First Sunday after Pentecost
Seed Time and Harvest: Part Four, Protecting the Land
Scriptures: Galatians 6:9 and John 15:9-17
- Sunday, May 30, 2021: First Sunday after Pentecost
- A Time for Centering: “The Peace,” from Firework Music, Movement 3, by G. F. Handel; Terry Reitz, organ
- Hymn 92: “For the Beauty of the Earth,” by Folliot S. Pierpoint; Dorothy Beeman, Ken Burres, Randy Grubbs, Barbara Hughes, Rubye Knodel, Ken Lillagore, Sue Ninemires, Dennis Westeren, hymn leaders
- Hymn 2130: “The Summons,” by John Bell; Dorothy Beeman, Ken Burres, Randy Grubbs, Barbara Hughes, Rubye Knodel, Ken Lillagore, Sue Ninemires, Dennis Westeren, hymn leaders
- Special Music: “Now the Green Blade Riseth, ” by J. M. C. Crum; traditional French carol; Dorothy Beeman, Ken Burres, Randy Grubbs, Barbara Hughes, Rubye Knodel, Ken Lillagore, Sue Ninemires, Dennis Westeren, hymn leaders
- Scripture: John 15:9-17; Jim Stoffer
- Sermon: “Seed Time and Harvest: Part Four, Protecting the Land,” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 696: “America, the Beautiful,” by Katharine Lee Bates; Dorothy Beeman, Ken Burres, Randy Grubbs, Barbara Hughes, Rubye Knodel, Ken Lillagore, Sue Ninemires, Dennis Westeren, hymn leaders
- “The Rejoicing,” from Firework Music, Movement 2, by G. F. Handel; Terry Reitz, organ
Memorial Day…one of the most significant and important weekends of our year, or at least it should be. For so many this weekend signifies the beginning of summer. For others, it is a time to gather the family around the BBQ or play a little baseball. Those are all well and good, but this weekend isn’t just about that, or at least it shouldn’t be primarily about that. This weekend is set aside with intent, to serve a purpose that has nothing to do with the beginning of summer. Believe it or not, I’m not normally about could or should, but I think this one is different.
When it comes to this weekend, it’s not about where you stand politically or even spiritually this morning. It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, today should be a day, and this weekend should be a weekend, that makes all of us pause; pause and look, remember and show appreciation all while doing some self-examination. It needs to be a weekend of humility; It is a weekend set aside to honor the fallen, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. And we’ll focus once again on the scripture out of John, “Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” That, friends, is what this weekend is really about. It is to honor the fallen who chose military service, served, and died serving their country.
Given our congregation, I’m not sure there is anyone here who has not been impacted by what this weekend represents. This is a weekend when the word “sacrifice” gains deeper meaning. Memorial Day should cause all of us who sit in a sanctuary, anyone in this country who can worship in whatever way we choose, anyone who is able to vote no matter where we stand, stop and pay tribute. Our school children should be reminded that they are able to attend school the way they do because of the sacrifices of a few, for the many. Anyone who gets in their car to take a trip across the country, every time they cross a state line, should stop and remember the freedom that opens those doors. At every cemetery or war memorial, not just on this weekend, anytime we should stop to say a prayer of thanks for the sacrifice given by our men and women in uniform.
But also, please allow me to personalize this just a bit more. Each year while serving in Santa Monica, I would receive the call from the Bureau Chief of the FBI. I would be invited to come to the Federal Building in Los Angeles. I had the overwhelming honor of leading the memorial service for fallen Federal agents; agents who had fallen in service to the country over that previous year. Like so many military funerals, these also involved families, where a folded flag was given as a tribute to their sacrifice. Taps were played, and prayers offered. As I think about Memorial Day weekend, absolutely we need to set this weekend aside. As a matter of fact, we should set every day aside to remember our fallen heroes in uniform. No matter the incursion, the war, the theater, the situation, each had committed themselves to protect the freedoms we all hold so precious. Our men and women in uniform deserve this recognition. But it has to be so much more than one weekend of recognition each year.
I’ve debated with colleagues throughout my career about having the American flag in the worship space. Most would say it doesn’t belong, particularly so many here in the Western US, that this space is set aside as sacred, above nationalism. They say the flag represents imperialism, abuse of power, and the loss of innocence. And, at least to some extent, there are pieces of truth in what they say. Every government has a shadow side and I will admit to you that I experienced the darkest aspects of the shadow side of our government; as did my family. The memories of that haunt me.
However, what those so quick to criticize fail to see, and fail to remember, is that the very freedoms they seem to take for granted, freedoms like holding a public worship service, voting in any election, even having the freedom of voicing that opinion about the flag, each of those freedoms were earned, not by the critics, but by those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for them. That’s why I hope to have the flag stay in this hallowed room. It reminds us of what it costs.
