II Cor. 1:3-4
Please turn with me in the pew Bibles to II Corinthians chapter 1 and follow along as I read verses 3-4. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
I am conflicted when it comes to celebrating a national holiday in church. Nations have agendas, and their agendas are not necessarily compatible with church. The church does not worship any nation. We worship Christ. Historically that has gotten us in a lot of trouble with nations. In the Roman Empire, in the second and third century, emperor worship was a condition of citizenship. Refusal to worship the emperor was treason. But Christians worship only Jesus; therefore, by definition, Christians were traitors to the empire. From that hostile beginning, Christian have always had a rocky relationship with the state. In many nations over the last 2000 years, Christians have been persecuted because they were always Christians first and citizens of the nation second.
In our own country, we have wrestled with this problem. We have adopted Thomas Jefferson’s solution by declaring the separation of church and state. Most Christians are willing to accept that because the kind of power represented by a nation is not the kind of power represented by Jesus. National power is always based on force—police, armies, spies, that sort of thing. Jesus does not operate that way. Thus, the church and the state do not mix very well. That is why our history tells us that whenever Christianity becomes too closely identified with any national establishment, Christianity suffers.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, there was a group called the Christian Coalition. Their expressed purpose was to take over the Republican Party for Jesus. They raised a lot of money and got a lot of publicity at the time. They also alienated a lot of Christians who did not happen to agree with their right-wing politics. In 1997 Ralph Reed, one the founders of the Christian Coalition, resigned. He said the movement had failed. They tried to bring the church into politics and wound bringing politics into the church. That is always the problem. Christ does not mix well with human politics.
Back to the question then: Can the church celebrate Memorial Day? If you look at the bulletin today, my answer is obvious. Of course, we can. This is a day of remembrance. We remember the sacrifices others made. This has nothing to do with any current or past administration in Washington D.C. We are not in any sense sanctioning war.
For example, when we honor the ultimate sacrifice made by some 2500 American men and women in the war in Iraq, we are not saying that we approve of the war.
I don’t. I think we are in Iraq for the wrong reasons. They did not have weapons of mass destruction. They had no connection with 9/11 or with any terrorist organization. It is the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now that is my view. As you can see, like any good American citizen, I do not hesitate to criticize the government.
In fact, I maintain that a willingness to criticize the government makes me a more patriotic American, than people who say we have to go along with whatever the President says. We do not have emperor worship in the USA. We have freedom of speech. Every government that has ever existed on this planet has always given its citizens the right to agree with the government. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, had no problem with people who agreed with them. Real freedom of speech is the freedom to disagree with government. Some folks say that we all ought to agree with the President because that helps the morale of the troops. Nonsense. Americans have never believed that. Our troops do not fight for the president. They fight for the American Republic and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.—and one of those rights is freedom of speech. If we don’t exercise our rights, our troops are fighting for nothing.
It is my right as an American to criticize my government. Moreover, as a Christian, I recognize that there will always be a separation between my lord and savior Jesus Christ and what is going on in Washington.
Having said that I add that this does not detract one iota from my support of the troops and my willingness to honor and remember those who have fallen in battle. I support our troops so much that I do not want them placed in bad situations so that they die for nothing. Moreover, I regard it as a duty of first importance to remember those who have died in all our wars. We remember them not to glorify war because all wars are evil. I suppose those who died in war would be the first to affirm that. There are no good wars. But still we remember the sacrifices people made for this country.
Generally speaking, we are not good at remembering. Most of what happens to us along the way of life is lost. For example, I do not remember what I was doing on May 28, 2000. I do not even remember what I was doing on this date last year. We forget. That is a fact of life. And the longer we live, the more we forget.
But some things we should not to forget. We should not forget people. That is what Memorial Day is about—remembering people. Specifically we remember those who died in service to this country. Their sacrifice should never be forgotten. Let me spell it out. Everyone who served should be remembered. Everyone who was wounded, everyone who died on the field of battle. In every war and conflict we fight, we should make sure every POW is returned, and that the remains of every fallen soldier is returned, in so far as possible. That is part of remembering them.
