"United We Stand! For What?"

"In God We Trust," "Freedom," "Liberty," "United We Stand," and so on. Ever since September 11th we see patriotic signs containing words like these everywhere we look, in yards, on cars, and on the overpasses of the highways we travel.

For the past 8 months I have driven down Interstate 270 on my way to Washington, and in this one certain place right before I go under an overpass I see the sign "United We Stand." I'm struck by this large sign, and often times found myself reflecting on the question United We Stand, for what? What does the hanger of that sign mean by "United We Stand?"

I'll bet if I were to take a quick poll of the congregation today, by asking you what does "United We Stand" mean to you, I would hear many different answers. Now as many of you know I am a patriotic person, and I don't want to minimize the significance of Memorial Day or any other patriotic celebration, but I have wrestled with this question for months, united we stand for what? Are we really united as a people? And if so, around what?

On this Memorial Day weekend we remember all those who have died in service to this country. We honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we might live as free people in this land we call the United States. And even on this weekend some will protest as we honor those who have died.

But what did these people die for, and how would they answer the question posed today, united we stand for what? Many of our fallen family and friends are called hero's, a word that unfortunately has become over used and under appreciated. But true hero's they are!

In all the Memorial Day speeches we'll hear this weekend the word hero and others like it will be used to describe those who have died in war. But one word you won't hear with the same frequency is the word Christian. We'll hear it said to the families of the fallen, "thank you for the ultimate sacrifice of your loved one." They died a hero, or they died a defender of the constitution. They died defending this great land so that we might live free, and so on.

But we won't hear, thank you for the ultimate sacrifice of this God-fearing person.

They died a Christian or they died defending the Christian values this country was founded upon. No we won't hear words like this used, at least not in a public place where someone might hear the word, "God."

These "God words" won't be used because they might offend someone. They might hurt the feelings of the unbeliever, or they might step on the toes of someone who belongs to a false religion or cult. These words won't be used out of fear of being sued by the ACLU.

And these words won't be used because using them is considered a violation of the separation of church and state.

You know God must get so frustrated with us every time he hears that phrase, "separation of church and state." And the real sad thing is, most of the people who use this phrase proclaim to be Christians and don't really know what it means.

Our Old Testament readings today take place during the Babylonian Exile, a time when the Israelites felt God had ignored them. And as we read about how the people felt during their exile, as portrayed in Psalm 137, I can't help but think that's how we as a country felt when we were attacked in World War I and II, how those that served in Viet Nam and Korea must have felt, and how we once again feel as a result of nine eleven.

In every case the world we knew was shaken, upset by evil, and was not focused on God, thus, creating our own exile of sorts.

Psalm 137 probably speaks best to how people feel during a time of war, exile, uncertainty, and hopelessness. This Psalm specifically speaks of a person who weeps over the bitterness of captivity. And because of their sorrow finds it difficult to ever imagine singing joyful songs again. It's difficult for those in exile to see the light, to feel hope, and to feel there is life beyond oppression and persecution.

These folks felt violated. Their world was shaken, turned upside-down; much like ours has been over and over again this past century. But you know what, God didn't cause all of this hate, the violence, the war, the oppression, and the persecution. We did, the people who inhabit this world. By choice we, all of humankind, have chosen this way of life.

I'd like to now read a letter that was written to God, which could very easily be the Psalm 137 of our day.

Dear God,

Why don't you save school children that are subject to violence in schools and in the home? Why do people seem to care little for one another and have little respect for life?

Why does hate seem to be so prevalent in our world and love a distant dream? Why don't you do something about all of this?

Concerned Person

And God responded,

Dear Concerned Person:

I'm not allowed in schools and I'm not allowed in public places. Madeline Murray O'Hare complained she didn't want any prayer in schools. And you said, OK... Then, someone said you better not read the Bible in school, the Bible that says, "thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself." And you said, OK...

Then someone said teachers and principals better not discipline children when they misbehave. And the school administrators said no faculty member in this school will discipline a student when they misbehave, because we don't want any bad publicity, and we surely don't want to be sued. And you accepted their reasoning...

Then someone said, let's let our daughters have abortions if they want, and they won't even have to tell their parents. And you said, that's a grand idea...

Then some wise school board member said, since boys will be boys and they're going to do it anyway, let's give our sons all the condoms they want, so they can have all the fun they desire, and we won't have to tell their parents they got them at school. And you said, that's another great idea...

Then some of your top elected officials said it doesn't matter what they do in private as long as they do their jobs. And you said, it doesn't matter what anybody, including the President does in private, as long as we have jobs and the economy is good...

And then someone said let's publish pictures of nude children, take those pictures, and make them available on the Internet. And you said, everyone's entitled to free speech...

And the entertainment industry said; let's make TV shows and movies that promote profanity, violence and illicit sex... And let's record music that encourages rape, drugs, murder, suicide, and satanic themes... And you said, it's just entertainment, it has no adverse effect and nobody takes it seriously anyway, so go right ahead...

And even now you're debating over whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed on a public monument. And many of you say, remove itů

Now your asking me why people seem to have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, classmates or even themselves.


I ask again, united we stand for what? What did the millions of people die for that we memorialize, remember, and honor today?

When I think of all the patriotic words and fancy phrases we use and embrace on days like today, I can't think of one word or phrase, which I can confidently say describes that which we are united in. But there is one word that I believe does describe what we as a people, and as a country, are united in, and that one word is hope.

In the midst of the Babylonian exile the prophet Ezekiel was the bearer and reminder of the hope that only comes from the one true God. In the land of no more joyful singing Ezekiel proclaims there is a song to sing, there is a hope to look forward to, to embrace, a hope to count on.

And that's the promise that God will renew and restore those in exile. In other words the hope for a better tomorrow.

It was hope that helped us as a people navigate through the wilderness of war. It was hope that kept the Spirit alive in those who were forced into slavery. And it is hope that keeps the fire burning within our hearts even on the worse of days.

Don't we all hope for a better tomorrow? A day when there is no more war. A day when people love one another unconditionally.

A day when Christ, not politics or individualism rules our way of life. A day when it's commonplace to hear someone say, "What can I do for you," rather then "here's what you can do for me."

Yes we are united around hope for a better tomorrow, although, we are not yet united around how we realize this hope. The hope I speak of only comes one way, and we cannot on our own make this hope a reality. It's only through Christ that our hope for a better tomorrow is assured.

And both our challenge and opportunity today is to help all people realize this hope, to accept the agent of this hope, and to proclaim to the ends of the earth Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the Bible, God repeatedly warns his people not to put their hope in their armies, their governments, themselves, or their riches. None of these will provide the eternal hope that only a life in Christ offers.

And even with this assurance of hope, God does not promise us freedom from adversity, freedom from the tragedies and horrors of this world. These will always occur because we are a fallen people, we have the freedom to choose which path in life we'll take.

But to realize this hope we must place our whole trust in God, knowing that in the end Jesus will return to rescue those who profess faith in him from the exile of this world.

This hope for the future is what brings us together, it's what unites us, it's what brings us peace during our years on this earth, and guarantees us eternal life with Christ in heaven, when our time on this earth is over.

United We Stand for Hope, through the love of Jesus Christ!


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