Monday, May 28, 2012

Today Is Not Barbeque Day

   
This morning I got up and continued our weekend festivities, packing.  My goal was to finish packing most of our den/office with all its books and our desks.  Patti's desk can be taped shut and moved whole but mine must be disassembled.  While doing these things I kept an eye on the clock so that I wouldn't miss my appointment to speak at our village Memorial Day service where I was to be the keynote speaker.  I stopped work, got dressed and left so that I would be a little early (but not too early) only to discover that while my calendar said the service started at 12:00, it actually had started at 11:00 and I arrived just as it was ending.  I am terribly embarrassed at my mistake but in any case, here are the words that I had prepared for today.  Despite my error, I still think that they are worthwhile...

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    Today is not barbeque day.  It is not "just" a part of "just another" long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not another excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered here to remember.  We have not come to thank our veterans; we do that in November, but to remember those who have fallen, those who have given their lives, so that we might have freedom and liberty.  We gather to remember men and women for whom words like duty, honor, and country have meaning and because of whom, these words are themselves more meaningful.

    During the War in Vietnam, Marine Private First Class Gary Martini, braving intense enemy fire, raced through an open field to drag a fallen comrade back to a friendly position.  Seeing a second fallen Marine just 20 meters from the enemy position, Martini once again risked his life to bring the man back to safety.  Upon reaching the fallen Marine, Martini was mortally wounded but continued to drag his comrade back to his platoon’s position, telling his men to remain under cover.  As he finally struggled to pull the man to safety, Private First Class Martini fell and succumbed to his wounds.

     Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, while under enemy fire in Iraq, organized the evacuation of three soldiers who had been wounded in an attack on their vehicle.  Sergeant Smith manned the machine gun mounted on their vehicle, maintaining an exposed position as he engaged the enemy forces, allowing the safe withdrawal of wounded soldiers.  He was mortally wounded in the attack but not before killing as many as 50 enemy fighters in order to save his injured comrades.

    During the Second World War, First Lieutenant Jack Mathis, flying a bomb run over Vegesack, Germany, was hit by enemy antiaircraft fire.  His right arm was shattered above the elbow, and he suffered a large wound on his side and abdomen.  Knowing that the success of the mission depended upon him, Lieutenant Mathis, mortally wounded, dragged himself of to his sights and released his bombs on target before he died.

    These few examples give us only a flavor of the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform have made for our freedom and for the freedom of others, often total strangers, in other nations.  So highly do we value this gift we call liberty, that we are willing to expend the blood of our own sons and daughters so that others might enjoy this gift also.

    Brave men and women wearing the uniform of the United States have fought and bled and died in places like Bunker Hill, Yorktown, Concord, Lexington, Saratoga, Bazentin Ridge, Belleau Wood, Manila Bay, Guantanamo, Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Beruit, Okinawa, Pork Chop Hill, Hamburger Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, Pusan, Inchon, Bastogne, the Ardennes Forest, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Saipan, Medina Ridge, Al Busayyah, Wadi Al-Batin, Baghdad, Kandahar, Khaz Oruzgan, Musa Qala and thousands of other places most of us have never heard of as well as places so remote that the places don’t even have names.

     On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania four and one half months after the Union victory over the Confederate Army in the Battle of Gettysburg.  On this day or remembrance, it is good to remember the words that President Lincoln spoke.

    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 battlefield 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.

    This day is very much like the hallowed ground of Gettysburg.  There is little that our feeble efforts or words can do to consecrate this day beyond what the blood of patriots has already done.  As we gather here today our task is to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln.  It is for us, the living, to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work for which these brave men and women have given their lives.  We must be resolved that these patriots did not die in vain.  It is too painful for us to remember their sacrifice each day, but on this precious and hallowed day we should take the time to remember.  We should honor their sacrifice by appreciating the things that they have purchased with their blood. 

