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Recent Sermons

Remembering and Honoring What's Good and True

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
May 28, 2017

Today we honor those who have given their lives in service to what is good and true in our national heritage. No one signed up to go to war because they liked to kill people, or because they thought we deserved power over others, or access to their resources. Although we cannot say that all our foreign wars were started out of pure motives, those who have chosen to serve our country and gave their lives, the greatest sacrifice, deserve to be remembered with great compassion and solemnity. We remember their courage, their commitment, their service and their ultimate sacrifice in our prayers and in our hearts longing to live in ways that respect the price they paid for our freedom.

Today’s reading, from the Gospel of John is the beginning of the prayer that closes the Final Discourse Jesus addressed to his disciples (and by extenstion to us!) The language is unique to John. It speaks of glory and eternal life and leaving the world. The language is hard to understand or relate to. We don’t tend to pray in this way. Our prayers are usually more like the Lord’s Prayer: simple, direct, concrete… “Give us this…Forgive us that…” Once again I feel compelled to translate John’s language in hopes that we might find some gift for us here.

First let’s look at the words ‘glory’ and ‘glorify’. Webster’s dictionary defines it this way: “to make glorious by bestowing honor, praise, or admiration” is to glorify. It fits perfectly with the theme of Memorial Day.  We want to honor and praise those who have gone before. We want to glorify them. But ‘glory’ and ‘glorify’ in this prayer seems more about mystery than just remembering, honoring or praising God, Jesus or the dead. Jesus asks that God glorify him and his disciples and by extension us! When was the last time you thought of yourself as glorious or worthy of glorifying? Perhaps others are worthy, but us?

Then he speaks of ‘eternal life’ not as ‘pie in the sky in the hereafter.’ He says that, “This is eternal life:…to know God and Jesus Christ” in the here and now! Christ means messiah which means savior, which means being set free from all fear and oppression of heart and mind. Eternity is ours when we simply remember who we are!
Einstein’s understanding whispers to me here:
         “Aren't you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of        life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle     of the human mind -- to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas         as tools to explain what humanity sees, feels and touches. Try to      comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity.”
But Jesus seems to disconnect himself from ‘the world’ (“I am no longer in the world, but they are…”) The world is loved by God (“For God so loved the world…”) but ‘world’ is the word used for all that does not understand the divine connection with God. World is opposed to Spirit in this dualistic mindset. When Jesus died he left the material world but the Spirit is his presence, the presence of God with us now.

When Jesus prays “that they may be one, as we are one,”        he is asking us to realize our connection to the divine “in whom we live and move and have our being.” When we live moment by moment in awareness of our sacred calling as children of the most high, we discover what God is calling us to do and be.

Remembering and honoring what is good and true means more than just placing flowers on the tomb of the unknown     soldier. I chose a picture from Arlington National Cemetary for our bulletin cover this morning. Many of you may have known men and women who gave their lives in service to our country, but many thousands/millions, have died for our nation and  sometimes the reason for the fight is mirky and unclear.

We cannot forget that Jesus was called the Prince of Peace, and too many wars have been called the ‘war to end all wars’ with disappointing result.  Now we are in the midst of a “War on Terror” that has no boundaries, and no clear enemy, except an ideology. And every bomb we drop on a foreign land to take out a particular target guarantees those who survive will feel motivated to continue the struggle in the only way they know how – suicide, random assalts on large gatherings. Their children have died by the thousands so they turn to attack ours and the tragedy continues.

One of my professors in seminary pointed out to us: “War is what rich and powerful nations call the battle; but the battle by the weak and poor, we call terrorism.”

Our nation is truthfully the arms dealer to the world. Our recent deal with Saudi Arabia to provide billions in weapons to fight ISIS will also be used in their personal struggles against people in their own country who just want to be free. I am reminded of another statement by Einstein: “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”
        
When we gather together to hear words from an ancient text we call Holy Scripture we try to apply those teachings to our lives. We are asked to imagine the context in which they were written and what we can learn from that history. 1st Century Palestine was controlled by the Roman Empire. By the time John wrote his gospel the temple had been destroyed forever and the Jewish people were in exile, hunted nearly to extinction.

Jesus had chosen to walk silently to his execution rather than speak out against empire and ensure that all his followers would be rounded up and executed with him. He literally died for his friends.

His followers chose to disavow themselves of their Jewish brothers and sisters perhaps simply to survive, but they too would ultimately mostly die by crucifixtion. They did not take up arms against their enemy, the state. They chose to live by the law of love, to see every human being, including their enemies, as children of God, to be loved and cared for.

How will you honor those who have gone before us this Memorial Day weekend? Will you visit a grave? Hold a picnic? Pray that we might find a way to create a world of peace? Does it seem overwhelming and impossible to image a better world? John’s Jesus says we are in the world to love it, and as we become one in God’s spirit we already are changing it. I think of the butterfly whose single flap of a wing creates a typhoon on the other side of the world. How much more can a loving community committed to practicing kindness and love transform our small blue home? May it be so!