May 26, 2024, We Follow the Faithful Witnesses, Pentecost 2 Memorial Day

If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP
Lord, I believe: Help my unbelief. Help me to see my world as You see it.
Lord, I obey; Help my disobedience. Focus me; guide me. Prune me.
Lord, I follow;  Help me to stay on the path. Thank you for the path, for guidance, for Providence and protection.
I humbly ask for wisdom and for knowledge in every human situation. 
Lord, help me to flourish as a part of the vine, as a means of grace, as a person through whom your Holy Spirit flows. Amen.

HYMN America The Beautiful
Gaither Vocal Band – America the Beautiful [Live]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3SPjk1ktRQ

Note: we are singing patriotic hymns this morning because of Memorial Day; embedded in these words are prayers to God. Please sing them as prayers.

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − The Centering Prayer:
Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help.
I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life.
Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not.
Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature.
Help me to serve you in flow as I am gifted.
Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood.
I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN Let There Be Peace On Earth
Wintley Phipps – Let There Be Peace on Earth
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hld_uwhyk4

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: We Follow the Faithful Witnesses
Text: Hebrews 11:1-6, 13-16, 32-40; 12:1-2
Series: The Final Four

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Wesley Sermon Audio

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SERMON NOTES

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old received divine approval. 3 By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

13 These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated– 38 of whom the world was not worthy–wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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HYMN My Country, ‘Tis of Thee
Mike Allen, Allison Durham Speer, Kim Hopper, Dean Hopper – My Country ‘Tis of Thee [Live]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTnOWvx-4q4
or
Home Free – My Country ‘Tis of Thee
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pKmQiClghs

BENEDICTION

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

We are following Jesus. But because we’re not the first, there are faithful people that we are following. And they set an example for us of faithful witnesses to what it means by faith to do our duty.

Memorial Day weekend is to remember those who gave their lives. This is the person in my family, Arthur Kueker, my grandfather’s nephew from Colorado. My brother was doing Google searches for our last name, and he came across the story of Arthur. It had been unknown to our family. Arthur earned a Silver Star on June 14th. That’s eight days after the beginning of D-Day on June 6th. He and a private, he was a sergeant, attacked a German machine gun nest that was firing upon their comrades. And they circled around to the side of the machine gun nest and threw grenades into the machine gun nest. And then, the story goes, they fixed their bayonets and charged. Now, friends, it chokes me up just even to say it. The only reason I know that you would fix your bayonets and charge a machine gun nest is because your rifle is out of ammunition. A few days later, both he and the private died from their wounds.

My brother is very thankful for discovering this story because no one knew. Arthur Kueker won a Silver Star for this, but it had never been delivered to his family. And my brother was able to contact his elderly sisters in Colorado and see to it that they knew of what their brother had done. By faith, they did their duty. And we are not always aware of the sacrifices that other people have made.

Now that I’ve filled the room with very deep meaning, let me tell you a terrible joke. A little boy came with his father to church on Memorial Day weekend. And the pastor found him looking at a plaque at the entrance of the church where there were 100 names listed. The little boy said, “Pastor, what are these names?”

“Son,” the pastor said, “those are the names of the people who died in the service.”

The little boy’s eyes filled with tears, and his voice was shaking when he said to the pastor, “Was it the early service or the late service?” [laughter]

But it is a reality that those of us who follow Jesus Christ sometimes have to do our duty in situations that are less than pleasant. But we’re able to do that quite often because of the inspiration of people who’ve gone on before us.

Now, my father was in the Navy. He did not give his life during the last weeks of World War II when he was serving. But he was an influence. He was an inspiration, particularly to me, because you did not have the privilege to know him. Next to him, by the way, is my mother. This is a picture from their wedding day during the few years when she was a blonde. On Mother’s Day, I paid tribute to my mother and her influence on my life. Friends, if you and I walk by faith, it’s because we’re following people who show us how to walk by faith and we need to let them inspire us and influence us so that we too can give our lives in the service of Jesus Christ by living for him.

Consequently, that brings me to what I wanted to talk about today, which is the reality that surrounds the experience of grief. Psychologists have studied grief. There are certifications in grief therapy. It is a specialty to help people deal with their sorrow. And one of the definitions that comes out of that research, one definition of grief is that you are adjusting to a change that was not what you wanted, and because of that, there has been a loss.

Now, when someone dies, it’s quite obvious what the loss is, but understanding the loss and all the variety of losses really helps us deal with the emotions of grief. We lost a lot in the coronavirus. When a tornado goes through a town, there’s a great deal of loss, not just in life, but in property. When Jesus died on the cross, that was a loss for the disciples. But a car accident that totals your favorite car, it might seem silly, but that’s a loss too.