     Be sure to avail yourselves of the freedoms that their sacrifices have purchased on our behalf.  Vote.  Don’t just vote for the politician that promises to give us the most stuff, vote for the men and women who hold dear the ideals of freedom and liberty.  Honor the flag that they fought for, it is more than just a piece of cloth because it stands for the things those patriots fought and bled and died for.  Stand when the flag passes by, sing the national anthem, and teach your children to stand, teach them to take their hats off and to hold their hands over their hearts.  It seems that lately I have been at sporting events where I see far too many people who are oblivious to the ceremony of the national anthem, while others are standing, they sit, while others are standing at attention with their hats held over their hearts, these others are busy talking on their cell phones.  We honor the blood of heroes by being courteous and respectful. 
Now, I fully realize that all of us who put on the uniform of the United States did so to defend your rights not to stand, not to sing and not to hold your hand over your heart.  That’s fine.  If you are one of those who takes issue with it, what I ask of you is that you do so respectfully and that while the rest of us are standing and singing, you share a moment of silence and remember those brave men and women who gave you that right.

    Finally, I ask that you honor the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform with your prayers.  You don’t have to pray to the God I worship, feel free to pray to whatever deity you choose, but pray for all of the men and women who, even now, are away from their families, friends and homes.  Pray for those who today, instead of attending backyard barbecues and swim parties with their friends, are far out at sea, standing guard or even laying in a bunk half-way around the world or eating cold Meals Ready to Eat out of a foil envelope while they huddle in a foxhole in the sand waiting for the next mortar round to drop on their heads.  Pray for the families of those who are away from home.  Today wives and husbands of these brave soldiers are doing what they can to hold their families together and their children are growing up wondering when, or if, their father or mothers are ever coming home again.

    Pray also for those who are missing.  Right now, Bo Bergdahl, a 25-year-old U.S. Army sergeant from Hailey, Idaho is believed to be in the hands of the Taliban.  At this moment, Sgt. Bergdahl is believed to be the only American held captive by these insurgents but he has been in their hands since June 30, 2009, almost three years ago.  In that time we have seen video footage that gives us hope that he is still alive, although his condition is deteriorating.  Last December there were reports that Sgt. Bergdahl had made a daring attempt to escape but was recaptured.  Since that time there has been no further information regarding his captivity, whereabouts or status.  Please pray for Sgt. Bergdahl and for his family.

    Today is not barbeque day.  It is not just a part of just another long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not another excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered here to remember.  Today let us remember the sacrifices that made us what we are and have given us freedom and liberty.  Today has been set aside as a special day of remembrance. 

Let us all pause to remember…

                                                   …and may we never forget.








* Special thanks go to the Disabled American Veterans (www,dav.org) who provided some of the stories of bravery and patriotism contained in these remarks.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why is Homosexuality an argument instead of a discussion?

 This week one of my Seminary professors, Dr. John Byron, wonders in his blog why the church isn't having a conversation about homosexuality.  Too often we hear pastors and other members of the church saying that they are "for" or "against", "pro" or "con,' but how often are we actually talking about the problem and searching for what is right?  Surely the Bible has something to say and can inform us as we wrestle with a difficult problem, or have we given up on the authority of scripture?  I find it especially odd that Methodists, who claim to be the people of 'Holy Conferencing', are so quick to draw lines in the sand before having a real, genuine, and honest conversation in pursuit of the truth.

Dr. Byron's Blog:

Homosexuality: When will the church really have a conversation?



Friday, May 11, 2012

Just How Many Homosexuals Are There?


    Given the current media frenzy over President Obama’s ‘coming out’ to support gay marriage as well as North Carolina’s vote to define marriage as being only between one man and one woman, I found it interesting to find that most Americans have no idea how many gay, lesbian or bisexual persons live among us, or at least, they think they know but don’t.  Certainly, anyone who watches television or most any other media knows that nearly every program has a gay or lesbian character or openly deals with the subject in one way or another.  This media exposure has, perhaps, swayed the public perception of homosexuals in our population. 
     
    Back in 1948 Alfred Kinsey shocked the world when he estimated that fully 10 percent of American men were gay.  But by May of 2011, the Gallup organization surveyed Americans and asked them to estimate how many Americans are gay or lesbian.  What they found was that more than half of all Americans estimated that gays and lesbians represented at least 20 percent (1 in 5) of the population and 35 percent believed that gays and lesbians made up 25 percent (1 in 4) or more of all Americans  (full survey results here) .  Young people (those under 29), liberals, Democrats, and women are more likely to give a higher estimate while those over 50, conservatives, Republicans, and men are likely to give a somewhat lower answer.  So what’s the truth?

