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las Pulgas
Belmont, CA 94002
(650) 593-4547
E-mail: belmontucc

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Sacred Practice: To Remember and Renew

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
May 29, 2016

Memorial Day weekend is all about barbecues and sales, right? Or is it for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces? It originated as Decoration Day after the Civil War in 1868, as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers, but only the Union soldiers. By the 20th century, it has extended to honor all Americans who died while in military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end, although now that schools go almost year round, not so much!

If you have lost someone to war, you probably take it more seriously than most of us. We are a culture that doesn’t like to think about death so very few of us actually visit cemeteries or have ways to regularly remember those who have left us. But Christianity is all about death leading to resurrection, still, we prefer to put off thinking about it until it gets close, if at all. Perhaps that is why Memorial Day has become so uncertain a holiday.

The Lantern Floating Ceremony pictured on the cover of our bulletin is a beautiful exception. The Shinnyo-en Buddhists created this wonderful event to honor Memorial Day that is celebrated each year in Hawaii. It was started in 1999 as a way to build bridges of understanding between East and West, Japanese and American’s, devastated by the events of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It has become a way to pray for peace and to remember those who are gone. I was invited to attend in 2013 and was deeply moved by it. The picture on our bulletin is from my personal collection. Taking time to write prayers of peace and remember those who have gone before touched a deep cord in all of us.

But why did I choose our reading from the Gospel According to Luke 7:1-10, for this Sunday? It is, of course, the Lectionary reading for today but still, it carries some significance for Memorial Day weekend. To review:  Jesus has “finished all his sayings” – He’s done talking! He’s headed home to Capernaum near where he may have given his sermon on the mount and Peter may have lived. He’s confronted by some Jewish elders (“important” people) who ask him to help a Centurion (an “important” Roman soldier). The elders assure Jesus that the centurion is “worthy” of his attention because he has been good to them. The centurion doesn’t come himself because he feels “unworthy”: “Lord…I am not worthy to receive you…but only speak the word and my soul will be healed.” These classic words included are included in the Catholic mass, except instead of soul it is slave in the original. The soldier understands the chain of command. He knows how to follow orders and to give them. He believes Jesus is able to give commands from the mouth of God.

And, according to Luke, Jesus thinks this is just the most amazing faith he has ever seen. If you have served in the military, you too understand the importance of the chain of command, but does that in any way define your relationship to God?

The centurion was profoundly humble even in his privilege. He had slaves, money and power. But he humbly asked for help. And he received it. In that he is worthy of our praise and honor. But how do you feel about his hierarchical understanding of faith?

There are those who believe a prayer is worthless unless it is spoken “in the name of Jesus.” Do you believe you have to go through an intermediary to get to God? Even Jesus, in his suggested way to pray in our “Lord’s Prayer,” didn’t require that we use his name! And we often remind ourselves to pray in God’s “Many names.” Jesus’ essential teachings about love dismissed the idea that some are more “worthy” than others. “Blessed are the poor, the humble, the hungry…”

Remembering those who have gone before us and honoring their memory is a Sacred Practice: To Remember and Renew is a powerful way to keep their wisdom and experience alive even if it is only to remember what we hope not to do. Honoring our ancestors strengthens our faith and our self- understanding. And we know that those who have served their country in time of war have a special place in our hearts, more than barbecues and sales, more than a holiday to begin the summer.

Asian cultures honor their ancestors more directly than we do. We have dismissed it as “ancestor worship,” but it is better understood as “honoring your father and mother” as we are commanded also to do. Although to honor does not always mean to obey!

Now I invite you to take a few minutes to remember your loved ones who have gone before. What strengths did they teach you? What challenges did they face? What can you learn from how they chose to live their lives? What memory would you write on the rice paper of a lantern to float into the water at Ala Moana Beach in Waikiki? What prayer for peace would you make?

If you would like to write them down to place in the offertory they will be quietly prayed by your pastor before being released into recycling. In Hawaii the lanterns were gathered at the far edge of the bay and the rice paper released into the water where it naturally dissolved. I invite you to pause now and think about your ancestors.


May our thoughts and prayers be filled with the blessings and strengths we have received from those who have gone before. May we find ways this day and tomorrow to honor the service others have done for our country, but more, for the wider world. May we remember that we are one human family sharing one small planet. May we pray for peace, deep peace, so that the sacrifices of others may not simply be seen as fodder for a war machine that never stops needing to be fed. And may God’s peace fill us and inspire us to be a center of God’s compassionate presence this day and every day. Amen.