into his wonderful face, the things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
When I look at Jesus, when I focus my heart and my mind on Jesus, I remember that Jesus loves me enough to forgive the parts of me that do not agree with what he would do or say.
I remember that Jesus loves me enough to sit with me in my pain and not to heap criticism on me.
I remember that Jesus loves me enough to listen to what I have to say, even when they are words so filled hurt, anger, and pain,
I remember that Jesus loves me enough to forgive me for the times that I have chosen out of my own self-interest.
I remember that Jesus loves me enough when my pride takes hold and I think a little more of myself than I should.
I remember that Jesus loves me enough when I forget that not everyone has the same access to resources that I do and when I judge them from my own place of privilege.
I remember that Jesus loves me enough to forgive me when I respond out of jealousy and entitlement.
I remember that Jesus loved me enough to pursue me even when I had no interest in Jesus.
I remember that in all things, Jesus loves me enough, loves you enough, and loves others enough.
Love One Another as I have loved you.
When we focus on the love Jesus has for us and we realize that we have done nothing to deserve that, then we are better able to love as we have been loved. That is the body of Christ. It is empowered and made whole, not by us, but by the love of Jesus himself.
So as we are heading into the weekend, in whatever that looks like for you, I pray that you will remember that you are the image-bearer of God who is love. That God loves you and that God’s love lives within you so that you may reflect that love, that glory, that grace to others and that they will know they are loved, valued, and known by God too.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”
So, have you ever been confused about how to feel about something? Maybe something good happened to you, but it came at the expense of someone else. Or maybe you were really disappointed in losing a game, but a friend was on the other team so you wanted to be happy for them? I learned this lesson when we started playing board games without kids. As much as I want to win, I love when they get so excited! Although, I don’t like it when they beat me at basketball!
I bring this up because often in life we feel that we need to have one emotion. We feel a need to be happy or sad. We should be excited or disappointed. We struggle at times to handle two emotions at the same time, especially if we think they are competing emotions. I’ve mentioned in sermons before that one of the biggest thought patterns I work to correct in counseling is what we call rigid thinking. This is also called all or nothing and black or white thinking. This is the thought that things have to be one way or another. This concept is characterized by the phrase “either/or.” This means something is either this or that. I am either sad I lost a game or excited my friend won. I am either proud of my promotion or sad that a friend was passed over for me.
However, we don’t really live in an all or nothing world, and we often do not experience either/or emotions. We live in much more a both/and world. For some of us, maybe we experienced this at the wedding of a child when we were both happy for them and a little sad that the relationship was changing. Or we’ve been excited about a job change and sad about leaving our co-workers. A problem we have is that we feel often that we need to choose one emotion over the other and this creates some anxiety or frustration since we are not expressing everything we are experiencing.
So, why am I saying this in a devotion? I think a similar process applies to how we view God. Orthodox Christianity holds that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent or all good. Most faith traditions teach that God has a plan for us. I mean, Psalm 139 tells us that God knew our plan as he saw our unformed beings. I tell people most Sundays that when God began creating the heavens and the earth, He had a dream about the plan for your life. And yet, sometimes we struggle with this plan. I mean if scripture is true that God’s plan is good and true, why do I have to deal so much sorry, struggle, and disappointment? That doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s because we fall into either God’s plan is good and life is good, or something must be wrong. We struggle to think that maybe both God’s plan is good and life can be a struggle.
Of course, we know that one struggle is that sin is in the world. When Adam and Eve made the decision to live outside of God’s will it affected the world so that we struggle falling in and out of God’s plan. We can make choices based on God’s plan, but we have the freedom not to and that leads to hurt and pain. So, the human condition means I have to deal with what I want and what God provides. Sometimes they line up and sometimes they do not. What do we do then? I mean, if I am supposed to praise God for the plan of my life, what do I do when that plan or circumstance hurts? Well, I think we see a glimpse of this answer in Psalm 13.
