Tomorrow morning, of course, is Memorial Day. Memorial Day is that sacred day which Congress set us aside to remind us that your local car dealership has deep discounts on new and used vehicles. Oh wait, that’s not right. That’s the day we set aside to tell us that summer is starting and the pool is opening up, right? I keep forgetting – sometimes it’s hard to tell.
No, Memorial Day, of course, was actually set up to honor the fallen who died in the Civil War. Actually, to be specific, it was originally only to honor the Union dead. It was originally a holiday that was extremely offensive in the South. We had this holiday called Decoration Day which more or less honored the Confederate dead, and Memorial Day was set up to compete with it. It was, in fact, so offensive that originally many Southerners would boycott it – they knew what it meant and wanted no part of it.
What changed was World War II. When the entire nation fought to preserve liberty, we realized that the symbol that united us held far greater power than even our own division. You see, symbols hold a great power.
They remind us, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, that the brave men, living and dead who fought here have hallowed this place far beyond our poor power to add or detract. It is rather for us, the living, to take an increased measure of devotion from those who gave the last full measure of devotion.
What we do on Memorial Day is honor the presence of those that have laid down their lives for us. It is altogether fitting that we should so that. You see, one way or another, each of the men and women who died for this country are a vital part of who we are. They are in our midst, because of what they have done for us. This Memorial Day, we are surrounded by the symbols that remind us of what they did for us.
We can choose to honor the symbols, or be offended by the symbols. But when we choose to ignore symbols, to take them lightly, we treading on thin ice.
Earlier, I skipped over a commandment. This morning, Memorial Day, I think it is appropriate that we come back to it.
In Exodus 20:7, God simply commands us this – Do take the name of the Lord in vain. He goes a step further and tells us why – he says, “Surely, the Lord will not hold guiltless – that is he will punish anyone who takes his name in vain.
Now, typically, when we think about this commandment, we view it as the ‘No cussin’ clause.’ Sometimes we’ll use the word obscenity. We live in a day and age where obscenity and profanity are common place.
My grandfather really wanted to like Eddie Murphy. He thought he had great potential as a comedian. But I’ll never forget what he said about him. He said, anyone can make people laugh by talking about sex and swearing. It takes skill to make people laugh without resorting to that. What he was saying was that symbols are doing the heavy work – the comedian’s who whose shtick revolves around profaning symbols is really just being lazy.
Some day, I wish show you clips from a movie called Dogma.
There is one scene where an evil angel begins to get so angry at mankind that he starts ranting and practically foaming at the mouth about the fact that we as humans are God special chosen ones, and yet, we totally ignore him. I’m going to paraphrase - He starts saying, “What are these humans any way? God made them just a little lower than us angels, What are men that he is so mindful of them? And what do they do with that? They ignore him! They take him for granted!” It’s an amazing theological statement. I’m convinced is not at unintentional that this dark angel starts quoting Psalm 8 – as a curse on us! The demons know God, and they tremble.
I said one day I’d love to show you that, but I can’t. Do you want to know why? That scene in particular is filthy – so loaded with swear words, that if I were to show it to you, you’d.have good reason to question my judgement. Now, I guess you can say artistically it fits the character, but I still don’t want to promote it.
But as full of cussing as that movie is, I’ll tell you that its obscenity is mild in comparison to the rest of the world we live in. I doubt if you caught it this week, but Madonna started her new tour. Do you know how she begins it? Her prop is a giant, mirror-encrusted cross, and her arms are tied to it. Now, unlike our lord, there are no nails, and she gets a nice little platform, but you can see what she’s trying to do. She’s trying to be obscene. She’s trying to provoke us and call it ‘art.’
I read a website called purgatorio and we were discussing this latest obscenity. Frankly, the basic reaction was ‘snooze.’ What do you expect from a burned out signer who is only happy when she has the spotlight. She was trying to tie her self, literally, to amazing powerful image. And all she succeeded in doing was highlighting how pitifully passé she really was. Her 15 minutes was up half an hour ago. When you run out of things to say, your only recourse is trash things that endure.
Now, I have a confession to make. That website – purgatorio – is actually one of my guilty pleasures. It’s a website that is primarily dedicated to poking fun at the silly things that our Christian culture does. The guy who runs it spends his time finding things like a Bible poster that requires a magnifying glass, a Jesus piggy bank (one that you can’t open without smashing it), an inflatable church, and the creepiest Christian record covers you’ll ever see. I think one of my favorite things was the griddle that put the image of Jesus on your pancakes.
Some people might be tempted to think that’s blasphemy, but I’ll tell you I’m convinced it’s the furthest thing from blasphemy. See the difference – Madonna is trivializing the cross; we are poking fun at the silliness of ourselves. In fact, every so often, he’ll remind us of how short we’ve fallen by doing simple things like posting pictures of the mountains, or a sunrise. This week, he just has pictures of wild birds wading in the water.