Remembering people is what Christians are about. And not only remembering them, but consoling them, helping them, loving them. In II Corinthians verse 4, the Apostle Paul says that God “consoles us in all our affliction” . God in his tender mercy comforts us in our time of trouble. When we are anxious, when we are worried, God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ is with us to lift us up above all our trial and difficulties.
God has a purpose in this. Paul explains God’s purpose in the latter part of v4: “So that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” The grammar in v4 sounds a little confused, but Paul’s meaning is clear enough. Having been comforted by God, we are to bring that same divine comfort to others. The purpose of God helping us is that we might help others.
But carrying out this principle of divine love is more complicated than you might think at first glance. We can overdo or underdo, and both of these extremes miss the mark and both are sin. Let me explain.
Some dedicated people hear this commandment of divine love for others and apply it to such an extent that they become an object to be used and exploited by others. They say, I am supposed to minister to them, and they interpret this to mean that they should crush their own individuality and uniqueness, out of a supposedly humble desire to serve others.
I am thinking about a son who was intelligent, charming, capable, who could probably have succeeded at most anything he wanted to do, but he had a very manipulative mother who was determined to totally dominate him. She succeeded. He denied himself every opportunity, and he stayed right near his mother and took care of her all his life. Many people said, “What a good son he is.” But I thought, “This relationship is sick.” The relationship was dysfunctional—to use the psychological term—because the son had made himself an object to be controlled by the mother, so much so that he lost out on much of life.
That is certainly not what Corinthians means when it says that we have received divine comfort so that we can give divine comfort to others. We have received God’s help so that we can be, as the US Army says, all that we can be. Having given us our abilities, talents, characteristics, God expects us to use them. The more we fulfill ourselves, the more we are able to express our love for others.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, is famous for saying, “Make all you can, Give all you can.” This applies to every aspect of life. We should make all we can of ourselves so that we can give all we can to others.
Certainly, we should avoid the sin of making ourselves an object for others to exploit. But it must be admitted that only a minority of people fall into this sin. Most people go to the opposite extreme. To use our example, most people are more like the manipulative mother that the subservient son.
They are so egotistical that they regard other people as objects to be manipulated. They see others as extensions of their ego. They remind me of my dog. My dog, when he wants to be petted, cannot imagine that I have anything to do other than pet him. To his doggy mind, my only reason for existing is to pet him. If I am sitting on the couch, he will jump up on the couch beside me and then climb up on me. He will stand on my leg and put his nose in my face. He is saying, as explicitly and emphatically as it is possible for a dog to say, pet me.
Now that is doggy behavior. I expect that from a dog. I don’t expect that from a human being. But often we encounter people who are just as demanding and controlling as my dog. They want to treat us like objects. That is a sinful attitude.
We live in what is called a “throw away” society. A lot of stuff we use is made to be thrown away. The assumption is that you bring your groceries home in plastic bags and then toss the bags in the trash. Then, we have the single-use cameras. You buy the camera with a certain number of exposures. You take the pictures and then you give the whole camera to the photo-developer.
Now throwing away objects that we no longer use makes sense, but we should never apply this attitude to people. We don’t throw away our soldiers in useless battles. We don’t throw away people at all.
Our verses from Corinthians remind us of what we have received from God. We have not received so that we can just rejoice in God’s gifts, we have not received so that we can just say thank you God. We should do that. We should rejoice and give thanks, but that is not enough. We are receivers so that we can be givers.
I asked initially: Can the church celebrate Memorial Day? You might have answered, we can celebrate it as much as most people do. Memorial Day weekend for most people means picnics, parades, and NASCAR. I guarantee you, not one American in ten will give a thought this weekend to all those graves up at Arlington.
But that is not our problem. We don’t care what most people think. We are Christians. As Christians, we remember others, both the dead and the living. That is part of love, a basic part of love--remember. Remember your own loved ones who have passed on, Remember all those who have died in all our wars. Go farther than that. Sanctify their memory by trying to end all war and strife. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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Last modified 09/02/06