Memorial Day is always a great weekend because it is the unofficial start of summer. As a kid it was from here that we could really begin to count down the days until school was over. We also got to cook out hamburgers and hotdogs and it was a day off of school. While all of this is still great stuff, we always need to remember that Memorial Day needs to be a day to remember those who sacrificed for and served our nation. It is a day to remember people like Lewis Smith and others who made the greatest sacrifice and died while serving our nation and the cause of freedom and justice around the world.
Memorial Day is also a day when we say thank you to those who have served and are still serving in our military. So to those families who lost loved ones, to those who have served and to those we are still serving, we again say thank you. With the dangers who see around the world, we know that military service is risky and a hardship for many families so the least we can do as a community is make sure we take every opportunity to say thank you for the service and witness that you and your families provide.
But within this holiday there needs to be something more. We need to look at those who have served and sacrificed and learn how to make the witness of their lives – the foundation of our lives. In addition to saying thank you, we need to take some time to readjust our lives so that service and sacrifice can be part of how we live. After we honor and remember the lives of those who have gone before us we need to learn how to make their values and commitments the guiding force of our lives. Memorial Day is a day to stop and look back to remember but it also needs to be a day to move forward and make the witness of what we have seen in the past part of what our lives will look like in the future.
The disciples were faced with a similar moment when several weeks after the resurrection of Jesus they stood on a hillside with him. Luke 24:45-53. This is the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
The disciples are standing there in a moment of stunned silence and reflection looking up into heaven. Perhaps they are giving thanks for all Jesus had done for them. Maybe they were remembering the love and power that guided his life and through him = their lives, but it was not just a Memorial Day for the disciples, it was not just a day to reflect and remember, it was also a day to set a new course and live a new life. It was a day to move forward.
In Acts 1, we hear that after Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples were standing around looking up and looking back. They were looking up into heave and they were looking back to history. They asked Jesus when he was going to restore the kingdom of Israel. They were looking for a return of the good old days instead of looking forward to the new kingdom of God. As they were looking up and back, two messengers suddenly appeared and asked them, why are you looking up into sky? Jesus will return the same way he left. If Jesus was going to return, then the question the disciples needed to wrestle with was how they were going to live until that day came.
• What will be the vision that guides them?
• What will be the values that shape them?
• What will be the power that moves them forward?
It might be interesting to ask these questions in light of Memorial Day. Can the vision that guides us as a community and nation be one of service and sacrifice where we are willing to serve a cause greater than ourselves? Can the values that shape us be the values of our military? Do you know the core values the army?
Loyalty – Duty – Respect – Service – Honor – Integrity – Courage
These are great values that should shape our thoughts, words and actions. In fact, if there was just one value here that I would love to see reinstated into our culture today it would be respect. Respect for authority, leaders, parents, elders but also just a simple respect for one another as children of God and brothers and sisters. If we could recapture this value as a community, nation and world then honor, courage, service and loyalty may return as well.
And as we reflect on Memorial Day, what will be the power that moves us forward? The power that moved men and women throughout our history to sacrifice and serve was a love for country, freedom and justice. It was the love for family and community that moved people to do more and be more than they ever thought possible.
Now what if we ask ourselves these questions in light of the ascension?
• What will be the vision that guides you?
• What will be the values that shape you?
• What will be the power that moves you forward?
The vision that was going to guide the disciples and the church was the vision of Jesus. This vision was not just a looking back to the Jesus of history it was a vision of what it was going to mean to be the presence of Jesus in the world moving forward. Today, when people look at us they need to see Jesus. When they listen to us they need to hear Jesus and through us they need to experience the love and grace and power of Jesus. Now let’s be clear, our witness to the world will be filled with pitfalls and problems. We won’t say things the right way or at the right time, our efforts to help may be flawed and we may fall flat on our face at times, but if we are genuinely striving to be the presence of Jesus in the world – people will see Jesus in us
Look at Luke 24:46-48. Jesus said, you are witnesses of these things. The disciples actually did see these things but this also means they need to bear witness to them as well. The disciples needed to move forward and share with others who Jesus was and they needed to be the presence of Jesus in the world. The ascension tells us that we need to tell people about Jesus but more importantly, we need to be the presence of Jesus. People need to witness Jesus in us. This needs to be the vision that guides us.
