As We Are One

Jonathan Riedel
As We Are One
Psalm 97 and John 17:20-26
Sunday, May 29, 2022

I wanted to mention only briefly Psalm 97.  Which is a shame because it is – like so many of the Psalms – rich with imagery, metaphor, and history. It’s interesting to read it as we reflect upon Memorial Day because there are so many war-like phrases…” Fire goes before him and consumes his adversaries on every side”, “Mountains melt like wax”, “All servants of images are put to shame”, “all gods bow down before him.”  These phrases certainly convey might, displays of power, and steadfast conviction.  One could start to interpret a permission towards violence and a lack of compassion toward other ideologies.

But I don’t think that’s these tantalizing phrases need to be seen this way. These are song lyrics, after all.  They are bound to be a little operatic.  The set up of the first stanza tells us right away that this is a joyful song.   “The Lord is King! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlines be glad.” Indeed, GOD is King…not some flawed human with their judgments, and agendas, and bumblings.  Not the people who conquered the Israelites or enslaved them…not our presidents or senators or governors.  The Lord…our Mother and Father….is King.

The adversaries of a loving God are not one country or another, they are fear and hate…prejudice and selfishness…contempt and lack…which indeed fall apart in the face of true love. False idols may, at one point, have included golden calves and statues of other gods, but today they are …and have always truly been…power, fame, greed, negligence… and all of their symbols.

In this light, we can see not a vengeful or whimsically destructive God but a Truly Loving God…even Love itself…sweeping over the land, melting cold hearts, and consuming not people but their fears and their anger.  In light of Memorial Day, we can be reminded that it is not races or cultures or nations that we find ourselves at war against but ideologies that trigger our own insecurities.  I once learned in a leadership course that any conflict that ended with one side “losing” was never truly over…it’s not until both sides win…and a mutually beneficial solution is found…that the conflict truly resolves itself.  That is the power of compassion…that is the Glory of a Loving God.

Let me segue now into maters of Memorial Day itself and honoring the soldiers we have lost.

I never served in the military…though it has certainly touched my life…as it has all of our lives, even indirectly.  My father served in the military for a brief time between the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  He saw no time in combat and I thank God for that.

My father-in-law, now very much a father to me, did go to Vietnam.  Given his skills set and education level he served primarily in the accounting offices and was not called to the front line…and I thank God for that, too…but still…he has some wild and terrifying stories to share.

My Mother-In-Law…who is probably watching this service from home, all the way in Jonesboro, GA…Hello, Ann…has told me of the daily fear she had for her husband while she was back in the States raising their newborn son, my brother-in-law.

I remember wanting to join the NJROTC in high school.  I loved the sense of order, self-betterment, physical challenge, mental engagement, loyalty and purpose the program promised.  It was one of the only times my mother ever…ever…said “no” to me.  She was unflinching and unwavering. I often forget that she too had been a military wife with a newborn son and a three-year old daughter.  She had already experienced that life and wanted no part of it for her family again…certainly not for her youngest child.  I can respect that.

So while I certainly know what it is to work towards a greater good…even dedicating one’s life to a cause…I do not know…and hope never to know…the added anxiety and courage required to have one’s physical life on the line….and to have the lives of fellow soldiers on the line.

It’s a situation I wouldn’t wish on anyone really and yet so many people I know and love have voluntarily lived it, or continue to live it, every day.  I am in awe of them.  So much so, I feel a little silly standing here and trying to say anything wise or enlightened about them with only my limited, outsider’s perspective.

There’s nothing I can say about the military experience that they couldn’t say better. Any of you listening today who have military experience…from basic training to the front-lines to the desks …from leading to following…from the time on duty to the time off duty….KNOW that your stories are valuable…invaluable even.  And I hope you all share them.  I know I, and so many others, are waiting with open ears to hear them.  So please, the next time we are at coffee hour together, or on the phone together, or you are with your loved ones, or students, or even kindly strangers…please, share your stories.

