Sermon for May 28, 2017

Sermon for Memorial Day Sunday, May 28, 2017

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon texts:  1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11, and John 14:27

Sermon Theme:  “Memorial Day, War, and a Prayer for Peace”

(Sources:  Emphasis Online Illustrations; “Every Day Is Memorial Day,” Online Sermon Notebook; Online Memorial Day Bible Verses; original ideas; Online “No Greater Love” by Scott Harris; Online “Persecutions of Christians in the Middle East”; Online Open Doors USA; Online “Christians Killed for Their Faith,” Christian Solidarity International; Life Application Study Bible; online news)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           The world was shocked this past week when 22 young people were killed and 59 wounded during a terrorist attack in Manchester, England.  The suicide- bomber’s bloody massacre was claimed as a victory by ISIS.  We recall that 2,996 people were killed, and more than 6,000 wounded in the 9-11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York.  415 First Responders died in that attack.  Our government has declared WAR on terrorism, as have other governments in other countries.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  The observance of Memorial Day was started in our country in remembrance of those who died in the American Civil War.  Years later, men and women who had sacrificed their lives in the service of our nation in ANY WAR were added to the list.  Since 9/11, many grateful Americans have further added those who died in the line of duty protecting us, such as Fire, Police, Rescue and Medical personnel, especially those responding to, and dying in, terrorists’ attacks.  We immediately think of those brave First Responders who died in rescue missions when the Twin Towers fell.

The War against Terrorism is a new kind of war that the United States and the United Kingdom have never had to fight before.  Our enemies are Muslim Jihadists who kill us because we are Christians.

In the American Revolutionary War, 25,324 soldiers were killed.  In the American Civil War, 498,332 service men were killed.  In World War I, 116,710 military personnel were killed, in World War II, 407,316.  In the Korean War and the Vietnam War, more than 50,000 each.  In the Iraq War, 819 died.  On 9/11, 415 Firefighters, policemen, and other First Responders died.

So let’s look at this other kind of war.  Open Doors USA reports that, worldwide,  322 Christians are killed for their faith each month, 214 churches and properties are destroyed each month, and 772 forms of violence committed against Christians each month.  President Trump and Pope Francis addressed this horrendous problem during Mr. Trump’s recent visit to the Vatican.

Today, in Sudan, Africa’s largest country, Christian men are thrown into their church building after it is set ablaze, Christian pastors are lowered into dry wells, and then set on fire.  Christian boys and girls are kidnapped from their homes; the boys are sold into slavery, and the girls sold as concubines.  Persecutions continue in Africa, Asia, and India as well as the Middle East.

This past Friday, a team of gunmen opened fire on a busload of Coptic Christians near Cairo, Egypt.  They were on their way to a monastery, and 28 were killed and 22 wounded.  Since ISIS regularly attacks Christians in Egypt, it is not surprising that they were responsible for the bloodshed.

So on this Memorial Day, I want us to remember those who are killed for standing up for their Christians beliefs, as well as those who have died for their country in more traditional wars.  These are difficult times, and these are different times.  Today, we must widen our scope of remembering.

Today’s lection from Peter’s first letter tells us what the Bible says about all this.  Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. . . . Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”

In that text, Peter is writing to God’s elect, who are scattered exiles in various provinces, and he is encouraging them to stand firm and not run from danger because God’s Spirit will rest upon them.  The same holds true of God’s people today.

Throughout history, the devil has prowled around like a roaring lion, seeking not just one but many to devour.  This is a troublesome fact for Christians who are taught to love even their enemies.  Make no mistake about it though, the Bible tells Christians to be as gentle as doves, and as wise as serpents.  We wish it weren’t true, but Thomas Jefferson was right when he said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

Today, we recognize those who died for their country, whether as military men and women, or as Policemen, Fire Fighters, or other First Responders, knowing that they, like you and me, wanted to live in peace.  They died for our peace, as well as for our freedom.

Those heroes, along with you and me, receive strength from God’s word, such as those words David wrote in Psalm 27:3-4, “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.  One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple.”

And here’s what Peter says at the end of today’s epistle, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Not only is, as Jefferson says, “Eternal vigilance the price of liberty,” but also, eternal vigilance is the price of PEACE.  As Jesus faced the final stages of His mission here on earth, shortly before His death and resurrection, He said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

You see the mission of a Christian is not a mission of constant struggle and war, but it is a pursuit of peace.  Yet the peace that followed World War I did not prevent World War II, and the peace following the Second World War did not prevent the Korean War, and so on.  War is not the way to peace, but it is absolutely necessary, and the only option, when Satanic forces invade the Kingdom of God and attempt to destroy the Body of Christ.  It is those valiant defenders of our country and our faith whom we recognize, and thank God for, on Memorial Day.

Jesus came to us as the “Prince of Peace.”  When He came to Bethlehem as a tiny baby, a sky full of angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  When the sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, Jesus said to her in Matthew 7:50, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Jesus said,  “Peace be with you” so many times during His earthly ministry, that we have incorporated it into our liturgy.

But what is true peace?  How do we explain the peace as offered to us by Jesus in our Gospel text, John 14:27?  The end work of the Holy Spirit’s action in our lives is deep and lasting peace.  Unlike worldly peace, which is usually defined as the absence of conflict, this peace is confident assurance in any circumstance.  With Christ’s peace, we have no need to fear the present or the future.

Sin, fear, uncertainty, doubt and numerous other forces are at war within us.  The peace of God moves into our hearts and lives to restrain these hostile forces and offer comfort in place of conflict.

Jesus says He will give us that peace if we are willing to accept it from Him.  However, here’s the problem in the world.  It’s the unrepentant sinners described in Isaiah 59:5-8, those who have turned away from God.  That’s the problem.  Isaiah says, “They conceive trouble and give birth to evil.  They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. . . . Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways.  The way of peace they do not know, there is no justice in their paths.”  Doesn’t that describe Hitler and the Nazis before and during World War II?  Doesn’t that describe the perpetrators of 9/11 and the instigators of the recent Manchester massacre?  As well as those responsible for burning Christians alive and burning down churches?

A Memorial Day sermon should lift up the valiant ones who died for us, it should also reaffirm the true peace which only Jesus Christ can give, and, at the same time, open our eyes to the reality of evil in the world.  As Peter’s letter says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, resist him, firm in your faith . . . . “  And Jesus gives us the final word in our Gospel text, — “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Amen.