Summary: There is an interesting twist on why we do good deeds. Titus takes us into the action that Luke has introduced to us. God's action on those that act in obedience.
This morning is the Sunday before Memorial Day. Do you know how Memorial Day started?
Memorial day has its origins in a Decoration Day, which began during the civil war among Freedmen (freed slaves) and other Black American families, as a celebration of both black and white Union soldiers who fought for liberation and justice. Together with teachers and missionaries, Blacks in Charleston, S.C., organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen had cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, "Martyrs of the Race Course." Nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the dead. Involved were 3,000 schoolchildren newly enrolled in freedmen's schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, and black ministers and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the "First Decoration Day" in the North.
The concept caught on. By the end of WW2 Memorial Day was a national holiday to honor all American soldiers that died in battle. On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. A lot of people were glad to have that change, but a lot of people were really upset with the change, saying it will ruin the meaning of the holiday. Sort of like what happens at church.
What do you remember most? Do you remember last week’s sermon? Do you remember what you talked about at breakfast this morning?
Our most vivid memories are often tied to outstanding events in our lives, or regular calendar events such as birthdays, Christmas, or Thanksgiving. The majority of us forget most of what happens day by day. But some things stick, and some things we can’t forget even if we want to.
God Himself practices an orderliness in time (just think of creation) and He has set up certain activities for our lives so that we will remember, and not just remember, but as we remember we can be drawn back into the reality of the memory and its significance for us.
Our Church services are filled with memorial activities. Most of us tend to like it when we are familiar with what’s going on, rather than surprised by it. How many of you prefer to sing songs you know rather than have all new songs you’ve never heard of for our song service? How many of you prefer that the order of service be somewhat predictable rather than wonder what’s going to happen next? Not that we want exactly the same thing every week, but rather we need a familiar context so that we can reflect on and enjoy how the present is caught up in the past.
The Jews were especially good at this. In his book, The Feast, Joshua Graves quotes Lauren Winner’s writing on Spiritual Formation: Jews do things with attention and wisdom because doing, because action sits at the center of Judaism. Practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity. For Jews the essence of the thing is a doing, an action. Feelings of faith might come and go, but your practice should not waver. In Exodus 24:7 the original Hebrew records that the people said, “Everything the Lord has said we will do and we will hear, or understand.” You may have the word “obey” for “hear” but the Hebrew is unusual. We will do and we will hear, or understand. The Jewish scholars said, “No, this is exactly what God’s word intended. We begin to do unto God and as we do His commands we come to truly hear God and understand His voice.”
We do so we can hear. Doing the commands of God is a memorial activity of obedience that brings us into understanding and memory. In other words, we need to learn to do what is good from God’s word so that we can appreciate and understand the goodness of God.
Titus is a very interesting little letter about this very concept. So is the letter of James. Today we will begin a series of lessons from Titus and James that I hope will complement our Summer Service Series.
Listen to these repeated statements of Paul in this little letter of Titus.
15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.