This three-week sermon series developed because of my passion to remind us of the meaning and significance of our national Memorial Day celebration. It is not just another three-day weekend signaling the end of school and the start of summer. That intent morphed into three parts: remembering who we are; remembering with gratitude those who sacrificed their lives (both nationally and spiritually); and committing ourselves to the sacred task of passing on what we’ve received to the next generation.
It is so tempting to believe our technological advancements are mirrored by our moral and spiritual development. Technology is changing our lives at an astonishing rate. I am the grateful recipient of heart technology that let my doctors treat my heart disease with meds and stents. I’m sitting here at a computer that is connecting me to the world “out there” even while I write these words. And to think it was a big day in my life when I bought an IBM Selectric III typewriter. But the even bigger day was when I started my doctoral dissertation on a Commodore 64 computer with 64 kB RAM/ 20 kB ROM and the big floppy disks. I’ll admit I enthusiastically embrace the technology.
But when it comes to our moral and spiritual progress, I’m more circumspect. I grant that in my lifetime, there have been strides toward racial, gender, and LBGT rights and equality. But wherever we’ve taken some steps forward, we then seem inevitably to stagger backwards. I admit to being concerned that we as a society tend to ignore our own history, and consequently fail to truly benefit from the painful and difficult lessons of the past. I believe history matters as this introduction from the UCLA Department of history states:
Thomas Jefferson long ago prescribed history for all who would take part in self-government because it would enable them to prepare for things yet to come. The philosopher Etienne Gilson noted the special significance of the perspectives history affords. “History,” he remarked, “is the only laboratory we have in which to test the consequences of thought.” History opens to students the great record of human experience, revealing the vast range of accommodations individuals and societies have made to the problems confronting them, and disclosing the consequences that have followed the various choices that have been made. By studying the choices and decisions of the past, students can confront today’s problems and choices with a deeper awareness of the alternatives before them and the likely consequences of each.
What is true of us socially, economically, and politically is even truer of us spiritually. The story of Israel is the rise of one generation that remembered their covenant with God and what it meant to their identity and behavior, and the next generation that forgot and veered off-track. Deuteronomy 26:1-12 (MSG) laid out the tradition which was meant to remind God’s people of who they were and where they’d come from:
Once you enter the land that GOD, your God, is giving you as an inheritance and take it over and settle down, you are to take some of all the firstfruits of what you grow in the land that GOD, your God, is giving you, put them in a basket and go to the place GOD, your God, sets apart for you to worship him. At that time, go to the priest who is there and say, “I announce to GOD, your God, today that I have entered the land that GOD promised our ancestors that he’d give to us.”
The priest will take the basket from you and place it on the Altar of GOD, your God. And there in the Presence of GOD, your God, you will recite, A wandering Aramean was my father, he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, he and just a handful of his brothers at first, but soon they became a great nation, mighty and many. The Egyptians abused and battered us, in a cruel and savage slavery. We cried out to GOD, the God-of-Our-Fathers: He listened to our voice, he saw our destitution, our trouble, our cruel plight. And GOD took us out of Egypt with his strong hand and long arm, terrible and great, with signs and miracle-wonders. And he brought us to this place, gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. So here I am. I’ve brought the firstfruits of what I’ve grown on this ground you gave me, O GOD.
Then place it in the Presence of GOD, your God. Prostrate yourselves in the Presence of GOD, your God. And rejoice! Celebrate all the good things that GOD, your God, has given you and your family; you and the Levite and the foreigner who lives with you.
Generosity was rooted in the history of the Israelites as immigrants who escaped oppression in Egypt. Deuteronomy 26:12: Every third year, the year of the tithe, give a tenth of your produce to the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow so that they may eat their fill in your cities.
For those of us in the church, Peter celebrates who we are as a result of Jesus’ mission to earth and our call to follow him. We are a people in whose lives God has made all the difference in the world, and therefore we have a higher calling to pass on what we’ve received, not hoard it for ourselves which is the inevitable human tendency. 1 Peter 2:9-10 (MSG): But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you— from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
I am a fool and a liar if I operate on the illusion that my life today is the result of my own efforts. The opportunities given me as a child born in Portland, Oregon were a result of the work and sacrifice of those who had gone before me. The church community that shaped my faith can be traced way back to persecution and immigration. A sense of entitlement might be tempting, but flies in the face of reality. I was not, nor am I today entitled. I am blessed!