Today we recognize and honor
many sacrifices and many achievements. We lift up those
who have served in the Armed Forces and those who
continue to place their lives in harm's way in the hope
that someday all people will live in harmony. They
joined their nation's military troops knowing full well
that they could be asked to dedicate their every breath
to fighting for a cause.
We lift up those high school
students who have ignored their desire to sleep, play,
and date to struggle through hours studying in order to
reach that level of maturity and preparedness that
declares they are ready to take their place in this
world as adults, decision makers, and wage earners.
We lift up college students that
have sacrificed four or more prime years and youthful
desires to learn as much as they can in a field of
excellence so that they can make a positive difference
in this world seeking to learn the intricate ways of
God's good creation.
We lift up those who have
retired from the full-time workforce after many years of
dedicated labor to bring success and recognition to
their employer's company and a decent livelihood for
These are the men and women who
have risen to challenges beyond the natural instinct for
simple pleasure and strived to make life mean something.
These are people who take the admonition to live the
life we have been given and not exploit it.
I invited you to listen to the
song, "What Did He Die For" before our worship service
began. In this song, Twila Paris places side by side two
lives and two deaths. One, a soldier from WWII, nameless
and yet known by all who have lived through war years.
The other a man who walked the streets of Israel,
Palestine and the Middle East thousands of years ago.
Two men so far apart and yet so
much the same. Two men for whom earthly life was but a
stage upon which a scene from real life takes place.
Some might say they died for a cause they believed in.
But the reality is they chose to live every second into
the freedom that God offers. What gave them the courage
and the desire to endure? Perhaps it was the conviction
that earthly life is not worth living if a person is not
permitted to reach for higher ideals, for lasting peace,
and an existence that allows one to be authentic - to be
who you really are.
The soldier believed that
everything that America stood for was worth sacrificing
his life for despite its inevitable shortcomings and
failures. Jesus died believing in everything God is in
spite of our shortcomings and failures. Both departed
this plain of existence, but both left a legacy and a
responsibility and a prayer that those who remained
would live into the liberty born of their willingness to
Jesus left behind him a promise
that would fill the empty places where he had walked,
that would answer the questions raised by his
unconventional behavior, and bring wisdom and courage to
step into the ministry he began. He promised the gift of
the Holy Spirit that had been spoken of by the prophet
Joel of old. And, his promise became a reality on the
traditional day of Pentecost…a day that celebrated not
only the grain harvest, but the freedom from bondage in
Egypt and the gift of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.
Now we might think that having a
bunch of commandments is contrary to our understanding
of freedom. How can we think what we want, do what we
want, say what we want if we have to follow these rules?
But these commandments are not just rules, they are
definitions of what a life that lives with an eternal
being is like. They provide the walls that establish the
house of God, they provide the language with which we
can communicate with the creator and understand what
God's hopes and plans are. These are the characteristics
of people in a relationship with God. This is God's
language - a way of being - a way of living and it is a
choice we can make. Shall we have a relationship with
God or shall we walk away?
Yet, God didn't want us to walk
away. God went a step beyond and came to live among us
in the flesh. God came as Jesus so our experiences
became God's experiences. God rolled all the law into
the face, and hands and eyes and actions of one human
being and demonstrated for us what it meant for a human
being to live close to God.
And if that isn't enough, God
came in the form of the Holy Spirit to live within us.
The Spirit beats in rhythm beside our beating hearts. It
works within our weary muscles to sustain us and empower
us, to fill our brain cells with other possibilities and
fill us with the knowledge of eternal choices. The Holy
Spirit teaches us from inside out the way of another
life beside what we have known.
On that awesome day of
Pentecost, the Spirit came in such power that the
disciples who had only known one way to live with God
and perhaps two languages to share what they knew,
suddenly were able to communicate with the entire world.
The list of peoples included those whose nations had
long ago been swallowed by advancing armies and all but
disappeared. Even these descendents heard the mighty
acts of God proclaimed in languages they only heard at
their grandmother's knee. What a day that was! To
suddenly be able to relate to people whose cultures and
ways are so foreign to one's own! To be able to share
what is important and exciting.
Now that is liberty - to be able
to live and walk among the world at the same time one
lives with God. And it is our inheritance as Christians
- our legacy left to us from the cross. Our challenge is
not to change people to be like us or to fix people, but
to declare to them God's love and forgiveness in a
language THEY can understand. We have the privilege to
live in a country where our resources and opportunities
for learning about and appreciating other cultures,
languages and ways of thinking are virtually endless.
Yet, our nation's philosophy has been to melt everyone
down in one pot and make us generic. I daresay that even
among American English speaking folks, we don't all know
how to really communicate with one another. Even people
in the same families often have a hard time sharing
their most intimate thoughts and feelings.
Our challenge is to broaden our
horizons, to move out of our comfort zones, and step
into another person's world experience and try to
understand from their perspective. We can learn to think
about God in new ways, in new visual images and artwork,
new poetry, new music. But it means risking giving up
the life you have known in order to bring life to
someone else. You risk being changed. You risk growing.
You risk seeing new skies and new frontiers and maybe
never coming back. You risk becoming like Christ.