In addition, I’ve done too many military funerals and federal agent remembrances to ever take it for granted. I’ve done some without caskets, making it that much more difficult. I believe my colleagues, particularly those who seem quick to judge, may do so because they haven’t seen what some of us have seen. So, maybe in their defense, unless they’ve witnessed first-hand what the lack of freedom looks like – oppression, overt poverty, abuses – it’s that much more difficult to realize that the cost of freedom is high, and the gift so precious. I’ve seen it, as have so many of you.
I look around this sanctuary and see so many who have served their country faithfully. We have every branch represented, those who have served in the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, many who extended that service in the Reserves; as well as those who served in Federal Agencies. I see those who are spouses or children, or siblings or related in some way to those who have served. Your service and your sacrifice also need to be honored. As long as I serve as a pastor, I will honor your service, and the flag in this sanctuary is because of that. To all of you, those who served, and to your families, as humbly as I can, I say thank you, and it doesn’t even come close. Now, I realize that this is worship and you’re not here to focus on patriotism, necessarily. So let’s turn toward Jesus, and revisit why Jesus would have spoken the way he did.
I think all too often we focus solely on the teachings and healings of Jesus, and forget that Jesus was also dealing with overt, abusive oppression. It was his constant companion. Some of it came from his own religious leaders, some from the occupying forces of Rome. Some oppressions were the direct result of the vast gap between the rich and the poor. We have to remember, that particularly in Jerusalem and the areas around it, he would be constantly surrounded by those considered to be outcasts – fellow Jews who were outcasts simply because of the diseases they carried. It was a time of immense superstition. Even poverty had layers. He was constantly surrounded by widows and orphans, on the streets because men had absolute power and could simply kick them out of their homes.
Jesus, like the God he served, wanted people to be whole, healthy, loved, fed, housed, clothed, accepted, and surrounded in community. He wanted to be free, as free as they could possibly be. His whole adult life, his years of ministry, were dedicated to bringing that kind of freedom to all of those around him. And, as I said, his choice to respond to oppression is often an aspect of his life that we forget. It drove him to say what he said, to do what he did, and to die the way he died. His was the ultimate sacrifice and was given because of his heart and his service to others.
You may not be aware that I changed the scripture this week from another vineyard parable to the second half of the John 15 scripture about vines and branches. This fits so much better. I am aware that you’ve heard it before, but in this case and on this Sunday, it takes on even deeper meaning. We’ve talked about being rooted.
We’ve talked about being connected. We’ve talked about being loved and fed, and even forgiven. What we haven’t talked about is why this is so important, particularly here and now. What if his vineyard parables are also about freedom; and not just our own, but offering opportunities for freedom to others? Here’s what I mean.
The whole idea of a church being a vineyard can be easily misconstrued. Being a vineyard could be seen as something that is fully self-contained, only connected to and with itself. Vineyards were often walled off, with watchtowers and guards. Jesus utilized that picture to talk about the dangers of looking only inward. It’s why Jesus took it to the next level. He focuses also on the fruit produced. It’s the fruit that is taken out and shared. It has to be; otherwise, it simply sits and rots on the vine. The fruit is the message of love and grace, hope, and kindness. The fruit represents the actions or the acts of sharing that change lives and open opportunities. It’s the sharing of the fruit that offers others the kind of freedom from all manner of oppressions around us. If we share Christ with others, we provide hope and help, peace and love, kindness and acceptance; all of which bring freedom. Now back to this weekend.
As I think of those I’ve known in the military, and there have been hundreds and hundreds of those who served faithfully, with deep integrity, valor, and bravery, united in purpose, and who carried out their missions without wavering and wholeheartedly.
They saw their role as saving, rescuing, and protecting. They saw it as a larger calling in a world that needed what they provided. And, what needs to take our breath away is that without exception, they were willing to put their very lives on the line for the tasks set out before them. I found them to be united in purpose, and the purpose was to free the oppressed. Their purpose was to bring freedom, and to protect liberty, and to do it in ways that would make those who sent them proud. They still do.
But one more element that needs to be remembered today. Most who saw action are still dealing with what they saw. My uncle, my nephew, other friends I’ve known were changed by what they saw. You can’t help but be changed, and it is up to us to assist them as they try and work through all of it. So today, I honor you who have served, and the memories of those who you’ve known who have fallen. Today, I honor you and pray for you, and thank you. We all do. In death, you have given us a love we can never repay. And so we remember. We will always remember. And we will always honor that memory with services like this one.
Will you pray with me.