None of us wants to be forgotten. We have been created with a deep need to know that we are significant to someone somewhere and that our lives have contributed meaningfully to something beyond ourselves. Yesterday was Memorial Day - a day set aside not so much for mattress sales and barbeque's, but to remember those who gave what Abraham Lincoln so eloquently called, "The last full measure of devotion" in service to the nation. It is a remarkable thing that outstanding people at the very height of their giftedness, potentials and powers are so often called upon to put themselves in harms way, sometimes willingly running headlong into the ugliest human situations imaginable for the benefit of others who may never care to remember their Herculean sacrifices. Nevertheless, the sacrifices are made by these oft-forgotten heroes- sacrifices which forgo personal comfort, safety and long term well-being for the acquisition of a higher prize that will serve to bless the common good.
I remember a particular time when I had the opportunity to pay tribute to heroes who were out of sight, but not out of the minds of those who witnessed their sacrificial deeds. During my Junior year of High School, as a member of Task Force Hanau, the JROTC program to which I belonged while attending an American High School in Germany, our program was selected to travel to several out of the way grave sites of fallen soldiers who died in service of the nation, but were buried in lonely grave sites away from the larger American Forces cemeteries often frequented by tourists. We were very proud of the opportunity we had to fire salutes and to sound taps at these grave sites and did our very best to honor the fallen with excellence and reverence. nevertheless, the full significance of what we were doing and the work it took to allow us to pay that homage escaped me at the time. Our instructor, CW4 Donald M. Lesch, a WWII, Korea and Vietnam Veteran who invested so much of himself into youngsters like me, had to seek out and find these grave sites, obtain permission from the German government to conduct the ceremonies and coordinate with the US Armed Forces to make sure everything was done according to protocol and arrange for our logistics in traveling to the sites and back. There were no crowds, no abundance of flags, no great speeches, but there was our Task Force, a handful of veterans and a strong sense of the importance of the task in which we were involved.
As I think of the importance of remembering, I am moved to remember selfless service beyond the battlefield. There are individuals who thanklessly go about incredibly important daily tasks in which the impact is not fully understood. They serve for years, are taken for granted and pass on only to have someone look past their accomplishments without even a casual consideration. (Ever pass by the pictures of former members and pastors of your church and smirk at how out of style their clothing is while ignoring the work they did to build up a congregation that passed on a legacy which now blesses you?) In our current tendency to celebrate the new and downplay the old, we forget that all of us stand on the shoulders of many who have gone before us and served without notice or acclaim for our benefit.
The Christian Faith is built on this kind of sacrifice. We are reminded of Jesus' total embrace of this level of service in the apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians. In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul sets the standard to which every Christian should aspire:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Christian tradition informs us that the 11 faithful Apostles took this standard seriously and each displayed a loving disregard of self so that others might be blessed by the Wonderful Message they carried. I am sure at the time they made their sacrificial decisions to serve, they had no idea that they would be remembered, but cared only that the message and the Messenger be remembered for the salvation of those to follow.
As you continue about your business today, the day after Memorial Day, I want to challenge you to remember. Remember that many people have suffered in anonymous service for your benefit and their sacrifices need to be honored. Remember also that God loves you and showed that love on a Roman cross over 2 thousand years ago through His Son, that you might receive the benefit of Eternal Life at no cost to you. We receive Glory at Jesus' expense. Don't limit your remembering to Memorial Day. Let Memorial Day serve a as launching point for a lifetime of humble gratitude that causes you to serve others with no regard for self and every regard for the blessings it can bring for years to come. Until next time...