Living Epitaphs

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					 Sermons from Vienna Presbyterian Church                                               May 27, 2007

Living Epitaphs
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
                                  observance–or Decora-
                        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
should remind
                        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