    The truth is that almost no one is even close to the truth.  In Gallup’s survey, less than 4 percent of those taking the survey estimated that the population of gays and lesbians was less than 5 percent.  These would be the only people whose guess was close.   A quick look through Wikipedia and other available Internet articles provide estimates as low as 1 or 2 percent and as high as 6 percent but according to Gallup, the best available data puts the real numbers at 3.5 percent (gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals).

    I don’t have any particular agenda to saying this other than I find it interesting how many people simply assume that the gay and lesbian population is nearly ten times larger than it really is.  As we move forward, both as a nation and as people of faith, we need to have some important conversations about equal rights, fairness and compassion.   

When we do, it might just be helpful to start with the truth.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

John Wesley's Crazy Rules?


    On Monday May 1st of 1738, John Wesley wrote in his journal the rules of the new group that eventually called themselves Methodists.  Somehow over the intervening centuries we seem to have lost our commitment to these simple principles, so much so that many of our church members today would be greatly offended by suggesting these rules and would quit outright if we made any attempt to enforce them.

In obedience to the command of God by St. James, and by the advice of Peter Böhler, it was agreed by us—
1. That we will meet together once a week to ‘confess our faults one to another, and pray for one another that we may be healed’.
2. That the persons so meeting be divided into several ‘bands’, or little companies, none of them consisting of fewer than five or more than ten persons.
3. That everyone in order speak as freely, plainly, and concisely as he can, the real state of his heart, with his several temptations and deliverances, since the last time of meeting.
4. That all the bands have a conference at eight every Wednesday evening, begun and ended with singing and prayer.
5. That any who desire to be admitted into this society be asked, What are your reasons for desiring this? Will you be entirely open, using no kind of reserve? Have you any objection to any of our orders? (which may then be read).
6. That when any new member is proposed everyone present speak clearly and freely whatever objection he has to him.
7. That those against whom no reasonable objection appears be, in order for their trial, formed into one or more distinct bands, and some person agreed on to assist them.
8. That after two months’ trial, if no objection then appear, they be admitted into the society.
9. That every fourth Saturday be observed as a day of general intercession.
10. That on the Sunday sennight [Note: seven days later – i.e. the following Sunday] following be a general love-feast, from seven till ten in the evening.
11. That no particular member be allowed to act in anything contrary to any order of the society; and that if any persons, after being thrice admonished, do not conform thereto, they be not any longer esteemed as members.

    In the churches where I have attended as a lay person and those where I have been a pastor I have encountered people who felt that “small groups” were an intrusion into their privacy, a burden on their time, or were simply unnecessary or un-Methodist.  Clearly, at least according to the founder of Methodism, they are none of those things.  Many books and articles that we read today about ‘church growth’ preach small groups as a means to growth as if this is a new idea but if you substitute ‘small groups’ as you read the general rules whenever you encounter the word ‘bands’ (defined as 5 to 10 persons) you discover that the idea is not new at all.  It is, however, a sound principle that allowed the early Methodist movement to grow so returning to this principle is certainly a good idea.

    It is also interesting to note that this group was not a church and assumed that in addition to membership in the group that one would also belong to a church.  Attendance therefore would be expected at church on Sunday morning, small group every Wednesday, prayer meeting one evening each month and a love-feast (which likely involved a time of public confession, sharing of communion, and a covered dish dinner) which lasted for three hours once each month.  Two centuries later, it seems that in many of our churches, showing up on Sunday morning more than twice a month is almost too much to be expected.

    Finally, our modern members would be shocked and appalled to find that membership meant something.  Members in this society were tested and carefully evaluated before being admitted, they were allowed in only after a two month trial (or a probationary period), could be publicly admonished for behaving in ways that were contrary to the group’s sensibilities and could be removed for continuing to do so.  Some of our members today often seem to expect that anyone should be admitted for any reason and should remain so for life unless they choose to leave regardless of the problems that they cause for everyone else.

    I know that times have changed and the society we live in today is markedly different than the one Mr. Wesley lived in in 1738, but I wonder that if Mr. Wesley were alive today and enforced these rules, if half our members wouldn’t quit (or be thrown out) within a week.  On the other hand, it worked quite well the first time.  It just might be worth trying.  

    What do you think?

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