May 28, 2017–Memorial Day
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Moses said to Israel:
Yahweh told me to give you these laws and teachings, so you can obey them in the land he is giving you. Soon you will cross the Jordan River and take that land. And if you and your descendants want to live a long time, you must always worship Yahweh and obey Yahweh’s laws. Pay attention, Israel! Our ancestors worshiped Yahweh, and Yahweh promised to give us this land that is rich with milk and honey. Be careful to obey Yahweh, and you will become a successful and powerful nation.
Listen, Israel! Yahweh our god is the only true god! So love Yahweh your god with all your heart, soul, and strength. Memorize Yahweh’s laws and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning. Write down copies and tie them to your wrists and foreheads to help you obey them. Write these laws on the door frames of your homes and on your town gates.
ANTHEM Emerald Stream by Seth Houston. Chancel Choir
Come, now, and gather in the glade
Where the Em’rald Stream and the Evening Shade,
And meditate on the works He’s made,
Great God, our sov’reign Lord.
Join us, now, the meadow is green
And the waters pure and the woods serene
And the owing air is fresh and clean
Where God his blessings pour’d.
See the wind come down,
Hear it whistle as it blows,
It brings us sun and it brings us snows,
A blessing from above.
And the sun comes up,
And the sun goes down,
And the stars and the moon go ’round and ’round,
In witness to His love.
Hear, now, ye sons of men,
For danger lurks in this great garden;
The Lord will visit once again
To see what we have done.
As God is the shepherd and we are the sheep,
We our mother Earth must keep,
Maintain the air, protect the deep;
At Judgment Day He’ll come.
See the Lord come down,
Hear Him whistle as he goes,
He bears a thunderbolt and a rose,
Remember all his pow’r.
See the Lord come down, face shining bright,
His holy feet are soiled
But his robe is white;
You will regret that hour.
So, now, my people beware,
You’re in charge of the seas and the earth and the air,
You’d better take extr’ordinary care
Of the Earth, our only home.
All glory be to God on high,
Shout praises loudly to the sky,
Listen to the Earth and hear her cry,
And in Heaven forever roam.
Sometime later, Moses left the lowlands of Moab. He went up Mount Pisgah to the peak of Mount Nebo, which is across the Jordan River from Jericho. Yahweh showed him all the land as far north as Gilead and the town of Dan. He let Moses see the territories that would soon belong to the tribes of Naphtali, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Judah, as far west as the Mediterranean Sea. Yahweh also showed him the land in the south, from the valley near the town of Jericho, known as The City of Palm Trees, down to the town of Zoar.
Yahweh said, “Moses, this is the land I was talking about when I solemnly promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that I would give land to their descendants. I have let you see it, but you will not cross the Jordan and go in.”
And so, Moses Yahweh’s servant died there in Moab, just as Yahweh had said. Yahweh buried him in a valley near the town of Beth-Peor, but even today no one knows exactly where. Moses was a hundred twenty years old when he died, yet his eyesight was still good, and his body was strong.
Nancy Ellen Abrams
There’s one thing we actually know happens to us after life: we become ancestors. Many cultures greatly esteem ancestors. Blind deference to ancestors is paralysis for a culture, but practicing esteem and gratitude toward ancestors is good for us, because it gives us a sense of continuity and an appreciation of what it took to make us….
Thinking about ourselves as ancestors can illuminate the meaning of both our lives right now and the afterlife. I want to enjoy the position of esteemed ancestor while I’m alive. So I have to try to figure out what will make me an esteemed ancestor and do it….
So to me the central moral question of our time is, what are we ancestors supposed to be doing now to contribute to human success on a cosmological timescale? This question should be asked before every law is passed. It should be asked during every budgetary review. What should worthy ancestors be doing now?…
We who are alive today are the Moses generation. We’re laying the groundwork for the Promised Land. None of us will get to enter the Promised Land—it’s far off in the future—but we’re the ones making the promises. All of us are responsible to the future of our species as a whole, because it took the evolution of the whole species to create us. The challenge is to recognize that we have this enormous identity and to take charge of our situation—to know that we are the species acting to preserve itself—although only by the grace of individual heroes will it actually happen.
I want to tell you the story of Justin Dillon. Justin Dillon was a musician. Ten years ago he read an article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristoff entitled “Girls for Sale’ about young Cambodian girls sold into sex slavery. Labor brokers would come through poor villages and hamlets and offer young girls jobs in the big city. They and their parents were promised that the girls would work at noodle shops or hair salons and make enough money to send back to their families.
The parents let them go. What would happen is that the young girls would instead be thrown into brothels and forced into sex slavery. The brothel owners would get them addicted to drugs so they would be easier to control.
Justin was incredibly troubled about this but he felt powerless. What could he do about it? Like it is with many things, we hear about something we want to change but do not know what to do or if we can do anything.
At the time he read this article he was doing a series of concerts in Eastern Europe at the time and he was confronted by the reality of the New York times article. He discovered young women who told these horrible stories of labor brokers coming through their villages and hamlets and offering them these fake jobs.
He said to himself he didn’t know what to do, but he needed to do something, so he took a first step. Since he was a musician, he thought he would gather his music friends and make some videos. As it turned out, they ended up making full-length film. The film released in 2008 is called “Call and Response.” This is according to the Wikipedia page:
The film was Justin Dillon’s directorial debut and has received worldwide recognition, becoming one of the most important devices in spurring the modern-day abolitionist movement and was one of the year’s top documentaries.
There are 27 million slaves in the world, more than any other time in history. Slaves exploited for sex. Slaves exploited for work in mining the raw materials for our cell phones. Slaves producing the palm oil that goes in nearly all the products we use like toothpaste.
