Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
A love that is willing to lay down one’s life for the sake of the other.
A love that does not seek its own way.
A love that gives life.
A love that is Divine.
I had a friend in the A.A. meeting that I attended. He was a native of India, and a Hindu. Hindus are comfortable with the concept of many different Gods.
He told his daughter, who was going to live her life as a Hindu, that “No, you live in America, and Americans are Christian. You should be Christian too. If you ever live in India, then you should be a Hindu.”
He told me that he was rather unique in that he was a Hindu who prayed to Jesus. Specifically, he prayed to Jesus because Jesus taught about sacrificial love, the only religious leader to do so, and that is what the world needed.
“I pray to Jesus, except when I’m praying for wisdom,” he shared. “When I pray for wisdom, I pray to the Monkey God, because we get our brains from the monkeys. Some things are hardwired in.”
This weekend we commemorate Memorial Day.
One of the problems with Memorial Day is that our country decided to start celebrating Memorial Day, always on a Monday, so that we’d all have three day weekends.
I visited with a person once who was concerned about this. By making Memorial Day into a three day weekend it became simply the first holiday of summer:
As such, it became a time to go the the lake and fish, or go golfing (that’s what I did yesterday), or just have a barbeque and drink beer.
Gone for the most part were the services held in the cemeteries that used to be the main thing about Memorial Day.
Ever since I heard that, I’ve had my concerns.
Memorial Day is not simply a recreational holiday. The beginning of summer.
And No, Memorial Day is not a time to honor all the dead. That would be All Saints Day, though remembering our dead is never a bad thing. One of the reasons we have made Memorial Day into a day to remember all the dead, is because All Saints Sunday comes in November, and in November you can’t go to the cemeteries and place flowers on the graves like you can on Memorial Day. The only harm I see in remember all of our loved one’s on Memorial Day is that it is a distraction from Memorial Day’s actual purpose.
And No, Memorial Day is not Veteran's Day. We already have one of those. This year, November 12th will be Veterans Day, a time to honor all those who have served in the military.
I once had a parishioner who made a point of insisting that we had all veterans stand on Memorial Day so that we could thank them. My associate quipped on one of those Memorial Days, “But Susan, Memorial Day is to honor the veterans who gave their life, and they cannot stand!”
And No, Memorial Day is not a day dedicated to remember all deceased veterans. Many veterans returned home from the wars to live a good and prosperous life. Others never went to war at all. Memorial Day is not intended to simply remember those veterans who served in WWII, for example, and then lived another fifty or sixty years and finally died at a ripe old age.
What is Memorial Day?
It is a day to remember the sacrifice of those who gave their life for our country in the armed forces.
In my family we remember Steven Surma, one of my cousins who died during the Vietnam War.
Memorial Day itself began following the Civil War when the nation was reeling from the massive casualties of that conflict.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.”
To give one’s life in order that our Nation may enjoy the freedoms we cherish is one of the highest forms of love. We remember that sacrifice today, the flag draped coffins, the taps played in the cemetery, and the ‘Gold Stars’ commemorating not only the sacrifice of the soldier, but of the families who lost one they loved.
There is one problem with honoring the sacrifice that our soldiers have made.
The love, with which they gave their life, is not perfect as God’s love is perfect.
Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the great theologians of the post war era of the last century, pointed this out in his book, “Moral Man, Immoral Society”.
Niebuhr’s central point of his book was that Society takes the most benevolent of all human actions, the giving of one’s life, and uses it to advance its own self interest. The soldier sacrifices everything. But the society uses that sacrifice, not for the sake of the other, but to advance its own agenda.
One could argue that this is not always the case with war. Sometimes our own nation has engaged in war, not for our own sake, but for the sake of others.
I believe World War II, in particular, was one such example of that. The moral imperative to defeat Hitler was overwhelming. And the sacrifices made not only by our soldiers but by the nation as a whole is an example of self sacrificial love.
Other wars have not been so clear.
If we are honest, our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been more about advancing our own self interest than anything else. Even if we take into account the attack on September 11th, we cannot totally justify invading Iraq, or Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda, a terrorist group was responsible for 9/11, not the government of Iraq or Afghanistan. And eventually, Al-Qaeda’s leader, bin Laden, was hunted down in Pakistan, not Iraq or Afghanistan.
We were in Iraq and Afghanistan to advance our own nation’s self interests, and some had suggested, it was more about stabilizing that oil rich part of the world in order to insure a constant supply of oil that was our real objective.
Well, history will tell.
But back to the point.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.”
And from today’s Gospel lesson:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Jesus, hanging on a cross in order that we might be redeemed.
Jesus, taking our sins upon himself, that we might be free from our own sins.
Jesus, dying that we might live.
Jesus, becoming accursed that we might be saved.
Divine love. Sacrifical Love. Jesus’ love.
“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus had come to Jesus, recognizing that only one who was from God could have done the signs Jesus did.
Jesus spoke of our needing to be ‘born from above”, a concept Nicodemus simply could not understand.
Jesus spoke about the Spirit, blowing where it wills, to create faith in the heart of the believer.
But most of all, Jesus would speak about the love that God has for the world.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
God didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world, but because he loved the world.
One might also say that God did not give his only Son to die for the world, for God’s sake, but for the sake of the whole world.
God did not establish his Kingdom because God had a particular ambition to be King, but in order that we all might live under the gentle reign of his love.
This is hard for us and the world to understand.
We struggle to see the Kingdom of God. Jesus says only those who have been born from above can see it.
One might rephrase that to say that only those who have experienced the love of Christ can comprehend the Kingdom of God.
A kingdom founded on love and a love not just for some, but for “the world”.
I think that this is the greatest difference between human love, and divine love.
When a soldier lays down his life in battle, it is almost always for the sake of the ‘country’.
It is about loving our country, our people.
Human beings recognize borders.
We value our own nation, more than we value other nations.
I may be wrong, but I doubt very many of our service men and women who died in Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, did so with the understanding that it was for those people, those other people, that they died.
Such deaths, such sacrificial love, is most often offered for the sake of our nation, and our people.
In loving ‘the world’, God is different than us.
There are no borders that restrict God’s love.
There are no peoples who alone are the recipients of God’s love.
None of us deserve God’s love because of who we are and what we have done.
God is not ‘ours’.
God’s love is not our privilege.
In Psalm 139 it is written:
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
Where ever you go, and whether you live or die, God will embrace you with his love, for such is the Kingdom of God and his grace and mercy.