A few months ago I had the privilege of conducting a graveside service at Fort Sam Houston Cemetery. In almost forty years of pastoral ministry, I have seen and presided over a great many graveside services with military rights. Each one was special because, in every case, many veteran volunteers came together out of respect for the one who had served the nation. These volunteers from the area were there to honor their comrade in arms and participate in the final volley salute. There were the sounds of taps, sometimes recorded and sometimes performed live, but always with dignity. All of this was culminated with the presentation of the flag to the family. Yet, as special as all these were, this one I participated in at Fort Sam was extra special because it was a cut above any I had seen before.
From the beginning to the end, these active military personal, men and women, moved with a solemn dignity and precision that was awesome to witness. For me, the folding of the flag, with as much care and respect as any one is capable of showing, and then the slow salute as the flag was presented to the family struck a cord. I was truly moved. It was indeed a special moment I felt privilege to be a part of that day. Why do I mention it in this week’s blog? Simple, for two distinct, important reasons.
First, this weekend is Memorial weekend. A great many people will take getaways headed to the beach or just out of town. They will enjoy and celebrate a day off from work or school, a long weekend, and the beginning of summer. There’ll be BBQ’s, picnics and parties to relax and unwind. All of these things are nice, certainly welcomed by all; but, they are NOT what Memorial Day is about.
Memorial Day is a reminder to a people of a nation, these United States, to keep in their thoughts those men and women who, over the years of this great republic, have protected her sovereignty, fought for her liberty, and sacrificed for her honor. We remember those who gave their lives in battlefields around the world, even on our own hallowed ground right here at home. We remember those who survived the battles and wars, bearing the scars, often in silence the rest of their days, who also have died and gone on to the peace that only God can provide.
Oh, and I truly believe this land, this republic, is indeed hallowed ground, a blessing from God to be used and treasured for the sake of all people. Like Israel of old, I see this country also as a land flowing with milk and honey. And like Israel of old, God can just as easily bring down His wrath upon us, as He did on Israel in its history, when we forget who it is has blessed us with its abundance. That brings me to my second reason for writing and recording this blog.
I am appalled by those who desecrate the flag by spitting on it, burning it, and generally treating it with anything less than the respect and honor it deserves. In the process, they are also doing the same to those who serve our nation under that symbol in its armed forces. Look, I get it. This country has done terrible things over its history for which we should be ashamed. Surprise! What else can one expect? As I periodically remind the congregation I serve, we are by nature sinful and unclean. We’re human beings are not perfect. However, our flag doesn’t symbolize the wrongs and evils we have done, but the heights of greatness to which we aspire. In the same way, we as Christians are guilty of sin, too much sin; but, our sinful state is not what God intended or created us to be. He made us to be better than we are by living up to our potential. We do not condone our sin nor wallow in it. Instead, we aspire to live in the example of our Lord Jesus Christ by rising to the greatness God desires from us.
Our founders, imperfect men and women, who established this nation as a beacon for liberty and freedom for the world, saw what it could be and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to strive toward that goal. They became the first generation of soldiers to sacrifice in the service of the nation and its people. There have been countless numbers of such courageous people since. They believed in the greatness that this nation can be.
I understand. One can indeed protest and acknowledge the shortcomings of a nation, the wrongs that have been done without maligning the symbol that defines us or condemning those who have served and are serving in our armed forces by their sacrifices and dedication to that flag and what it represents. It is the service of these men and women throughout our nation’s history that makes it possible for those who are dissatisfied to protest and selfishly behave as if no other opinion or position has validity if it differs with theirs.
I’m old fashioned in the likes of some old lyrics by Jim Croce that go “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger. And you don’t mess around with Jim.” Well, I don’t know about Jim, but I firmly believe “You don’t mess around with our flag or her troops.” Protest? Sure. You have the right, but we have that right because of what that flag symbolizes and the men and women who gave their blood, sweat and tears to make it so. We all need to remember that the blessings that God has given today can be quickly taken away tomorrow.
This Memorial Day have some fun, relax and enjoy the company of family and friends, but take a moment or more to remember those who have served this nation and its people. You might even pray a prayer of thanksgiving. Give thanks to God that He blessed us with such people and thank them for all they have done.
And those are my thoughts.