Grace and peace to you and yours in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This past Monday we celebrated Memorial Day. The day itself began following the Civil War by the southern states and was known as Decoration Day with flags being placed on the graves of those who died in battle. The North quickly adopted a similar day of their own. Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War.
During World War I this holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. There is more to its history, but this gives us its origins outside of the political arena that often encroaches on such events.
Sadly, there are those Christians today who talk like we should have no loyalty for our country. It’s the thought that if one loves the country it’s a bad thing because the wars were fought for bad reasons, which might be true of some wars, but certainly not all. To be sure, loyalty to our nation must never be our ultimate loyalty. We must always obey God first rather than men.
However, Jesus shows us it is possible to honor God and honor Caesar. In Luke 20:25 Jesus said on the question of taxes, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” However, the implications of our Lord’s word extend beyond far beyond the realm of taxes. Jesus is saying that there are duties to government that do not infringe on our ultimate duty to God. It’s possible to honor lesser authorities (like those in government) in good conscience because they have been instituted by a greater authority, God.
The New Testament echoes our need, as Christians, to respect and honor our nation. In Romans 13:1 Paul says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” The church is not the state and the state is not God, but it doesn’t mean the church must always be against or in opposition to the state. It’s possible to be a good Christian and a good American. Patriotism is not bad. Singing our national anthem and getting choked up is not bad. Allegiance to God and allegiance to our country do not have to be at odds with one another.
Hence, we can honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives by dying for our country as Christians. Nor should it surprise us that over the years Memorial Day has become a time to remember not only those who have died in wars, but those who are serving our nation that God would protect and watch over them to keep them safe.
Memorial Day might be a national holiday, an American holiday to be specific, and not a church holiday, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it or worse, condemn it as some feel hard pressed to do in today’s churches. In fact, as Christians, we are compelled to pray for our nation’s leaders and for our nation. 1 Timothy 2:1-3 makes that very clear. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior. . .
Just as our church here at St. Paul has both the flag of the church and the American flag in the chancel, so too must we be conscious of our duty to God as supreme and still acknowledge our duty to our nation. They are not incompatible.
I hope, even in this time of COVID-19 with its many restrictions, that as you celebrated Memorial Day in whatever ways you found comfortable and possible, you took a moment to remember those who gave their lives in defense of this nation, even in wars that were not fought for the best of reasons. Those who fought and died didn’t get to express their opinion but served faithfully nonetheless. I would also encourage those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior that we daily pray for our leaders that they might alien themselves in God’s service, according to His will, and not something less desirable .
After all, we are “ONE NATION UNDER GOD.”
God bless. Stay safe and stay well.
This is Pastor Lee from St. Paul wishing grace and peace to you and yours as we continue to begin returning our lives to some sense of normalcy within this pandemic.
I am glad to say that we have held three worship celebrations so far this month after no formal worship since before Easter. The first Sunday, May 3rd, with social distancing in play and communion with masks or shields to limit contact saw about 45 people coming. The next week we got about 60. Then, this past Sunday, we topped 100. I don’t know if that trend will continue, especially with this coming weekend being Memorial weekend, but I do know those who came were most grateful that they could gather for worship again. They felt something very important missing in their lives. So did I.
During this COVID-19 crisis, it’s hard to get back to normal, including worship in God’s house. The reasons are many. Naturally, there are those 65 and older who are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Then there are those of any age who have conditions that put them at a higher risk if contracting the virus. These health risks understandably make people reluctant to come to church for worship because of the danger to their lives. Yet, there are also many who are just plain scared to leave the relative safety of their homes for fear of getting the virus. I understand and appreciate all these valid reasons. Their presence is a big part of why we went to the effect to record a worship service from Palm Sunday through to the present. We know how important worship, in any form, is to people of faith. It was good to know that it was well received. However, there is one reason that, while connected to the impact of the virus, should not cause any to stay away.
Sadly, there are those who want to come to worship, but are reluctant because they feel they can’t come. The reason: They can’t give an offering. Oh, they want to, but COVID-19 has cost people jobs lost meaning no income. Businesses are failing and could close forever, businesses that people put their whole lives into to provide for their family and the future, due to continued lockdowns. Money is in short supply with many making choices between medications and food, mortgages and monthly bills. Partly it’s because they grew up with the belief expressed in Acts 20:35, to name one source, that it’s better to give than receive. Churches have always stressed that point.
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Which is true, but possesses a deeper meaning than the obvious.
Add to that the example of the widow’s mite when Jesus held her up as a model for giving and the inability to give a gift causes people to stay away from worship.
Luke 21:1-4 — As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
People know of these texts and think that since, in the case of the widow, she could give, they should, too, and if they can’t then they shouldn’t come to church. This is oh so sad and wrong.
I’ve been serving our Lord as a pastor for 41 years. In all that time I’ve never preached a sermon on demanding money from God’s people. I realize the church must be fiscally responsible with the gifts and monies it is entrusted with by the people. Yet, it doesn’t mean we operate the church like a business on the basis of profit or loss. It’s not! The church is a resource for teaching and preaching, a refuge for comfort and hope, a place for healing when God’s people are hurting, like now.
Yes, a primary function of worship is to give. As God gives to us His holy and precious Word, the good news of salvation in our Lord through the Sacraments, and the fellowship of a community of faith for mutual strength and support, we know we are to give in return back to God. Most assuredly, we can give of our monies, but of far greater value is the giving of ourselves and that doesn’t require a check or cash donations in the plate. Sure, that can include gifts from our treasures, but generous gifts of our time and talents and our very presence in His house where we are dedicated to God’s service is more precious in His eyes. When we share our faith with others (a primary element of worship as the community of believers gathers together) through prayer and praise we are giving generously to God’s work. Everyone has something to give to God.
So, please, as churches begin to worship again with God’s people gathering together, don’t refrain from coming because you are financially strapped to the breaking point. St. Paul, and any church worthy of the name, doesn’t require the purchase of tickets to get in. Your very presence is a generous gift in itself. When we give of ourselves to our Lord out of love, we are giving the greatest treasure of all. Try not to make God’s Word say something it never intended.
I’ll be looking for you this Sunday. And by the way, besides this written devotion emailed out to our St. Paul family, you will be able to watch a video version on YouTube and Facebook. I’ll try to have both available at the beginning of every week. For the video version just type into YouTube “St. Paul Lutheran Church of Bulverde" and you should get there. Until we can be together, God bless! Stay safe and stay well.
Pastor Lee R. Harder