Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 25, 2014 By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Psalms 25:7
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! To a world filled with sins and transgressions God's Son came. In that world, as One of us, He won our freedom and forgiveness. May we remember the Lord's love and God's goodness. Grant this, dear Father, to us all. Amen.
In the United States we have set aside tomorrow, May 26th, as Memorial Day. There are two different explanations as to how this day of commemoration began. The first is a bit more romantic. Tradition has its beginning in the south. It tells of how a lady decorated the graves of her two sons who had died as Confederate soldiers. Then, when she was done with that sacred task, she did the same for two other mounds of earth located in a far corner of the cemetery. One of her friends chided her by asking, "And just what do you think you are doing? Those are the graves of two Union soldiers." The woman sighed, kept on working and said, "I know these young men were once the enemy. But I also know, somewhere in the North, a mother, a young wife, are mourning for these boys as much as we do ours." According to tradition the idea of decorating the graves of the fallen began at that moment.
But as I say, there are two versions of Memorial Day's origins. The other version is the official one, the one approved by Congress. This report says the custom of placing flowers on the graves of the war dead began on May 5, 1868. It was in that year General John Logan, then president of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared May 30th would be a day to "decorate with flowers the graves of comrades who had died in defense of their country during the late rebellion." The end of World War I brought a shift in custom as America began to remember all of those who had died in all of our nation's wars. Soon the remembrance included all dead veterans and embraced non-military relatives and friends. With so many families going to the cemetery to place flowers Memorial Day has also become known as Decoration Day.
Memorial Day, Decoration Day, call it what you will, it is a time to remember. You know, all of us want to be remembered. During the Civil War, on the night of June 2, 1864, the Union officers went through their ranks to encourage their men who were going to make a frontal assault against the troops and cannon of Robert E. Lee. As the officers walked among their men, they noticed many soldiers were sewing. Sitting on the grass or under the trees those soldiers were sewing their names on the sleeves of their coats. Why? Those men had every reason to believe they would not survive the coming attack and all wished to avoid the oblivion of a nameless grave. They wanted to be remembered. They wanted someone back home in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, or Minnesota to remember how they had died and where they were buried. If you go to that small cemetery at Cold Harbor today, you will see a 5-foot high marble sarcophagus which was placed to remember 889 Union soldiers who died and could not be identified.
All of us want to be remembered. The Pharaohs of Egypt built great monuments so they would be provided for in the afterlife and so they might be remembered. Today, for those of us who do not have the wealth or resources of an ancient Pharaoh, we erect monuments over the graves of our loved ones. Granite, marble, brass help us remember those who have died before us. Indeed, if you want to be creative in being remembered, I call to your attention an invention which, for a short time, was marketed. The invention was a television-tombstone. Bullet-proof, stainless steel, it sold for about $10,000 and was designed to be embedded in a gravestone. Visitors could press a button and be shown a ten-minute video-obituary of the deceased. Marketers claimed the set would last 500 years. That's a long time to be remembered.
All of us want to be remembered. If we can't be remembered in a positive way, we will settle for just being remembered. When Herod the Great, the killer of Bethlehem's babies, realized he was going to die, he ordered all the respected leaders of Judea to be rounded up and locked in the Hippodrome at the city of Jericho. He commanded that when word came that he had passed away, those men would be slaughtered. Herod's unstable mind figured that if he couldn't be remembered for something good, he would be remembered for something bad. Of course, Herod is the exception. Most of us want to be remembered in a more positive light.
Maybe that is why, if you go to a cemetery and look at the markers, you will find one which assures, "Sleep on, sweet mother and wife, And take thy rest, God called thee home, He thought it best¸" or a marker which is a bit more doubtful: "If there is another world, he lives in bliss. If not another, he made the most of this." Most of us, I assume would prefer to be remembered by a deeper sentiment than that which reads: "Here Lies My Wife, I Bid Her Goodbye. She Rests in Peace, and Now So Do I."
