Summary: I believe we are surrounded by a greater cloud of witnesses than we will ever know ... We are the recipients of the faith, testimony & sacrifices made by unnumbered multitudes who have blazed the path before us. ((Powerpoints Available - #275)
MELVIN M. NEWLAND
CCF, SILOAM SPRINGS, AR
(PowerPoints used with this sermon are available free. Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for #275.)
A. Tomorrow is officially designated as a holiday marked in many communities by a variety of solemn observances. All across the United States people will gather in parks & cemeteries to commemorate what this day symbolizes.
Bands will play, speeches will be given, prayers will be offered up to God, “Taps” will be played, & guns fired as a salute to those whom our nation seeks to remember on this day.
From Valley Forge to Berlin, from San Juan Hill to Heartbreak Ridge, from Iwo Jima to Saigon & Desert Storm, the blood of American soldiers is permanently mingled with the soil of four continents & hundreds of islands.
And Memorial Day is our feeble attempt to remember & say “Thank you” to those who gave their best & all they had that we might continue to enjoy the liberties that are ours.
ILL. Our present commemoration of this Day came out of the Civil War. In 1865, shortly after the close of the war, some women in Vicksburg, Mississippi chose May 30th as a day to place flowers upon the graves of their war dead.
The practice of choosing a special day to decorate the graves of the war dead soon spread both North & South, & it came to be called “Decoration Day.”
In 1868, a group of women in Washington D.C. asked permission of the War Department to decorate the graves at Arlington National Cemetery, & to be allowed to have a special memorial ceremony to mark that occasion.
After a lot of discussion, permission was granted. But the officials attached a harsh provision: No flowers were to be placed on the graves of the Confederate soldiers who were buried in a separate section of the cemetery. The ladies finally agreed, & planned their program.
General James Garfield, a devout Christian who later became President of the United States, delivered the memorial speech. And in accordance with their agreement, flowers were placed only upon the graves of the Union dead - & not upon the graves in the Confederate section.
But after the crowds were gone, a strong wind arose & blew almost all the flowers over onto the Confederate graves. When that became known, many people believed that it was a direct result of God’s intervention. After that, the order to ignore the Confederate graves was never repeated. (Source - Poet, Journalist James Ryder Randall - See Poem, "At Arlington"
Now it is called “Memorial Day” & it is observed as a day to honor the fallen of all our nation’s wars – a time when our country pauses to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoy. We owe them, & all those who served with them, far more than we will ever realize.
B. The key to Memorial Day is remembering, & the author of the Book of Hebrews calls us in the 12th chapter to remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. He writes:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
And by beginning that passage with the word, “Therefore,” he is intentionally calling our attention back to the heroes of the faith who are mentioned in the previous verses, the 11th chapter, the great “Faith Chapter” of the Bible.
Look back at the 11th chapter & notice some of the names that he is asking us to remember – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab. Then in vs’s 32-34 he adds:
“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised,
"who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword, whose weakness was turned to strength; and who become powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”
What a great variety of people, many of them just ordinary individuals of faith, but used by God in extraordinary ways to accomplish His will. You see, God makes a habit of doing the impossible through people who are not that much different from you & me.
The secret of living a life that makes a difference is realizing that it is not what you do for yourself, but rather it is what you allow God to do for others through you. This is how we make a difference in this world, & how we make a lasting impact.