On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”
(Joshua 4: 19-24)
On Memorial Day we remember those men and women who died for our country. We also reach out to God in prayer for those who are currently serving and in harm’s way. You may have a friend or a family member who is serving in our great nation’s armed forces. I think about my brother, a Navy chaplain, who was transferred recently from Japan to Djibouti, Africa. Whenever I read reports of Somali pirates in his region I think about the incident that happened on October 3, 1993, referred to now as “Blackhawk Down” because of the book by Mark Bowden.
This incident exemplifies the spirit of American soldiers. There are so many others. In every war, in every conflict, in every situation where American troops are called to duty, there are stories that demonstrate that no matter what the odds, our troops will display unbelievable courage in order to rescue or protect their fellow soldiers. Yes, they will fall upon a grenade to protect their neighbor, or dash through raining bullets in order to pull the injured to safety. When a sacrificial response is called for, American soldiers answer with their lives. Protecting their brothers and sisters in arms at the cost of their own lives becomes a natural response. In that one moment, preserving America’s freedom means more than creed, religion, race, color, background.
American soldiers excel because of this commitment. Their letters home that are to be opened only if they are killed in battle may include phrases such as, “I served a purpose greater than myself…” or “I died so you could live free…”
Across the land at every Memorial Day event this weekend, figuratively hundreds of thousands of invisible guests from across time, from Valley Forge to Iraq are welcomed as guests of honor. We thank God for their sacrifice and are truly humbled.
What is our duty this Memorial Day? John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath featured a family packing as they were leaving and being told not to bring their memorabilia and pictures, to which a character responded, “How will they know it’s us without our past?”
We build monuments to remind us of freedom’s past, and our Scripture today tells us that those memorials mean more than looking back- they call us to a future filled with hope. After wandering the desert for forty years, the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses has turned leadership over to Joshua who commands one from each tribe to bring a stone from out of the seabed to make a monument, an Ebenezer, which means stone of help.
There are Ebenezers across the Holy Land that commemorate God’s help. Joshua explained the purpose of their memorial was to remind people that God helped them. God brought them out of the desert and delivered them into freedom.
John 15:13 states, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” We teach our children this great love when they see the memorials we have built. The memorials right here in our neighborhood celebrations with Cub Scouts and Brownies at Kenilworth and Winnetka, make just as powerful a statement as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Maybe we are too weak to visit or build a memorial. God’s grace rescues us because God has provided an Ebenezer, a stone of help, that comes to us during every moment of our life, wherever we are, providing stability, strength, and hope. It is Jesus Christ. He is the rock of our salvation, the cornerstone, the fortress of our strength. Jesus comes to us as a sign that death has been defeated, and the past should be seen as a signpost for the future. When we see the grave stones of our loved ones who have passed before us, Jesus saves us from being lost in despair. The grave stones and memorials are not only symbols to a beloved’s past, they are reminders that there is a future we will share again. We can hope and move into our future knowing we will be united with our loved ones again. There is a strong connection in the life that Jesus lived and the spirit of American soldiers that sacrifices all so that others can live free.
Imagine how different our country would be if all Americans could live out the spirit of the American soldier…..If Americans who are not defending other Americans would grasp the necessity for truly caring for others….there would be a wave of Christlike love sweeping across our nation. That would be the best way to remember and honor our fallen troops!
The book, Healing the Soul of America by Marianne Williamson includes a challenge to each of us…
“If enough Americans would say, I will no longer watch too much TV; if enough
Americans would say, I will read books I know I should read; if enough Americans would say, I will seek my spiritual nature; if enough Americans would say, I will vote in every election; if enough Americans would say, I will do the things I know in my heart I should do, and make a passionate stand for the changes I feel are important – then America would transform.”
This Memorial Day may we remember and not forget the sacrifices that have given us our freedom. May we see their memorials and honor their gift of freedom. May we walk with Christ, our Ebenezer, into a future filled with hope, because in Christ we are freed from death. May God bless and preserve America! Amen.