Yes, most of us want to be remembered in a positive light. The soldiers whose graves we visit tomorrow would want to be remembered as having been a patriot, a hero, someone who had been courageous and not cowardly. Regular folk want much the same. They want those who survive them to think well of them. They want the pastor or eulogist at their funeral to recall the good persons they had been. At their funeral or memorial service they want words which are kind and complimentary, flattering and approving. We believe the speaker who is summing up our lives can say anything he wants as long as it's nice and not nasty. Positive words... that's what we want carved into our marker; positive words that's what the preacher should say about us.
All of which takes us to a problem of not inconsequential difficulty. We may want to be remembered as having been kind, caring, and compassionate, loving and loyal, sensitive, smart, and insightful. We may want it, but the truth is we just aren't that good... at least not all the time. Yes, you may have tried to be even-tempered and supportive, but there were times when you weren't. You weren't always loving and caring or any of those other good things. I wasn't either. If we're being honest, really honest, we have to confess we had many flaws and failings, slips and stumbles, shortcomings and sins. You know it, I know it, most of the people who survive us know it.
All of which means if we expect only good to be said about us, somebody is going to have to lie. I can remember, years ago, being asked to speak at the funeral of one of my elderly members, a man who, although not an invalid, claimed to be a shut-in. As I had just been installed at that congregation when he passed away, I didn't know anything about the fellow, so I asked some of my members to describe the dearly departed. Well, I got an earful. The man was not dear to anyone and most folks were glad he had departed. The Ladies Aid of the church no longer called on him because every time they did he made a pass at them. The treasurer told me how the man was a miser who never gave a penny to the Lord's work. A neighbor remembered how he often tried to kick the family cat as well as how nasty and insulting he had been to his saintly wife. A mother shared that the fellow, in spite of her pleadings, simply loved to use foul language in front of her little children. In short, the man was the kind of guy who gives Christianity a bad name. He was a dirty, nasty, old man and I was supposed to preach his funeral sermon.
I remember stepping into the pulpit. In the back of the church were the members of my Ladies Aid who were reluctantly serving a funeral luncheon for the man who had so often insulted them. They had agreed to do so only when one of them suggested they should make it a farewell party because they weren't, at least in this life, going to see him again. In the front of the church was the family who were hoping I could find some way of whitewashing the old rapscallion. Would I lie or tell the truth? The congregation and all who were gathered there that day were waiting to see what kind of pastor I was going to be. They waited to see how I wanted the deceased to be remembered.
While the format of The Lutheran Hour doesn't allow me to share the full content of what I said that day, I can tell you how I began. The message began with a text, a text taken from the 25th Psalm, a Psalm of David. It says: "Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!" I continued: "If our friend is in heaven today, it is not because he was the nicest man on the face of the planet. He was not as pure as the driven snow; his soul was not whiter than white and his conduct was hardly exemplary. He was not a pillar of this church or this community and he wasn't the kind of friend to whom you would entrust your family or your fortune." The ladies in the back of the church relaxed because they knew I wasn't going to try and make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The family up front sat a little straighter so they could hear what was coming next.
Over the years it has occurred to me that the pastor who speaks at my funeral might use that same text and might begin the same way. Some time ago I told you of a famous preacher who had a member of his parish stop in his office. After they had talked a while she said, "You know, Reverend, you are probably the best man I have ever met." He replied, "I thank you for saying so, but if you could look within my heart you would be so shocked at the filth you see there, you would spit in my face." You and I are compelled to say the same.
Like King David, think back on the sins of your youth. Did you have siblings? If so, there were times when you were cruel to them, teasing, vengeful, jealous. When you went to school, did you not join in picking on those who were different? And if you were one of those different ones who were being picked on, did you not spend countless hours thinking of how you might exact revenge? We who wish to be remembered in a positive way must confess we are hardly worthy of the honor. Our thoughts have been dark and brooding; our endeavors marked by selfishness and our hearts filled with jealousy.