Justin developed a website, Slavery Footprint. He discovered that modern-day slavery is not only in sweat shops but hidden along supply chains of virtually everything we consume. You can go on-line to slavery footprint and take a survey and discover, as he put it, how big your slavery plantation is. I went on the other day and discovered I have 41 slaves working for me.
Justin Dillon eventually founded Made In A Free World. This site provides information for corporations on these supply chains so that they know not to purchase raw products from suppliers who use forced labor. Justin uses the power of the marketplace for both corporations and consumers regarding their purchases.
He tells his story in a book released this week, A Selfish Plan to Change the World: Finding Big Purpose in Big Problems. I just produced an interview with him for Progressive Spirit and the show will be on podcast Friday.
Throughout the book he tells stories of people who when faced with something that troubled them and they didn’t know what to do about it or if it was up to them to do something, and who didn’t know if they were in a position to do something, and they did something anyway. The first step.
His point is this. The meaning we want for our lives, our purpose, is connected intimately with the problems of the world. That is what he means by being selfish. It is not the point to be martyrs or to pretend that we are altruistic or good or self-sacrificing. We do a good thing because it helps us, it gives us purpose. Don’t deny it. Go with it.
Frederick Buechner, in his book, Wishful Thinking, wrote about vocation and purpose. He said something similar.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
According to Justin Dillon: There is no one to tell us what to do or how to do it. No one is there to give us permission. He said no one who ever changed the world, set out to change the world. They took a first step.
He said something else. He said,
“I truly believe that one hundred years from now, people will look back on this generation and say, ‘You had it all; knew it all. You were given so much connectivity. Did you do something with it? Did you use that connectivity to help others and to pull people out of slavery?’ I truly believe that’s before us. But it is not going to happen if we just want it to happen overnight.” (interview)
I have often thought the same thing. This is an incredible time to be alive, when so much is at our fingertips. Especially those of us born into privilege. We have no idea what freedoms and choices we take for granted. The incredible information available to us through the internet. The truth is it won’t last forever. It may last longer than each of us or it may not, but either way, we won’t last forever. Here we are now. With so much at our disposal. What will we do with it?
What will be our legacy?
The book of Deuteronomy is a series of sermons by Moses as he is about ready to die. Moses is telling the Israelites his legacy. He tells them where they have been, who they are, and where they are going. Biblical critics have demonstrated that the Book of Deuteronomy was put together in the 7th century BC before the priestly account that makes up most of Leviticus as well as the first creation story in Genesis 1 and after the JE narrative that contains the stories of Yahweh, the personal deity. These sermons are put on the lips of Moses, but they were likely written centuries after Moses lived. The creators of Deuteronomy are also the creators of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings which is often called the Deuteronomic history.
There is a lot I could say about Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic history and I will come back to it in later sermons. For today, I want to reflect on Moses and his legacy. He visits the mountaintop and he sees the Promised Land. He isn’t going to get there, but he sees the promise. That is what he gets. In one sense it isn’t enough. We want to see what will become of the fruits of our labor. We want to see what will become of our grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Life doesn’t work like that. We get a glimpse of a promise.
Twentieth century theologian and philosopher, Reinhold Niebuhr put it clearly:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
The point I want to make about Deuteronomy on this Memorial Day weekend when we are thinking of things like sacrifice and ideals and legacy and mortality and memory, is that Deuteronomy reminds us that life has an endpoint. We can choose what we will do with it. The choice we make will be the legacy we leave. That legacy will influence the lives of future generations even as we, like Moses, will never enter that Promised Land and see it.
People who have done amazing things and given the world marvelous gifts do not know what they did because their lives ended before they saw the fruit of their labors. They did what they did because they saw a need and they took a first step. But we remember them. We know what they did. We enjoy that fruit.
Now it is our turn.
Those who dreamed about establishing a congregation in the countryside of Beaverton had no idea what it would become in 2017. The ones who made the plans, gave their money, purchased the land, broke ground, and built the facility, did not know what it would become. While some are still around to see what Southminster has become, most have passed on. They left a legacy.
How many lives have been touched by the shared life at Southminster? How do you measure the impact of friendships, music, sermons, music, and mission projects? We are enjoying the fruits from the trees planted 60 years ago. We cannot pay it back. We can only pay it forward. That is what life is.
George Davis was our town historian in the first church I served in Lowville, New York. He was a lawyer and a judge and a long-time Presbyterian. I always enjoyed my conversations with Judge Davis. He was excited to tell me about the history of Lowville and the Presbyterian church.
One day he came up to me and told me that in addition to his pledge, he was going to make a contribution to the permanent fund of the Presbyterian Foundation. After he died that fund would have enough in it for the interest to provide as substantial yearly gift to the church. He could continue to make a pledge to the church after he died. He did it. He took the first step. As I shared his story with his permission, others did a similar thing. That little congregation benefits still from Judge Davis and his foresight.
Doing this made George happy. He was actually a pretty happy guy. His happiest day was when he met Hillary Clinton. She came to Lowville when she was running for the senate, and he was grinning like a little kid when he got his picture taken with her. He liked Hillary because he believed in her quest for access to affordable health care for everyone, a quest that remains for us.
We pay it forward by taking that first step towards the world’s need. We take it because it gives us joy to participate in something that is worthwhile. There is nothing wrong with joy. It is only because of joy that we can have the energy to be able to do the good thing. It takes joy to leave a legacy. In the words of Emma Goldman:
IF I CAN’T DANCE,
I DON’T WANT TO BE PART OF