Jesus also makes clear that one of the values that need to shape our lives is humility and grace. Jesus said, repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations. This means that we need to first seek repentance and forgiveness in our own lives which means humbling ourselves before God and confessing that we don’t always get it right and that, in fact, many times we get it wrong. Humbling ourselves before God – repenting of our sins –shapes us and makes us more patient and gracious and forgiving toward others. When we humble ourselves, God then fills us with his grace which helps us then offer God’s grace to others.
It is never enough for us to come and be forgiven – this grace needs to be preached to all nations – but we can’t preach it unless we are living it. Have we received God’s grace and are we forgiving those who have sinned against us? Are we forgiving those who have hurt us or intentionally or unintentionally? Once grace shapes our lives and we are extending that grace and forgiveness to others we can then talk about. If we aren’t forgiving others and if the value of grace is not evident in our lives then we can forget about preaching it. It is our witness that speaks most powerfully. The value of grace and mercy needs to shape our thoughts and actions and give light to our words as we move forward.
And then there’s the power – what is the power that moves us forward? What is the power that motivates us and equips us and enables us to live far beyond what we thought was possible? This power is not something we stir up in ourselves. It is not emotion or sentimentality, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that God alone gives. Jesus said, I am going to send you what my Father has promised: but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. What Jesus is talking about here is the power of the Holy Spirit and once that power came upon the disciples they started moving forward to be the presence of Jesus in the world, to bear witness to all Jesus said and did and to offer the grace and love of God to all people. They disciples did move forward and were effective because they moved forward in the power of God.
God still makes the power of His Holy Spirit available to us each and every day. What moves us forward in life with strength and passion and conviction to live with and for God is the power of God’s spirit and the power of God’s spirit is working within us. It is the power of God’s spirit that moved us to give generously and sacrificially to help our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone. It was the movement of God’s spirit that stirred up so many people to not just give, but to give in ways they have never given before. The spirit that moved us didn’t come from within – it came from God and as God moves in us and among us we need to keep asking God to move us forward. God is doing something among us that doesn’t end with money given to Sierra Leone – it continues as we give more of ourselves to God.
God is not done with us yet – this is just the beginning and I am not talking about money for an offering, I am talking about God’s spirit moving among us to be the witness of Jesus in our families, community and world. God’s spirit will shape us so that our lives will reflect more of the love, grace and power of God. Like the disciples standing on the hillside after the resurrection, I stand here today knowing that God is calling us to move forward with the power that He is sending so that we can be the fullness of Jesus in our world. Can we, will we move forward?
1. Take some time on Monday (and through this week) to reflect on the sacrificial giving of our men and women in the military. Thank God for their witness and service and reach out to an active duty soldier, military family or veteran and say “THANK YOU.”
2. The Core Values of the U.S. Army are:
Loyalty – Duty – Respect – Service – Honor – Integrity – Courage
Choose one of these values to focus on this week and use it to shape your (and your families) thoughts, words and actions.
The Ascension of Jesus
1. Read about the Ascension of Jesus in Luke 24:45-53 and Acts 1:1-11.
2. The vision of the risen and glorified Jesus now led the disciples into the future – what is the vision of your life?
How can Jesus become the vision of your life and the vision of what people see in your life?
3. The message of repentance was what Jesus said would be preached until he returns. In what areas of your life is repentance needed? How can you offer forgiveness and grace to those in your life?
4. The disciples were told to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come and lead them into the future. Where do you feel the power of God’s Holy Spirit moving in you? In what ways is the Holy Spirit leading you forward? Take time this week to listen for God’s direction for your life and then ask for the power to move forward.