As we think about Memorial Day today, and celebrate it as a nation tomorrow, maybe that is a great way for us all to honor those who served…to tell their stories.  From the soldiers with us today, to those who have fallen, to those we lost decades and centuries ago…we can learn so much from their sacrifices and their work if we hear and share their stories.

As Christians we believe in the eternity of life.  And I have no doubt that our departed loved ones and unknown heroes are still with us and shining brightly with God…but we are also called as Christians to bring heaven to this earth.  Sharing stories…human stories…is a divine act. We are keeping the spirits of these people and their deeds alive here on earth.  And we are keeping them alive in our hearts…which has a profound affect on each of us.  We can grow and heal from their stories.  Or maybe, in a pinch, learn what not to do…I mean…they’re all not going to be glorious stories…but valuable no matter what.

Our reading from John today has some powerful themes in it, one of those themes, unsurprisingly, is the passing on of information.  It comes from a part of Jesus’ story when he’s passing his torch to his disciples. Jesus knows he is about to enter the Lion’s Den, so to speak, and he prophetically knows he is going to die…but he assures his disciples that his teachings will live on through them.  He prays to God for them, and in the verses 6-8 that precede our reading says: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. (referring in this case to the disciples) They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.Now they know that everything you have given me is from you, for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. “  He continues, and in verse 17 says:  “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

This is, of course, not only the manner in which Jesus passes his lessons but in essence, his very spirit and divine distinction to them.  An event even more mysteriously and dramatically expressed in the story of Pentecost.  And it is the same way in which the disciples passed the torch to their disciples, and on and on until us, and our children.

Sharing stories, lessons, legends, truths, joys and sorrows can be a divine act.  They are not always the easy stories to tell…although they certainly can be…but with loving intentions…pure intentions…hopeful intentions…they can be the stuff of life…the stuff of the spirit…the stuff of connection…and the stuff of eternity. The Bible itself is a collection of marvelous stories that we call the Word of God.  Its power is not in the paper and ink that it is printed on, but in the stories and what they might mean.

And sure, some stories are epics…real blockbusters…while others are quaint, or quiet, or enigmatic.  But all of them can hold something amazing for the audience.  Sometimes there is meaning for an audience that the teller didn’t even realize was there.  Meaning that is revealed spontaneously in the telling and the receiving of the story itself. Meaning that is passed on from one heart to another.

One of the other powerful themes that arises in our reading from John is this incredible phrase “So that they may be one.”  It’s one of those profound nuggets that just begs to be quoted.  And as is true to the very meaning of the quote…we Christians, and many others, strive to apply it to all occasions and all people.

The concept…dare we say the reality…that we are all one…one with each other, one with all beings, one with the world, one with Jesus, one with the 12 disciples, one with God, one with our ancestors, one with those who fought for us in the past…and the present…and the future…one with our fallen soldiers on the battlefield…and one with soldiers fighting right now in other nations today…is fundamental to understanding the spiritual order of life, the natural order of life, and the path to healing the cracks in our thinking and our world peace.   While we, sitting here, may not be at war ourselves we are a part of it all…the bravery and the fear…the struggles and the losses…the true victories and the unthinkable tragedies. The scars of war are all of ours to bear…no one truly gets by unscathed.

So again, it would seem that compassion, learning, wisdom, and sharing of our stories not only honor the dead, and the wounds, and the trauma, and the lives and labor and sacrifices…but also bring with them the lessons of true bravery over adversity, of love blooming in the darkness, of faith threading through the eye of a needle, and of the hope…dare we say the reality…of Peace on Earth in our lifetime.

So on Memorial Day, please share time at the graves of the fallen, share time on your beaches and your yards celebrating the sweetness of life, and share your stories with each other.  The world needs them.

Thank you God for the bravery and sacrifice of our fallen and departed soldiers.  We lift them up to you and remember them with great love.  Protect all our soldiers who fight today.  Hold them close to you.  Fill them with the wisdom to be safe. Soften all our hearts so we can end our conflicts quickly.  May we one day know true Peace. Amen.

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