The older I get, the more I appreciate Memorial Day. Growing up what I loved about this weekend was that it marked the beginning of summer which meant that my grandmother would open up her beach house and school was almost over. We had a town parade and it would be the first time we might actually grill hamburgers and hotdogs outside. When I was in college Memorial Day meant the end of the semester and the beginning of summer jobs, which one year meant working in Yellowstone and another year Rocky Mountain NP so it was a time of adventure. When I worked at the movie theater, Memorial Day wasn’t as much fun because it was always the blockbuster movie season, we were just busy. What you might notice missing from all those things is what Memorial Day is really all about.
As I have gotten older and talked with people in the church who have served in the military through many different wars and as I have talked to families who have lost parents, spouses, children and siblings due to war, the day has taken on a different kind of meaning. As much as I love the picnics and summer, I tend to spend a little more time thinking about the kind of men and women who have served our nation. There is a spirit among those who have served that is admirable and honorable. There is a courage we see in young men and women who leave all they know behind to serve in dangerous places around the world. And there is sacrifice. Our military and their families sacrifice time and time together as well as careers, health, money and at times their lives to serve, protect and fight for freedom and justice around the world.
I should also say that military families have a special kind of spirit and courage as well and military families make great sacrifices. My dad was an army chaplain and the year he served in Korea was a sacrifice of time away from family. It was a sacrifice for my mom too as she had to stay home with three young children for those 13 months and be a single parent. We were fortunate that my dad returned home safely, but on Memorial Day we need to remember not only the sacrifice of those who didn’t come home but also the sacrifice of the families who lost a mother or brother or a son or daughter. We need to remember the spirit, courage and sacrifice of these families and when I say remember I don’t just mean we need to think about them. That’s a start but we also need to appreciate them, thank them and honor them, but as followers of Jesus, we need to take spirit, courage and sacrifice one step farther.
Let’s look at the word remember. Re-Member. If we think about our arm or leg being a member of our body, if they were to be torn off then when we re-member them we would be re-attaching that member. We might think of it as a literal reconnecting. To remember at times means connecting ourselves in very real ways to what we are bringing to mind. When Jesus said to remember him in communion we aren’t just to think about what he did, we are to join our lives to his and follow his example. Communion isn’t just thinking about how Jesus gave himself for us it is thinking about how we can give ourselves for others like Jesus did.
So when we remember those who have served and when we remember their spirit, courage and sacrifice we need to embrace their spirit and make their courage and life of sacrifice our own, but this isn’t something we should do just at this time of year, this is something that as Christians we are called to do daily, because Spirit, Courage, Sacrifice is the life all Christians have been called and equipped to live.
Spirit, Courage and Sacrifice is the story of Pentecost. Pentecost means 50 and it was the Jewish festival that came 50 days after the Passover. It was a festival that honored the first harvest and it was a time when Jews from all over the region would travel to Jerusalem to bring an offering and thank God for all his provision and goodness. In the book of Acts it was on this day of celebration that the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus who were gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem. Acts 2:1-5
John’s gospel tells us that when the disciples gathered in the upper room it was often behind locked doors because they were afraid of the religious and political leaders who had just Jesus put to death. To be identified as a follower of Jesus was dangerous and so the disciples often gathered behind closed and locked doors and this is where they were when the Holy Spirit came upon them. The spirit of God came with power, as Jesus had promised, and that power could be heard in the sound of a rushing wind and it could be seen in something that looked like flames of fire that rested on each disciple of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit wasn’t just given to the disciples gathered in the upper room on that day of Pentecost, however, the Holy Spirit entered into the world in such a way that all the followers of Jesus could receive this powerful spirit. When we turn to and trust in Jesus and when we are baptized in Jesus name and commit to follow Jesus in our lives the spirit of God is available to fill us with a power that brings new life. If we are willing to receive this power and yield ourselves to the spirit of God working in us our lives can be changed and the first thing that can happen is that we can be filled with courage.
When the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost it could be seen and heard but the first change it made in the disciples was to give them courage. The disciples were hiding in fear but immediately after the spirit fills them we see a boldness in them to do things they never thought possible. Acts 2:4-6.
What is interesting here is that we never hear about them leaving the upper room and going out onto the streets – but that is exactly what has happened. All fear is gone and it’s not like they even debated or decided to move out – they just went. The Spirit filled them with a courage to do things they never thought possible. The courage of the disciples is also seen as they openly share what God has done in their lives. The crowd said, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” So the followers of Jesus were boldly sharing what God had done and what God was doing in their lives. They were openly talking about Jesus and Peter even stood up to share with everyone what had happened.