Psalm 13 is one of my favorite passages. When I was on a youth choir tour in 1995 I was struggling. I had been going to church my whole life but I wouldn’t say I was yet a follower of Jesus. I knew that Christ died and believed he was resurrected. But, I would not say I was following in the sense of looking to Him for guidance, acceptance, and peace. During some “voluntary” devotion time one day, I read through Psalm 13 and this really spoke to me. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this platform, but I was really struggling with somethings in my life. I was hurting in a lot of ways and very disappointed about things. I was struggling to gain faith in a God that was allowing that to happen to me. Then, I read this Psalm. It is part of what helped me make the decision to give me to Jesus and to follow Him since then. I loved this Psalm so much that my first public speaking about faith was a homily based on this passage. I’d like to read it and then give a few reflections.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
So, my first reflection is about the context of this passage. Tradition has this Psalm written as David was being pursued by his son Absalom who was trying to overthrow David and take the Kingdom. David is feeling rejected and hurt by the actions of his son and scared for his own future. Don’t we hear this in the first verse? David is feeling forgotten by God. He feels hidden and separated. That doesn’t sound like a close connection. Have you ever felt less than close to God? Have you ever felt like God was hiding from you or maybe that you needed to hide from God? Well, if you have, you are not alone. Many others have including me and the author of the Psalm who was a man after God’s own heart. If this is how you feel, tell God. He is big enough to hear it and still want and accept you. Israel doesn’t just mean walks with God it means to wrestle with God. We can walk with God and still struggle along the way. And, He still walks with us. I recently heard that God created us to walk with us, not walk over us. When you feel hidden, forgotten, full of sorry, cry out to God with that. It doesn’t mean you don’t love or trust Him. It means you are living in the fullness of the emotions He created you to have.
My second reflection is what David says in the end. I trust in your unfailing love. My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise for he has been good to me. I can feel forgotten and hidden and believe that the Lord is good. I can believe that I am in a losing battle and that people are against me and believe that The Lord has not rejected me and will continue to save me. It’s not either thing that is great or God is against me. It’s the Lord loves me and things may be hard at times.
My last reflection is that nothing is beyond the work of God. The prophets tell us that God promised David that The Lord’s anointed would not see decay. That is a reference to Jesus who was from the line of David and that Jesus was written off as dead by His enemies and rose again. He was both dead and victorious. I heard the line once that God does His best work in a graveyard. Whatever struggle you have now can both be overwhelming to you and not overwhelming to God.
So, my hope is that you feel the freedom to feel all the emotions God gives you. I pray you to trust enough in the grace of God to call out to him when you both feel hidden and welcome. God is big enough for our emotions and big enough for our needs. Let us pray.
Dear God, thank you that you made me experience Your grace. I pray that when I feel hidden from You, I’ll trust that You are still with me. I pray that when I feel like I am winning the battle, I will continue to trust in You and honor You. I pray that when I feel hopeless or hopeful, I will continue to sing for You because I trust in Your unfailing love. Amen.
More than 2.2 million people, including more than 500,000 since April 1, have enrolled in Yale cognitive psychology professor Laurie Santos’ free 10-week online class, “The Science of Well-Being,” making it the most popular course in the university’s 316-year history. On-campus, the course is titled “Psychology and the Good Life,” aka “The Happiness Course.”
Santos found the demand for the class “a bit surreal,” but understandable, given that “people are looking for evidence-based ways of improving their mental health,” she said. Santos also hosts the “The Happiness Lab” podcast.
Santos’ class in “positive psychology” or “happiness studies” focuses on well-being rather than on easing suffering, which has received more emphasis from psychologists in the past.
The course questions conventional wisdom that one needs certain things in order to be happy: things such as a good job, plenty of money, a perfect love relationship, physical beauty, strength, skills, or possessions. Any of those things may give pleasure for a time, but it tends to be short-lived. Such measuring sticks can lead to comparing oneself to others, which may result in pride, envy, competitiveness, insecurity, and discontent.
Psalm 40:4, 7-9 Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods. … Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. (For context, read 40:4-10.)
Santos encourages students to take time to evaluate what really contributes to happiness in life, assigning homework such as making a regular effort to connect in a meaningful way socially; savoring an experience, large or small; writing down five things for which they are grateful at the end of each day; expressing appreciation to people who have impacted them in big or small ways; performing a daily act of kindness, or paying attention to (being mindful of) the present moment.
“A gratitude letter is one of the most powerful tools for increasing happiness because it can forge social bonds and really change someone’s life,” Santos says.
Isaiah 65:17-19 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. (For context, read 65:17-25.)
This passage depicts a time in the future when God’s joy merges with that of God’s people. God promises to create a new universe in which Jerusalem will be a joy and delight to God and to humanity (vv. 17-18).