Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | May 30, 2021

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 Matthew 28:16-20

There’s a historical museum in the town of Baker City, Oregon. Among the various artifacts are photos from the past. One photo shows a chalkboard with names written on it – each name a signature.  A group of young men from the graduating class of 1917 wrote their names on the chalkboard before going off to war.

For whatever reason, the chalkboard was never erased. Someone decided to leave the names there as a reminder. Maybe the next year they prayed for those names at the start of the school day. They could see them when they stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The school was remodeled at some point and someone on the work crew saw the chalkboard with the names written on it, maybe a son of one of those soldiers, and instead of tearing it down and throwing it in dumpster, they covered it with a wall.

It was finally uncovered in 1980 when another building project took place. One of those names was of my grandfather, Joseph Boyer. He joined the US Navy. He died in 1973. What I remember most vividly from his funeral, is at the very end, all the old soldiers came forward and offered him a final salute.

This is a day when our task in worship is simple. Today we remember. We lift up our memories to God as an offering and a prayer. Our task is not to debate the necessity of war or to define the difference between a just war and an unjust war; our task is simply to remember. We add our remembrance today as a part of the foundation upon which we live, and upon which we may pursue our dreams.

Frederick Buechner wrote of remembering –

“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I’m feeling most ghost-like, it’s your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I’m feeling sad, it’s my consolation. When I’m feeling happy, it’s part of why I feel that way.

If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget me, part of who I am will be gone. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” the good thief said from his cross. There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well.”

The Poet of Ecclesiastes said that in God’s realm, there is a time for everything.  Underlying the elements of life compared and contrasted, could be the saying, “There is a time to remember, and a time to forget.”

The reality of life is that time, like an ever-flowing stream bears us all away. This does not point to the futility of our existence, but to the precious gift of the here and now. That’s why a day for remembering is important. We say to those who have died, “We will remember you.” And in a hundred years or more, when we have moved into the mists of time, others will continue to say, “We will remember.”

Do you remember your beginning? Memory is subjective. The longer we live, the more we remember, and the more we forget. My friends and I will retell the stories from our childhood and youth. We all remember different details of the same stories.

Some studies on memory suggest that memory is selective. Forgetting something doesn’t mean that we’ve lost the memory forever. It just means that the memory is buried so deep in the recesses of our mind that we cannot consciously retrieve it.

There are forms of forgetting that are permanent. Such as Alzheimer’s disease. The brain itself begins to shrink and memory shrinks with it. But aside from the damage of injury or disease, everything that ever happened to us, is still with us.

Do you remember when you were born? What are your earliest memories? When did you begin? When did the seed of self-awareness take hold in you, so that you realized you are a person with an inward being? Not just a body, but body and soul?

Do you remember a different kind of beginning? Was there ever a time in your life when it seemed as if the light of God switched on inside you and once it was on it revealed you in a new light and you’ve lived in that light ever since?

At any given time in our lives, we are living in eternity. In terms of time, eternity is a concept that boggles the mind. Some people think of it as forever and ever, time without end. But all eternity really means is “here and now.” We say, “God is eternal.” What we’re saying is “God is in the present, here and now, without beginning or ending.”

Eternal life is the appreciation of life in the here and now.

There’s a simple explanation for why time seems to move faster as we get older. It has to do with the passing of time and the presence of time. Chronology versus Kairos. As one poet said –

“Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing. Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness and knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.” Kahlil Gibran.

We are always living in the here and now. The older we get the greater the amount of time that gets put into our perception, and so time literally becomes compressed. One year to a five-year-old, being one unit of five, seems the same as a decade to a fifty-year-old.   

And so events from our long ago past can seem like only yesterday. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that more important than how we measure time, is how we measure life. Life is a mix of good and bad, pain and pleasure, joy and sadness. If we downplay the pain and reject the sadness and try to avoid anything that seems negative, we lose perspective. In that loss, goodness, pleasure and joy become empty. We move toward cynicism.

The poet implies that when we understand the meaning of our tears, we will know fully the joy of our laughter. When we understand silence, we will appreciate words. For all the painful realities of this life that we are tempted to avoid, there is an alternate reality. As odd as it may seem, when we feel the depth of the grief of loss, we empower ourselves to experience hope and joy.

In 2004 I conducted the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq. Gordon Gentle grew up around the corner from my church and his grandparents were active members. One day after worship they showed me a picture of Gordon in his uniform and asked me to pray for him, because he on his way to Basra.

He was killed by a roadside bomb. He was 19 years old.

As the service came to a close, I said these words to the gathered crowds –

 “His name will be inscribed on the roll of honor of men and women who have given their lives in service to their country. He will forever remain 19 years old. Because of his unfortunate death, his name will always be a name we honor.

The only way that his sacrifice will not be in vain, is if we the living, live with hope. Hope that someday we might catch just a glimmer of the promise of peace. That we might hear just an echo of the sound of the implements of war being turned into the instruments of peace. In living with hope, we must work for peace.

And for those you his friends, his comrades, someday when you are old, when you have lived a full life, visit his grave. Tell him of your life. Tell him that your life was worth living. Remember to thank him.”

Let me encourage you, that as you go through your day tomorrow, Memorial Day, that you take a moment to remember the purpose of the day.

Each one of us is touched with a portion of God’s Spirit. When we remember those who have gone before us, we are in a way touching upon the universal human spirit with comes from the Spirit of God. The writer of Ecclesiastes speaks of the seasons of life. It is when we take the first couplet of the poem and place it with the last couplet that we understand its meaning:

“There is a time to be born …. and a time for peace.”

And if we pray, “Jesus, remember me,” we can listen for his answer, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


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