So the very first gift the spirit of God brings to the disciples is courage, courage to talk about Jesus, courage to live for Jesus and courage to follow Jesus. We see in them a courage to establish a community based on the teaching of Jesus. If the same spirit of God is active and available today then this same courage is ours. There is courage available for us to talk about Jesus at home and at work and in our schools and community. We do not need to be ashamed that somehow our message isn’t politically correct, we might even be silenced in some places but we can be bold and talk about the love and power of God in our lives and in our world.
It’s important however, that we use this gift of courage to share God’s message of love and grace and forgiveness and not to tell others how to live. The followers of Jesus are talking about the wonders of God. They are talking about the power of God at work in their lives and how they see God at work in the world and their words are helping people see the goodness and grace of God that is there for them. The courage we need isn’t to share in a way that condemn others for how they live but in a way that lifts up how Jesus’ love and grace has saved and helped us. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, he came to love the world and to offer life. John 3:17, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. So the spirit of God doesn’t give us power to condemn and judge but the power to love and share a message of God’s grace given in Christ.
The spirit of God also gives us the courage to love. The last couple of weeks David has talked about love and let’s be honest, it takes courage to be patient and kind. It takes courage to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things. It takes courage to forgive and keep no record of wrongs. It takes courage to be selfless and humble. So it takes courage to love and the only way this kind of love is possible is if we will ask the spirit of God to fill us day after day. Can that be our prayer every morning? Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me.
The more we live a life of courage the more we will find ourselves called to sacrifice. The disciples were filled with courage to talk about what God had done and to talk about the life of Jesus and that courage led them to start living in sacrificial ways. Acts 2:41-47.
Living with the spirit of God and the courage God was giving them led the people to love one another in sacrificial ways. Instead of hording things for themselves, they shared all that they had with others. Instead of just worrying about their own needs, they sold what they had to give to the needs of others. Their love for God equipped them to love others in ways they could and their mutual sacrifice and love built a strong community. This community of Jesus that formed still stands today and it has spread around the world because this is the church and if we are all willing to sacrifice and give what we have and what we can – we will continue to nurture and strengthen this community here and around the world.
The sacrifice of time, talent and money from this congregation gave life to the Faith Centre which continues to be a support for many in our community. People who are hungry are fed by the food bank. People in need of housing get rental assistance, people who are hurting get help and people who are lonely find community. Our sacrifice of money has helped the church in Sierra Leone and our sister church in PaLoko. We just heard today and saw how our sacrifices have meant that a community has water –a basic of life. Many of you sacrifice and give time to ministries in the community that help care for single moms and their children, help animals in need and make sure the needs of our seniors are met.
The spirit of God always leads to sacrifice because the spirit of God gives us gifts that we need to use for the benefit of others. Again, David talked about the different gifts given to the people in the church and how we are given these gifts not for our own wellbeing but to be shared and used for others. We all have different gifts which is good because all our gifts are needed but the only way to use them is if we are willing to sacrifice.
It takes a sacrifice of time to serve, it takes a sacrifice of love to get involved in someone else’s life, and it takes a sacrifice of faith to pray for others or share the love of Jesus. It takes a sacrifice of money to meet the needs of the poor in Bellefonte, Belize and Sierra Leone. It also takes courage to step out and serve, it takes courage to step out and love. It takes courage to commit to praying for others and courage to share the love of Jesus and it takes courage to give away our money generously. It takes courage to sacrifice and the spirit that brings all of this into our lives isn’t a spirit of self-reliance, and it isn’t a spirit of pride or patriotism, it is the spirit of God, the spirit of the living God and the spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit which is available to us each and every day.
So this weekend as we spend time remembering the spirit of those who have courageously served and sacrificed, I invite you to also remember the Holy Spirit? Don’t just think about it and all that it does but reach out and connect yourself once again to the power of that spirit so that it can help us live out the life of Jesus – a life of courage, a life of sacrifice and yes, a life of love.
Spirit – Courage – Sacrifice
1. Give thanks for those who sacrifice with courage for our nation and for the work of justice and peace around the world. Thank our active duty military, veterans, families of those who have and are serving and families of those who have lost family members during military service.
2. Pray for our nation and our world, that peace may be achieved in places like North Korea and the Middle East.
• Pray for justice and peace in our own nation.
• Pray for the safety of our children in the last few weeks of school and all those who serve in our schools.
3. Where have you seen God give you the courage to live and love like Jesus?
• When has God given you patience, kindness and the ability to forgive?
• When has God given you the ability to share a message of Jesus’ love and grace?
4. Where do you need courage to live for Jesus?
• What is God calling you to do that fills you with fear?
• Ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit so that you may have the courage to take the first step in this direction.
5. Where can courage lead to sacrifice in your life?
• In what way is God calling you to give more of your time, faith, gifts, prayers and money?
6. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you each morning:
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.