Summary: A Memorial Day message to a military audience. A Roman Centurion impresses the Lord with his faith. When your faith makes the Lord say, "Wow."
Good morning. I hope you are all enjoying this long weekend. Memorial Day is such a sacred time. It began as “Decoration Day” in the 19th Century, when various communities set aside time to decorate and maintain the graves of their loved ones. Even today, several towns compete for the right to say they were the first to celebrate Decoration Day. In fact, it began with one town commemorating their Union dead, killed in the Civil War. Another town, on a slightly different date, commemorated their Confederate dead. Over the years that followed the two dates merged so that the entire nation honored their fallen at the same time. In this way, Memorial Day came to signify the healing of the divisions that nearly tore our nation apart.
On this Memorial Day weekend we will look at one of the few times in Scripture when God says, “Wow” about something that a soldier does. True, that’s not literally what Jesus says, but it is a pretty good paraphrase. Every sermon needs a “so what”: a way you can apply it to your life. I want you to leave today asking how you can have the kind of faith that impresses God. Perhaps a faith that even makes the Lord say, “Wow.”
We are now, officially, in the summer season. If you’re looking for vacation ideas, forget Disney World. Go to Washington, DC. Our nation’s capitol is loaded with ‘Wow’ moments. In a relatively small geographic area, the high watermarks of our nation’s story stand chiseled in stone. I had the honor of serving with the Old Guard, and later in Arlington National Cemetery, for a combined 3 ½ years. For PT, I ran down the hill of Fort Myer to the Lincoln Memorial, where I would take a moment to read those immortal words Lincoln penned in November, 1863. It followed the battle of Gettysburg, where over a three day period, 40,515 soldiers were either killed, wounded, or went missing. In the shadow of that battle, President Lincoln wrote these words.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Memorial Day is a sacred time, especially for those who have lost a loved one in service to our nation. Today we will look at a Soldier whose very presence in the Bible stems from a single act that made God say, “Wow.” On the one hand, it seems trivial. He did not stand with the Spartans against the Persians at Thermopylae; he was not a part of any courageous attack or defense that we know of. Rather, he simply believed that Jesus was who he claimed to be, and did what he claimed to do. This Centurion understood with the wisdom of a soldier that Jesus was sent from God. Therefore, he has something very import to request of him. This Centurion has a crisis. He is a man of character, and he has confidence that Jesus, if willing, is able to do something he desperately needs. In the end, God says, “Wow.”
What are your ‘wow’ experiences? I’ve mentioned some of mine that I had while running around DC. Those were very positive ‘wow’ moments. I’ve had some negative ones, too – times when you watch somebody doing something unbelievably foolish, and you just say, ‘wow.’ I once had a Private in my unit in Iraq, for example, who stood far above his peers when it came to making mistakes. He was a good kid, just seemed to trip over everything, and make remarkably poor choices. Once, he was having trouble getting a .50 caliber round into its link. So he decided to bang it against a rock. It exploded and took off his thumb. Wow.