A Message for Memorial Day

This upcoming weekend is celebrated in America as Memorial Day.  Memorial Day is one of the oldest celebrations in America.  It is a time when we pause to remember and to give honor to brave men and women who have died while serving to protect the freedoms that we too often take for granted.  According to History.com, the first known Memorial Day celebration occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865, as a group of freed slaves, who were part of one of the United States Colored Troops, gathered to bury the bodies of Union soldiers.  In 1868, Union General John A. Logan declared that on May 30, people stop and remember those who died during the Civil War.  Interestingly enough, he chose that date because May 30 did not commemorate any battle of the Civil War.  In 1950, Congress passed a resolution for the President to ask Americans to remember the fallen on Memorial Day, May 30.  In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed which set Memorial Day to be the final Monday in May. 

I remember as a young boy visiting the cemeteries where my great grandparents were buried.  Each grave of a veteran was decorated with a small American flag.  Often the avenues through those cemeteries were lined with flags, all flying high, almost as if those flags were keeping watch over the heroes who were laid there.  As we adorned each grave with freshly cut flowers, I heard the stories of those who were foundational to who I was and am. 

During my days of pastoring in Albert City, Iowa, each Memorial Day a community wide service was held at the local cemetery.  The high school band played patriotic songs.  One of the local pastors gave a brief message.  And then the names of those from Albert City who had served in America's wars were read.  There were one or two names from the Civil War, but the list of names continued to grow through World War II, and then Korea, and then Vietnam.  The service closed with the playing of Taps.  As I participated, I envisioned in my mind similar services being held in small towns across America. 

Where is that spirit of Memorial Day today?  We are reticent to celebrate heroes today.  We have become very disconnected from our past.  And, if we do have a brief focus upon the past, it is through the lens of revising it to fit our desires today.   But we must never forget our nation's past.  And, yes, there are chapters in our past that bear ugly stains: our treatment of Native Americans, slavery, and, yes, I would include abortion today.  And what is the contemporary response to these ugly stains, especially that of slavery?  We tear down statues of Civil War generals.  We erase the names of Jefferson and Jackson and Washington from our schools, simply because these men owned slaved.  We change the names of lakes and boulevards.  And, in so doing, we think we are expunging the past.  That, somehow by changing the name of Lake Calhoun to Lake Bde Maka Ska we will make the stories of John Calhoun go away.  We think that, somehow, by removing a statue of Robert E Lee that the Civil War will go away.  We are not to erase the past, friends, but we are to learn the lessons from the past; for, if we fail to learn those lessons, then we are destined to repeat them.

On May 12, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.  (This is the school where two of my granddaughters attend).  Gary Bauer, in an article posted at: www.patriotpost.us/articles/62992-pence-easy-christianity-is-gone, wrote the following: "Pence's speech was based on an idea that would not have been true at any other time in America's history until relatively recently.  It boils down to this: The days of easy Christianity in America are over.  People of faith have shaped this country since its founding.  But sometime in the last century, things slowly began to change.  That change accelerated during the Obama presidency, as the government tried to force Christian groups to be complicit in things that our faith teaches we cannot be part of, including the destruction of innocent unborn life. 

"There's a more pernicious trend that's unrelated to the government.  Until recently, being known as a good Christian was an advantage in your career, a signal that you were someone deserving of trust and respect.  Pence warned the young Christian graduates at Liberty University that their faith may cost them their job if they take Christianity seriously on issues such as the sanctity of life and the meaning of marriage.  He told them to be prepared to be mocked, reminding them that even his wife, Karen, was excoriated for merely teaching art history at a Christian school.

"The vice president said: 'Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs.  So as you go about your daily life, just be ready.  Because you're going to be asked not just to tolerate things that violate your faith; you're going to be asked to endorse them.  You're going to be asked to bow down to the idols of the popular culture...

"' So, Class of 2019, my word to all of you is to decide here and now that you're going to stand firm ... that you'll persevere, and that you'll always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have, and you'll do so with gentleness and respect.  Because our nation and our world need that message of grace and love maybe more now than ever before.'"

Dr. Bauer concluded his article with this powerful statement: "Pence's message is one all of us should take to heart.  We must not be afraid.  We must not run from our faith.  We must stand firmly and defend what God has taught us."  To that I will echo a very loud and boisterous, "Amen!"

Take time to remember others this week, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that you can enjoy your freedoms.  And then remember that God has called us to be witnesses of His love and grace to others. 


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