Memorial Day thoughts…

In the words of Mark Driscoll, “I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this.”  I shared these thoughts this past Sunday at the beginning of our worship gathering.  I wrestled and wrestled with it for days before, but I decided to go ahead and be courageous for the sake of God’s kingdom.  I may post the (rough) audio here in the next couple days so you can hear how I spoke these words.  I welcome feedback.

 

We will not be focusing on the cultural holiday of Memorial Day in worship today, and I want to tell you why.

The kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God are not the same.  The kingdom of the United States is a kingdom of the world with different purposes than the kingdom of God, and it is not the center of what God is doing in the world.  Now I’m not isolating the United States as being the only nation that is not the center of what God is doing in the world, because every kingdom of this world, all around the world, is not equal to the kingdom of God.  If we are willing to look beyond our cultural and national boundaries to the world as God sees it, we come to an understanding very quickly that the people group God is most concerned about in the world are His faithful people.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he wrote, (11-13, 19-22)

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ… Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

We are fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.  If we are fellow citizens as disciples of Jesus, what are we citizens of?  (Israel, not the modern kind, but the faithful people of God; God’s kingdom).  We are centrally citizens of God’s kingdom.  And when we read today Paul writing to Gentiles who are no longer foreigners and strangers, but united as citizens of one kingdom, who is he writing to?  (those all over the world who have become disciples of Jesus, people who now are fellow citizens of the same nation, the same people).

What that means practically is that Christians in South Africa are not South African Christians, but just Christians living in South Africa, those in Britain are not British Christians, but Christians living in Britain, those in the United States are not American Christians, but Christians living in the United States, and those living in China are not Chinese Christians, but Christians living in China.  In all of these places, their primary citizenship is not the country they live in, but the kingdom of God’s people.

This is not something we can argue over.  It is not an opinion, it is fact.  And everyone here should know how careful I am when I speak to say most of what I say is my perspective on the truth.  But this is not my perspective.  It is the truth.  If we are Christians, we are primarily citizens of God’s global kingdom.

And all of these countries have their own cultural holidays, and all of the Christians living in those countries have to be able to separate between which holidays to focus on and which not to.   In regards to Memorial Day, if we’re asking whether God has ever used the United States in military action to accomplish his purposes, the answer is yes.  But the same answer would be given to all the other countries across the world as well.  If we’re asking, has the United States in military action ever committed evil acts? The answer is yes.  And the same answer would be given to all the other countries across the world as well.

What should be troubling to us is the blank check that many Christians in America give to military action.  We are all over the board in this room on whether military action is ever justified to accomplish God’s purposes, and when we wrestle with this question, our perspectives must be rooted in the Scriptures.  But one thing we all can agree on is that military action is not justified in all circumstances at all times. If it is true that the unjust loss of life has taken place at the military’s hands, which it is, the military has acted in opposition then to the kingdom of God.

As we discern which cultural holidays to focus on a bit and which not, this is a consideration that should guide our worship.  We are members of a global kingdom that does not see boundaries the way other persons do; we do not fragment the world into little pieces like other people do.  We are different.  We are Christians.

This is why Memorial Day is not appropriate for Christian worship because it focuses on America at the exclusion of the rest of the world.  Because America is not the center of God’s world, it is not appropriate for it to be the focus of our worship.

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8 thoughts on “Memorial Day thoughts…

  1. Hi Nate, as a Christian living in England ( 🙂 ), this fascinates me. Firstly, I don’t know enough about the context, but it sounds courageous: well done.

    I visited friends in the USA for 4th July a few years ago. I expected a few jibes about the British, but I was rather disarmed by the singing, in a worship service, of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”: the allegiance seemed entirely mis-placed (unless I misunderstood the words). I started to share this (and other, similar reservations) with my hosts (sincere, believing, largely apolitical, Evangelical folks), but could see I was getting nowhere, so bit my tongue. Does this resonate with you at all?

    Meanwhile, the details of Memorial Day are not clear to me. Over here, we have “Remembrance Sunday”, which marks the armistice at the end of WW1. Although it’s very much a military event (and a minority regard it as unwanted and jingoistic), for most, it is an opportunity to remember the fallen (mainly from the British military, and the wider Commonwealth, but also civilians, and, for some, enemies too), an opportunity to give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, an opportunity to pray for peace in the world, and, for many an opportunity to reflect that there has to be a better way. Giving time to that doesn’t seem a bad thing at all. Most Evangelicals that I know of would not give over their whole worship time to it, but would mark it, e.g. with two minutes’ silence, and maybe reflect on the many layers of meaning in Jesus’ saying “no one has greater love than this…”. Although it’s a national memorial, it is, for most people – if they have been touched by war at all – an intensely personal reflection.

    My impression is that Memorial Day does not carry those broad overtones and shades of meaning, but I’d be interested to know…

  2. It is good to see Nathan Myers blogging again. I wonder what kind of feedback you received from your congregation? I didn’t think it was too controversial, but we have been trained in a similar fashion.

    Your comments on God using the US armed forces for his purposes seem a little out of place for you. Was that intended to be a bit of a bridge between pacifists and just war folks in your congregation? I guess I could also interpret that as refering to relief work and not just warfare.

    At our church there was no mention of Memorial Day last Sunday. But I don’t think it is anti-Christian to remember those who have died for any reason. Though I don’t venerate those who gave their lives for our “Our Country” because they are protecting my freedom, I do respect anyone that is willing to lay down their lives for a cause. If I was asked to pray for those who have lost their lives in battles, I would have to give equal time to praying for “our” troops and praying for “their’s” as well.

