Sermons from Vienna Presbyterian Church May 27, 2007
The Rev. Dr. Robert The 30th of May, 1868, is travel season. And if you have
L. Griffin designated for the purpose of many doubts about that, just look at
strewing with flowers, or otherwise how many times we talk about gas
decorating the graves of comrades prices versus honoring those who
who died in defense of their died so that we might be able to
country during the late rebellion, freely take vacations, fire up the
Zephaniah 1:14-18 and whose bodies now lie in grill and jump in the freezing
almost every city, village, and waters–or at least sit on the lounge
hamlet churchyard in the land. In chair while our kids tell us that it
this observance no form of cere- isn’t really that cold as their lips
mony is prescribed, but posts and turn purple.
This Memorial comrades will in their own way This Memorial Day finds our
arrange such fitting services and nation bitterly divided over an in-
Day finds our testimonials of respect as circum- creasingly unpopular war. We are
nation bitterly stances may permit. facing a global enemy whose lack
divided over an of concern for innocent civilian life
hus began the first boggles our minds. Daily reports
unpopular war. T official Memorial Day
tion Day, as it was once known. It
from Iraq remind us of the depth of
civil unrest. Encouraging words
are few and far between. And ALL
began as a way to honor those who of us know that the conflict in Iraq
died in the bloodiest conflict in our is not the last battle line our troops
nation’s history. More Americans will see. We live in a world where
were killed in the Civil War than serving our country as Heather is
in WWI, WWII, Korea and Viet- doing is truly a dedicated sacrifice.
nam wars combined. In 1868, then And we need to take time this
Memorial Day, General Garfield made a speech at weekend to honor not only those
if it does Arlington National Cemetery, who have fallen but to give thanks
nothing else, where tomorrow, of course, a and appreciation for those who
wreath will be laid at the Tomb, on stand in defense against those who
which is inscribed “Here Rests in seek America’s demise.
us of the Honored Glory An American Memorial Day, if it does nothing
fragility of life. Soldier Known But to God.” else, should remind us of the fragil-
But, despite the solemn and ity of life. Our Bible reading from
historical nature of this holiday, I the prophet Zephaniah speaks to
have to believe that, for the major- that fragility by describing a very
ity of Americans, what this holiday ugly scene in human history.
REALLY symbolizes is the open- Zephaniah was a prophet during the
ing of pools, backyard BBQs and time that Josiah was king of Israel
the unofficial start of the summer in the late 600s BCE. Josiah was a
king who was committed to reform a controversial monument to an
and to getting Israel back in right even more controversial conflict.
relationship with God. (We need But it’s impossible to avoid the
to remember that most of the time reality of death when 58,000 names
Israel was NOT following God’s are inscribed in the granite. No
Zephaniah tells commands.) The people of Israel amount of sunscreen or BBQs can
had developed a mindset that a day change that reality.
them that the was coming (The Day of the Lord) Noted Christian author Stuart
outcome is when God would squash their Briscoe tells the story of when he
going to be enemies (a technical Hebrew term, moved to the U.S. he was amazed
based on HOW of course) and would basically set at the number of life insurance
them up as the big-shots in the salesmen who wanted to welcome
they choose to Ancient Near East. But Zephaniah him. One day, a well-meaning
live. You see, challenges those expectations. In salesman said to him, “Mr. Briscoe
it’s our lives verse 15 he says that a “day” is if something should happen to
coming, but it will be a day of you…” Briscoe interrupted, “Please
that determine wrath, anguish, distress, ruin, don’t say that, it bothers me.” The
the end. devastation, darkness, gloom. man continued, “But sir, you really
(Many believe this verse was the do need to be prepared if something
basis for the Dies Irae or Day of should happen…” Again Briscoe
Wrath from the Latin mass for the stopped him, but the man persisted.
burial of the dead.) “But what if …” Briscoe stopped
Zephaniah warns the people him in his tracks and said, “Son,
that they cannot continue to rebel what bothers me is not death. What
against God and expect that there bothers me is that you are saying
will be some miraculous interven- ‘IF something should happen.’
tion just because they happen to be Son, something WILL happen to all
Jews. Zephaniah tells them that of us. The question is when, not
the outcome is going to be based if!”
on HOW they choose to live. You I was in Starbucks last week,
see, it’s our lives that determine and I read the saying on one side of
the end. Israel was waiting for the the coffee cup. It was a quote from
END to come –the Day of the Lord a hospice chaplain who said that he
–to make everything right again. had observed that the most alive
But, in reality, we make the END people he had met were those who
right by getting the PRESENT had embraced death. “They love,
right. laugh and live more fully.” (#251).
Life is fragile. ALL of us face At 1:11 PM today, Peyton
an end. You know, I think we do Manning will drop the green flag at
virtually everything possible to the Indy 500. Forty drivers have
avoid confronting the reality of lost their lives on that race track,
death. But on this Memorial Day but no where is there a memorial,
weekend, we cannot avoid it. This because the drivers don’t want to
is the 25th anniversary of the Viet- think about it. No driver has ever
nam Memorial. That memorial is been pronounced dead at that track.
Friends, ignoring death is no you that one of the best ways we
way to deal with its reality. can honor those who have fallen is
We confront the reality of death for us to live faithfully. Live faith-
by faithful living. Let me share a fully to love and honor the God
couple of epitaphs with you: who has blessed you with life. And
...ignoring Nature and Nature's laws lay live faithfully to bring God’s love
hid in night: God said, 'Let Newton into the world where God has
death is no way be!' and all was light. placed you.
to deal with its Everybody loves somebody
reality. ...con- sometime (Dean Martin).
front the reality I am ready to meet my Maker.
Whether my Maker is prepared for
of death by the great ordeal of meeting me is
faithful living. another matter (Churchill).
My Jesus, Mercy (Al Capone).
Epitaphs can often tell us a lot
about both life and death.
Perhaps one of the most famous
“death” stories is about Albert
How differently Nobel. Nobel woke one morning
to literally find his own obituary
might we live if printed in the paper. It was the
we knew what result of a simple, albeit embar-
our obituary or rassing journalism error, for it had
epitaph would been Albert’s brother who had
died. But even more disconcerting
say? to Albert was to see that he was
listed as the “Dynamite King” – an
industrialist who had made a for-
tune by making explosives. Albert
decided then and there to dedicate
his fortune to furthering the causes
he truly believed in, particularly
that of Peace and breaking down
barriers that separate people.
How differently might we live
if we knew what our obituary or
epitaph would say? One of our
practices of discipleship is to “live
faithfully.” What does that look
like for you? Tim McGraw sings a
great hit song, Live Like You Were
Dying. We all are–it’s not IF.
We’re ALL gonna die, but how are
we gonna live? I want to suggest to