Sometimes, even our attempts at glorifying God turn into a sort of profanity, because we think our God is cheese. I think its healthy, if perhaps a little mean, to point that out. I mean, how do you compare a clown to a cloud? Let me assure you – our God is anything but trivial. Even the most insignificant details of our lives show the care and power our Glorious Designer makes in the things we even consider disposable. And that insight is the exact opposite of taking our Lord’s name in vain.
I think the best translations of our commandment are those that emphasize what blasphemy really mean. Darby says, ‘Don’t idly utter the name of Jehovah our God.’ The NCV says, ‘You must not use the name of the Lord thoughtlessly.’ Don’t take the name of the Lord lightly is what they’re all trying to say.
But how often do we lives just like that?
How often are we so focused on his fatherliness that we neglect his holiness?
Taking the name of the Lord upon ourselves is a weighty task. It makes us ambassadors of the powerful Kingdom of all times. But do we see that as a sacred trust? Or is it simple diplomatic immunity – a get out of hell free card?
There is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb. But how often do we avail ourselves of it.
Sitting in front of the TV or the computer, do we take the cross into everything that we do? Would we be comfortable with Jesus sitting down and watching the show with us? Or are we content to rest on the laurels of knowing that his saving blood has turned us into a new creation. Are we new creatures or simply spiritual vampires content only with the blood of Christ?
Taking the name of the Lord lightly is so much more than just substituting a phrase here and there. ‘Fudge’ does not cover a multitude of sins. Christ does.
He is in our midst, and when we forget that, we do so at our peril. We are sitting in the stead of the most powerful being ever. Our God is like a nuclear reactor – sheer power contained only by careful protocol and daily maintenance. It’s a good thing to be sure, but one that can never be taken lightly.
But we shouldn’t view that in negative terms only. Power sustains us, Power gives us life. The symbol of the cross itself reminds that we have hope. The cross itself reminds us that we are loved. And in that hope and love, we can do all things, because of the Christ who strengthens us.
Forgive me if I have told you this story before, but it is such an amazing reminder of that. In World War II, of course, the greatest obscenity was the idea that God’s chosen people were somehow an inferior race. The Nazis, of course, went to great lengths to rid the world of the people whom God had first selected. Treblinka, Dachau, Auschwitz all speak to sheer stupidity and senselessness of that choice.
Even today there are those who would try to tell you the symbols aren’t true, but they are.
At Auschwitz, prisoner 16670 was a simple man. A priest by the name of Maximillian Kolbe. Ten men had escaped from the death camp only days before. And so, ten men had to die in their place.
The guards called the camp to attention and called out 10 names. These men had chosen. When Francisczek Gajownicez’ name was called, he broke down, sibbing. “My wife, my children!”
And do, Father Kolbe intervened. “Take me instead.”
The guard didn’t care. What was one Jew instead of another?
So, Francisczek was spared, and the 10 were taken to the cell block to die. They were refused food and water, the sweltering heat of their makeshift cell was oppressive.
But something was different in Death Block 13. There were songs and hymns of praise that came out of what was literally their grave. Even in his last days, Father Kolbe was the visible presence of Christ to these men. For two weeks, they suffered, strengthened by the Christ who sustained them all. Finally, the SS could take it no more. When they entered, Father Kolbe was the only one who was still fully conscious. He raised his arm to the guard who gave him a lethal dose of carbolic acid.
The Nazis could take his life, but not his power. His power came from the same Christ these Nazis nominally claimed. But they had become nothing less than the Christ-Killers they claimed to hate.
It’s a dangerous thing to despise a symbol. A dangerous thing indeed.
Would you pray with me?
It goes without saying that we are heading towards a memorial of a Christ who is in our midst right now…
Long Branch Baptist Church
Halfway, Virginia; est. 1786
Memorial Day Sunday, May 28, 2006
Enter to Worship
Prelude David Witt
Invocation Psalm 93
*Opening Hymn #379
“I Need Thee Every Hour”
Welcome & Announcements
*Hymn: “There is a Name I Love to Hear” #66
*Responsive Reading [See Right]
*Offertory Hymn #159
“There is Power in the Blood”
Offertory Mr. Witt
Scripture Exodus 20:3-7
“For Christ’s Sake”
The Lord’s Supper
“Let Us Break Bread Together” #252
The Bread, The Cup
“Holy, Holy, Holy” #1
May the grace of Christ of Savior / And the Father’s boundless love
With the Holy Spirit’s favor / Rest upon us from above. Amen.
* Congregation, please stand.
Depart To Serve
The kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction?
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God."
He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory.
I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm;
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
-1 Cor 4:20, Rom 9:22; Luke 1:35; Heb 1:3; Matt 23:40;
Rom 1:16; 2Pet 1:3; Deit 5:15; Phil 2:9-11