  3. Nate, I truly appreciate this. My wife looked at me a little funny when I refused to sing all the “I love America….and Jesus, too….sorta” songs this past Sunday. I think you said it perfectly in the last paragraph, we focus on America to the exclusion of everybody else. It is entirely ethnocentric. Anyway, this was well put, and right on the money. At least I think so.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts, fellas.

    Andrew,

    My fellow citizen in England. 🙂 You certainly do understand some of the context, judging from the story of your trip. What has taken place, by and large, is in a society without an official church, the state has stepped in and become the religion. This may be a difference by law only, since in establishment contexts the church and the state are deeply intertwined, with the state having the most power to spread the message of it as central importance. In many contexts in America, the Sundays before Memorial Day and the 4th of July become America Day (and, by extension, Military Day). My friend Dustin has had an experience in a church of a giant American flag rippling in the background as the folks sang a medley of patriotic songs. At the end, a soldier fully kitted up in military uniform came up on stage and saluted the crowd, and they gave a standing ovation. In my local context, a church recited the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and saluted the American flag placed prominently in the front of the room. That’s the context for me.

    In regards to Memorial Day, it’s very different from your “Remembrance Day” (if your description of the holiday is accurate that it intentionally includes military personnel, civilians, and enemies too). I doubt the last two are emphasized with any consistency, but you certainly can correct me on that. What I take issue with in your context and mine is this; what are these “freedoms we enjoy”? And more specifically, does military action always contribute to stabilizing society and the world? If we’re talking about freedom,here’s some of my thoughts (guided by a hero, Stanley Hauerwas) on what that “freedom” looks like in America. Maybe you can identify what “freedom” looks like to you. I’d suggest there’s a Biblical one and a cultural one and they’re very different. In the interests of encouraging a good conversation here, I won’t ramble any further.

    Kevin,
    The feedback has been across the spectrum, with some telling me this was an important reminder and others saying they can’t be a part of a church that says things like this. I’ve visited homes and had some reasonable and some not-so-reasonable discussions with folks. All in all, it’s been a good opportunity to talk. If you knew my context in the depth of relationship with folks at Middle River, it certainly was controversial. We’re much more generic evangelical than anything else, which makes us susceptible to thinking John Hagee and Jerry Falwell are talking (or in Jerry’s case, did talk) sense.

    I do believe that God has used the US armed forces for his purposes. I also do not believe a disciple of Jesus can faithfully serve in the armed forces. For one, the UCMJ that one swears to uphold as a soldier forsakes all other alliances and affirms that;

    “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”

    If it is possible to kill justly (which I do not believe, but I am open to talk about), you swear away the commitment to consider just warfare and actions in the UCMJ. That’s a huge thing, I think, both considering Jesus’ teaching “Do not swear” and his position as Lord which forbids any other competing allegiances. I did intend the comment to be a bridge, but I believe it too…as long as that is applied to every other country across the board.

    I hear what you’re saying in the last paragraph, and I think it’s wise…but I also think there is a time to leave diplomatic statements and prayers behind and state clearly our identity, lest we become confused about who we are (which we are). We need reminders that may jolt us a bit and in our instability bring us to ask; what really is our fundamental identity?

    Alan,
    I love how you put that. “I love America…and Jesus, too…sorta.” Ha! That’s good stuff right there. I’ve been reading Shane Claiborne’s book “The Irresistible Revolution” recently, and in his chapter “Pledging Allegiance when Kingdoms Collide,” his insight and Biblical commitment made tears well up in my eyes. God’s purposes are so so so so so much higher than America being more Biblical, they encompass the reconciliation, the redemption of all of creation. A creation (global) which he deeply and intimately loves. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Nate, I’ve been avoiding Claiborne’s new book, as I’ve tired of terms like “revolution.” Every emerging guy has the new key just like all the seeker movement guys had the new key. But maybe it’s worth checking out?

  6. Alan,

    I avoided it for a while too, but since I’ve been reading it, I realized I was missing out. Shane takes time to say that this “revolution” business isn’t some overhyped three-day convention where the term is tossed around and all that stuff. You’re right, “revolution” is really a whored-out term that doesn’t carry much weight today (forgive my bluntness, but EVERYTHING is a revolution it seems these days). Shane focuses on the fact that this “revolution” has been going on for thousands of years and it happens when ordinary people simply obey Jesus and grasp God’s vision for the world. In some great irony, one of his chapters is titled, “Growing Smaller and Smaller until we Take Over the World.”

    Though there are some blah parts (what book doesn’t have those?), I certainly would recommend it. It really has affected me deeply.

  7. Thanks for sketching more of the context: I can’t imagine any church in this country – established or otherwise – coming close to the kind of thing you described. [English readers may remark on debates about singing “Jerusalem”, but it’s not a patch on that.] You’re right that remembering fallen enemies doesn’t happen too often, though the Archbishop of Canterbury famously annoyed the Prime Minister by praying for the bereaved Argentinians at the National Service of Thanksgiving after the Falklands war.

    You’re right that the phrases about the “freedoms we enjoy” trip rather easily off the tongue, without a whole lot of critical thought. It’s clear that military action by “your” country and “mine” has often – but by no means always – contributed to a lessening of tyranny in our world. That outcome – if not always the means – seems worthy of thanksgiving. I guess the freedom uppermost in my mind is the freedom to assemble in the name of Jesus Christ, without fear that the secret police (or a lynch mob) are about to drag away the speaker.

    Your post that you linked to makes good reading. The US fixation on the “land of the free” looks kind-of hollow from here, sometimes; it’s not a concept folks here dwell on very much. But then, we didn’t have a revolution :-).

    Anyhow, you’ve given me food for thought. Thanks.

  8. Pingback: Leadership and effecting change… « Thoughts and Ruminations

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