Yes, I know many of you have conscientiously worked at keeping your sins in check. You have wrestled with the sinful nature within you and you have counted many great victories. But you also know that those victories were short-lived and your thoughts and actions were once again turned to that which was neither pleasing to the Lord nor beneficial to your brothers and sisters. We wanted what was coming to us and more. We demanded to be treated well, even if it meant that others were not. We wanted that to which we were not entitled and we hoped to get that which we had not deserved. Our tongues may have spoken words which were sweet, but our thoughts have been bitter. Yes, the person who speaks at our funeral ought begin, "Lord, do not remember the sins of his youth."
And then he ought to continue with, "and do not remember his transgressions." As we grew and changed, so did our transgressions. Think back upon your promises broken, vows discarded, and good intentions which have gone by the wayside. Although our transgressions didn't decrease we did become more adept at keeping them hidden from the eyes of those around us. They may think of us as being good, righteous, upstanding individuals, but we know better. We know the machinations of our hearts, and the inventive foulness of our minds. We are not good people, and anyone who thinks so really doesn't know us. Yes, our funeral message ought to begin: "Remember not the sins of his youth or his transgressions."
Of course we might wonder, "Why should the Lord NOT remember the sins of our youth or our manifold transgressions?" Why not, indeed? The Lord is perfect while we are anything but. He hates sin, while evil doing is part of our fabric. He is offended by the transgressions we do, the evil we think, the wrongs we relish. No, when it comes to the sins of our youth and our adult transgressions, the Lord, Who at creation, had had such high hopes for us, would be quite justified in punishing us completely, thoroughly, and eternally.
Which is why the second part of David's verse is so important. Knowing that there was nothing in him to get God to forget the great sinner he was, David threw himself on God's mercy as He wrote, "according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!" If our hopeless condition is to be changed, if we are to be forgiven, if God is ever going to see us in a positive way, it is not, it never will be because of anything we can do. Our forgiveness will only be brought about by His will, His plan, and His action.
Which is why today, as we remember those who have fought to win and preserve our earthly freedom, we also remember Him who lived and died to win our eternal liberty. It is right we remember God's Son, our Savior. In the Person of Jesus Christ, God came to earth to reconcile us to Himself. Jesus' job was to rebuild the bridge between heaven and earth, between Creator and creation which our sins had so thoroughly and effectively demolished. This Jesus did by offering Himself as our Substitute. True God so He could fulfill the law perfectly and successfully resist temptation; He was also true Man so He could, as One of us, live on our behalf and receive the punishment which should have been ours.
Jesus, in His life, His suffering, His death and resurrection is God's righteousness come to earth. In Jesus' sacrifice we see this eternal love of God which saves that which was lost, which loves us who are unlovable. In Jesus our transgressions and sins are countered and conquered by God's great goodness. With faith in Jesus as our heaven-sent Savior, our sins are paid for, pardoned, and put away. Because of Jesus, when the Lord looks at us on Judgment Day, we will be seen as the perfect souls God had intended us to be at creation.
Tomorrow we remember those who died to win us earthly freedom. It is right we do so. But it is also right for us to continuously remember Him Who lived and died for our eternal forgiveness. On the 17th of December in 1927, the American submarine S-4 was returning to the surface. As she did so, she was struck and sunk by the Coast Guard destroyer: Paulding. Heroic measures were employed to save the six known survivors who were trapped in the forward torpedo room. As time was running out, one of the rescue divers put his head to the hull of the sub. He heard someone inside tapping out the message: "Is there any hope?" There was no hope and those men perished.
I give thanks their end need not be yours. Gladly, eagerly I tell you; you have hope. You have youthful sins and adult transgressions, but, in Jesus, you also have the steadfast love and saving goodness of God. Remember Him and have hope. Trust in Him and be saved.
And if we can help you in that remembering, please, don't hold back. Call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 25, 2014 Topic: Preaching About Pet Sins
ANNOUNCER: It's the last Sunday of the month. Once again we welcome our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark.
