Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Trinity and St. Jacob’s on May 28, 2017, the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. This sermon is appropriate for Memorial Day Weekend.
Dear Friend in Christ,
Tomorrow is the official day we call Memorial Day here in America. It is the day that we have the opportunity to remember and honor those who gave their lives to defend our nation. Last evening, I participated in a most memorable experience. I was at the Federal Cemetery in Fredericksburg. Over 15,000 bodies are there. These are bodies of Union soldiers who died in 4 battles: 1862 Fredericksburg, 1863 Chancellorsville, 1864 Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse. Their hastily buried bodies were up in 1866 and brought to this Federal Cemetery in Fredericksburg. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts put a luminary on each grave.
Jesus talked about the cost of being one of his disciples. In Luke 14:28 he says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him…” As a student of history, I am well aware of the sacrifices of men and women for the past 250 years in this country. The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia knew that they were putting their very lives on the line. The cost could be, and was, immense.
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 5 were captured by the British before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary War. Another 2 had sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the war.
I think of the Fielding Lewis Family in Fredericksburg. Many of us have admired their beautiful home, called Kenmore. Did you know that Lewis and his wife Betty lost their homes to foreclosure because they borrowed everything they could to buy ammunition and weapons for the Continental Army?
Recently I watched a series on the History Channel about George Washington. He wasn’t there in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. Why? He was with his men of the army already on the battlefront. If somehow I had the idea growing up that George Washington was able from time to time to go home to Mount Vernon and relax a little during the Revolutionary War, how wrong I was. Do you know that he was away from home, with his troops, for the next 5 years and only went home twice?
On July 3, 1776, the day before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington wrote a letter to Martha, anticipating the hardships which would soon occur. Here in part are his words:
In a few days, you will see a Declaration setting forth the causes which have compelled us to this mighty revolution and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God. I am fully aware of the toil and treasure what it will cost to maintain this declaration and support and defend these states; yes, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory.
Let us never forget or underestimate the sacrifice that was made to insure the freedoms we enjoy today. It should be a lesson for us. We trust in God alone, and we step out in bold confidence that our future is in his hands and not in ours.
Back in college in a history class I was introduced to a French writer, Alex de Tocqueville, who visited America in 1831. After his visit he wrote something that I think is still true:
I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields and boundless forest – and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public-school system, and in her institutions of higher learning – and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!
My understanding of this “good” that de Tocqueville writes about comes from us being followers of God in Christ who bring a sense of living according to God’s laws, treating all people with dignity and respect, and helping to provide everyone with the freedoms we want to have.
Today you and I honor our past and those who made sacrifices, especially the sacrifice of their lives. We praise God for giving them bold confidence to endure in their struggles and we ask God to help us in our own struggles. I would like to think that when we are tested, we too will have the faith of our forefathers and mothers and will live in the confident expectation that God will be with us every step of the way.
Thanks be go God! Amen.