A Meditation for 29 May 2016, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). This is also the Memorial Day Sunday.
The meditation is based on 1 Kings 18: 20 – 21, (22 – 29), 30 – 39; Galatians 1: 1 – 12, and Luke 7: 1 – 10.
Monday, May 30th, is Memorial Day, the day that we are supposed to pause for a few moments and remember those who have died in service to the United States.
Memorial Day began as a remembrance of the Union dead of the War Between the States. Major General John A. Logan, head of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of Union veterans) picked the day of May 30th as Memorial Day since it was believed that flowers would be in bloom all over the country. General Logan’s orders for that day stated,
“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” (From http://www.appc1.va.gov/pubaff/mday/mdayorig.htm)
It was not until after World War I that the meaning of the day was expanded to honor all those who died in American Wars. In 1968, the United States Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” which moved Memorial Day from the traditional May 30th date to the last Monday of May, which this year is coincidentally the same date. This law took effect in 1971.
We have, in our family, two sets of flags. One set of flags is used on days such as Memorial Day. But we have another, far more important set of flags that were given to our family in grateful thanks for the service of Colonel Walter L. Mitchell, Sr., Major Robert J. Mitchell, Sergeant Walter L. Mitchell, Jr., Sergeant George Walker, and Sergeant Raymond Troutner. Our family was fortunate in that they all died during times of peace.
But some families are not so fortunate. Their loved ones, their fathers, brothers, sons, mothers, and daughters died during war, far away from home and sometimes for a cause long forgotten. They came home with little fanfare and late at night, with the hopes of those who sent them to die that no one would notice.
Now, this will sound just a bit sarcastic but those who have died seem to have been better treated than those who were injured or wounded. It seems that those who are wounded and injured are more often than not forgotten, as the tragedies of the Veterans Administration have shown.
This need not be a somber day but it should be a day of reflection and remembrance, for we must honor those who died to insure our freedom and the liberties that we have. But I am afraid that this is becoming a day of celebration of war, not a remembrance of war and what war does. We glorify that which we should abhor and we ignore the consequences of our actions.
I am reminded that Robert E. Lee once wrote to his wife,
“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”
President Dwight Eisenhower said,
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
We see Memorial Day as a day of racing, parades, and the unofficial beginning of summer. For many students, Memorial Day is the marker that says school is almost over. It is hardly what we could call a day of memory and remembrance.
It is a day that says the gods of Baal, the gods of war and greed, are more important. Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, will speak in platitudes and cliches that glorify war and suggest that war is and will always be the answer to the problems of the world.
And these words will often be spoken by politicians and would-be politicians who have never served a day in the military, who are quite willing to send our youth, our future off to war but who have no concept of what war is or what it can do. And when the war ends (assuming that it ends), they do nothing to repair the damages and destruction caused by war. And then they wonder why war never ends.
And when politicians and would-be politicians raise up veterans, it is often for their own political and financial gain, not for the veterans.
In much the way Dante envisioned Sheol as a series of levels, I am sure that there is a special level for those who profit from war and the death and injuries of those they sent off to fight for them.
I also think there is a special place for those who proclaim to be Christian but who treat the words of Christ as words to be ignored. Personally, if one wants to declare war as the solution to the problem, that’s somewhat fine for me. But don’t say you are a Christian because nothing you say or do even remotely models the life of Christ.
In fact, when your focus is on these other gods and not Christ, you miss the point. But the Roman captain in Capernaum understood the difference.
Here was an officer in the Roman army, perhaps the greatest single military power in the history of the world, and he understood that none of that power, none of that military might was any good when he came to healing his servant. But he did understand that Jesus had the ability and power to do just that.
We are very much like the people of Israel when Elijah was the prophet and God’s spokesperson. The nation had begun following the gods of Baal and Elijah challenged the people to decide what they were going to do. Elijah arranged a demonstration to illustrate the inability of the gods of Baal when compared to the the true power of God. And when it was all done, the gods of Baal failed terribly in this very simple demonstration, even with the situation stacked in their favor.
I do not know what was going on in Galatia but it was clear from what Paul was writing that someone was offering an alternative view of the message that Paul presented. And it was also clear from what Paul wrote that this alternative message was clearly in opposition to the original message. Is not the message of some many so-called “Christians” the same version of that alternative message?
Where are we today? Do we accept the true Gospel, in which we help others, in which we care for others, and remove the causes of war, violence, and hatred? Or do we follow the false gospel of those who pronounce that we are to hate the outsiders and those who are different, who pronounce the power of war over the power of love, all while ignoring or transforming the words of Christ and the prophets of God?
There will be wars that we must fight. World War II was, unfortunately because of the anger and hatred that ended World War I, inevitable. But had justice over anger prevailed at the Versailles Conference in April, 1919, World War II may have been avoided. And many of the problems that have plagued our society since then would, perhaps could have been worked out in other ways.
Robert E. Lee also said,
“The war . . . was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.”
We also need to remember the words of George Washington,
My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”
President John Kennedy pointed out,
“Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.”
Two years earlier, he said,
“Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind. War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”
On this Memorial Day, when we pause to remember those whose service and sacrifice allow us to live free, we also need to remember the words of Elijah as he demonstrated the false nature of the gods of Baal, we need to remember the words of Paul who showed the power of Christ, and the single Roman Captain who understood that the the power of war can never be greater than the power of true Christian love.
We are challenged this day to go out into the world, not to destroy the world, but to build the world so all people will live free.