ANNOUNCER: Do you and Pam have any house pets?
KLAUS: Yes, we have a golden doodle named Gabbie.
ANNOUNCER: You and I are both old enough to remember when there were such things as pet rocks.
KLAUS: I remember them. Pet rocks. The ultimate in low-maintenance companionship.
ANNOUNCER: Not too much cleaning up after a pet rock.
KLAUS: That was the idea, Mark. A California marketing man named Gary Dahl invented the pet rock after he heard his friends complain about caring for their livelier house pets. And, pray tell, what does this have to do with our question for today?
ANNOUNCER: Well, we're not talking about pet rocks. Our listener says his pastor has certain pet sins that he preaches about, to the exclusion of all else. For example, he's always going on about adultery and homosexuality, but he doesn't say anything at all about the other nine Commandments God gave us. In our listener's opinion, if a pastor is going to condemn one sin he ought to condemn all sins equally. He shouldn't just harp on these one or two things that seem to rattle his cage.
KLAUS: Wow. Good question. Sadly, I'm probably going to give a bad answer.
ANNOUNCER: How do you know that?
KLAUS: Well, because my answer is not going to please everyone. No matter what I say, it's going to offend people. So, let's begin. Let's talk about a pastor's pet sins.
ANNOUNCER: Pastor's pet sins, that sounds strange.
KLAUS: Generally speaking, it's not so much that the pastor himself is guilty of pet sins. Rather, I mean his preaching is dominated and shaped by those sins which seem to be committed most often.
ANNOUNCER: Like, there might be certain sins that go in and out of popularity.
KLAUS: Absolutely. For example, in the course of my ministry, I have never had to preach about my church members eating meat which has been sacrificed to idols.
ANNOUNCER: Although that was a big deal in the early church.
KLAUS: It was. But, as far as I am aware, none of my congregation members have ever committed that particular sin. For that reason, it never appeared on my radar or in my sermon messages.
ANNOUNCER: But how about speaking about some sins to the extent that you totally ignore others?
KLAUS: That does happen and it's unfortunate. Part of the reason for that is pastors want their messages to be relevant. If a particular sin is in the news, they will speak to it. If it's a matter of community debate or appears on an election ballot, they might address it.
ANNOUNCER: And could you be more specific?
KLAUS: In the Victorian era, people were preoccupied with death but had little concern about sexual matters. Today, our culture is shaped more by sexual sins than by fear of death. Quite naturally, the pastor may end up speaking about that aspect of morality.
ANNOUNCER: But to the extent that he avoids talking about other violations of God's law?
KLAUS: Absolutely not. Keeping the Triune God first in your life, honoring His Name, not abusing it, remembering to worship Him; all of that should be part of his messages because those things are all important to the Lord.
ANNOUNCER: How about sins like murder, envy, or bearing false witness?
KLAUS: There is a time and place for all of that. Now I would hope few of his parishioners have actually committed murder, but they most certainly have not loved others as they should. Envy is a common enough sin and not speaking well of our neighbor is wide spread.
ANNOUNCER: So you are saying God's law has a definite place in a pastor's messages.
KLAUS: It does.
ANNOUNCER: Could you cite a Bible passage that supports what we're talking about?
KLAUS: Absolutely. In the New Testament, John the Baptist preached repentances, change in attitude, reversal of what you are doing. Luke 5, Jesus says He had come to call sinners to repentance. In the 24th chapter of that same Gospel, Jesus told His followers to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins through the entire world. In Matthew 4 it says, "From that time on Jesus began to preach saying, "Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
ANNOUNCER: But I thought Jesus freed us from observing the law.
KLAUS: Jesus fulfilled the law for us, that's right. For believers, their sins are absolved. They are now free to live lives that show their gratitude to the Savior. They can do that by doing those things that please God and by avoiding sin of any kind. Not because they have to, but because it's a natural response to the grace God has shown them in Christ--and they could not do otherwise.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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