How Will You Be Remembered?




On May 5, 1868, The Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John A. Logan, published General Order Number 11 that established the 30th day of May as Decoration Day.  The purpose of this day was for the:

“Strewing of flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”  Thus was born what we now call Memorial Day.

Since ancient times graves of the dead, war dead and family, had been decorated by loved ones in a way of remembering them.  Cemeteries were, and still are, like parks.  People would take picnic lunches and after the decoration of the graves, they would sit have eat their lunch and tell stories of their loved ones, so the practice was not new when General Logan declared the practice in 1868.

May 30th was chosen as the date for two reasons; no significant Civil War battle had been fought on that day, and the thought was that flowers would be available all over the country since the cold weather would have passed.

The name was changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day in 1967 and 1968 the Uniform Monday Act moved the annual remembrance from May 30th to the Last Monday in May thus creating a three-day weekend and the unofficial start to summer.

So each year people head to the cemeteries and decorate the graves of loved ones.  Some of them are veterans and some not.  The sentiment is the same no matter how or when they died.  Several years ago I decided that I would adopt several veterans’ graves and decorate them as they had long been neglected.  I would encourage each of you to do the same.

But Memorial Day is also a good time to take stock of our lives and what we have done or left undone this previous year.  Sure it is supposed to be a day set aside for remembrance of our war dead, but how will we be remembered?

I know we don’t like to think about it, but there will come a time in history when we are no longer here.  Will our lives be reduced to a few lines on a stone tablet above our final resting place?

In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition that I have come from, when someone dies we say, “May their memory be eternal.”  We are asking that the memory of the person who has died remains green in our memories and by doing so they live on.  Sure we are sad when someone dies and is no longer with us, but keeping their memory alive is important for us and for those who come after us.

In the Scripture passage we heard this morning from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, the leper.  This would be a very unusual thing for anyone to do since lepers were ritually unclean and were in their presence made you ritually unclean.  But while he is there a woman comes in and anoints his feet.  This was not an uncommon practice in Palestine in the 1st Century.

People wore sandals on their feet, and the roads were dusty.  Upon entering a home, the lowest member of the household would remove your sandals and wash your feet.  This would be repeated by Jesus and his Apostles the night of the Last Supper.  Washing someone’s feet is the ultimate act of service to that person.  However there is one other thing to consider, a woman was washing his feet, this would have been unheard of, men washed men’s feet, and women washed women’s feet.  Another societal breakdown.

But what she did next is what she is remembered for.  She anointed his feet with costly oil, oil that some said could have been sold for large sums of money and that money given to the poor.  The words that Jesus speaks next have been used and misused by Christians since the day he spoke them. “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

This woman, whose name we will never know, will be remembered for the ultimate act of service to another and, as Jesus says, preparing him for his death.  But what about us?  How will we be remembered?

We have the potential to influence more people’s lives today than any other point in our history.  The very fact that we can push a button and our thoughts and words and be sent around the world in a nanosecond makes what we have to say all the more necessary.  This past week I was at a seminar about boundaries in the church.  We focused a lot of attention on the building of walls to keep people at a safe distance, so we do not get sued for something we did or said.  One of the presenters made the statement that we should avoid anything controversial and simply preach the love of Jesus Christ.  As you can imagine, I took exception to that statement.

I made the statement that the very act of preaching the love of Jesus Christ is controversial and if it was not then we were doing it wrong.  Historically our church pulpits have been used to bring about some of the biggest changes in history and policy.  From pulpits not far from here the abolition movement began and from this very church one of the first statements by any church, banning from membership those who owned slaves was written, voted upon and excepted.  Being a Christian is controversial, it is to love those who are not lovable, it is to forgive those who need forgiveness, it is to stand out in our world, it is to speak up when we see wrongs, and it is to work for a better world for all people.  I told the presenter to avoid controversy was unchristian.

Some of us probably could be remembered for great things.  Someone sitting here or listening to these words online might find the cure for cancer or some other astonishing feat in life but most of us, the vast majority of us, will remain unknown except for those around us.  The world will never know our names or what we have done.

But I will draw your attention to another passage of Scripture from the Gospel of Matthew, this one in the chapter just before the one we read this morning.  In the 23rd verse of the 25th chapter we hear these words:

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

How will we be remembered?  I pray as a good and trustworthy servant of God and of the people that God has placed in my life.  This should be our goal; this is what we should strive for in life.  Our memory should be that we spoke up for those who could not speak, that we served those who had less than us, that we forgave those who harmed us, and that we loved God, and we loved our neighbor.

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