The wedding day, what a beautiful and happy day that is, but you have lost the days that went before. I once knew a couple that woke up on the first day of their marriage on their honeymoon and the wife was crying and the husband said, “Honey, what’s wrong?” and she said, “Well, if we hadn’t married, I’d be home eating breakfast with my mom and dad right now.” You see, there are losses that are not quite obvious.

And the picture of the graduation there on the screen, well, my favorite elementary school teacher was Mrs. McGuire. But when I graduated from fourth grade to fifth grade, I was dealing with Mrs. Lampkin, who was the toughest, meanest teacher in our elementary school. She was in charge of the safety patrol where certain children viewed as highly responsible would help other children cross the street, and boy, she was known for almost being like a drill sergeant. So I felt a small amount of grief going from fourth grade to fifth grade, but I soon began to see the value of Mrs. Lampkin. And she added a lot to my life, too.

You see, we adjust to change. We overcome the loss, and that helps us deal with our grief. But every surprise, everything that takes us by surprise, every sort of change, can have with it a small amount or a large amount of grief. Because it’s not what we would prefer. And that means there’s an adjustment that we need to make.

Here is the psychology that’s most helpful to understand grief. You see, when you are grieving, you are looking in the rear-view mirror. Grief is always about the past. “Well, Pastor Dave, I worry about the future.” Yes. We call that anxiety. But grief is about the past and our regret for change that we did not wish.

And there are four tasks to heal from grief. Now, they don’t always happen in a sequence, but we talk about them as if one flows into the next. The first step to dealing with grief is to accept the reality that something has changed. That’s the R in the R-E-A-R, accepting the Reality of the change. For example, I began to tell you in 2014 that in 10 years, I would retire, 10 years ago. But this past summer, I began to say very plainly, “Within a year’s time, I’m going to graduate from church to retirement.” And there will be some grief with that. But I said, “I think for you, it’s going to be like graduating from fourth grade to fifth grade.” A new teacher is coming to town. A new sheriff is coming to town. And could be just like Mrs. Lampkin, that the new teacher will be beloved as much as all the former teachers. You would not want to stay in fourth grade your whole life!

So that’s accepting the reality. And in order to accept the reality of the change, you have to talk about it. And people were surprised, as if year by year I was getting younger instead of older. People were surprised.

But perhaps there was a period of pain with the loss, something that no one likes. Now, with the death of a person, that Experience of pain can be very deep and severe. But there’s always an experience of regret and pain in wishing that change had not happened. Friends, I’ll be honest with you, I have never traded in a car where I wanted to do it. It was always against my will because, over time, I fell in love with my car. And I never wanted to let go of it.

But I had to Adjust to life without my old car. It’s kind of nice to have a new car to adjust to it. But I was always nostalgic about the old car.

And then the last stage of these four tasks is to Reinvest in the new reality that comes after the change. Whether that’s fifth grade, a new teacher, whether that’s this church, a new pastor, or whatever else it might be, there is joy and good that lies ahead. And you cannot move forward guided by what you see in the rearview mirror. Over time, you have to turn your attention to what lies ahead and not be too captivated by what is in the past.

Hebrews 11:1 says it’s by faith that we’re able to do this. Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it, the men of old received divine approval. And then it begins to list the heroes of the faith and the lessons they taught. By faith, we understand that the world was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear. And really, the word yet should be there. These things do not appear yet, except faith sees them coming. Verse 4, “By faith,” and it tells about Abel. By faith, Verse 5, it tells about Enoch. Verse 6, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that God exists and that God rewards those who seek Him.” And it goes on to talk of other heroes who set an example who provided a way that we could see how we should live.

In Verse 13, it summarizes this list of heroes. These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on earth, for people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, verse 16, “They desire a better country that is a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Verse 32, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, tell of David and Samuel and the prophets. And time would also fail me … and the sermon would be very long. “But all of these, verse 33, “Who through faith, conquered kingdoms and forced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. By faith, they did their duty.

“Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn in two. They were killed with a sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, of whom the world was not worthy, wandering over deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth. And all of these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised. Since God had foreseen something better for us that apart from us, they should not be made perfect.” You see, my grandfather’s nephew died not seeing the war end, not seeing the victory, not seeing the world that we’ve built since he gave his life. But we have been blessed to see him.

My oldest son is very, very smart. He was about six years old on a Sunday morning … it might have been a Memorial Day weekend, when I was a pastor in Quincy, Illinois. And I went into great detail about the bravery and the courage of the early Christians … about how Nero had taken the Christians, put them on poles, covered the Christians with tar, and lit them on fire. And all of a sudden, my son in the middle row pipes up and says, “Thank God we’re not Christians!” When asked, he said, “Aren’t we Methodists?” He didn’t think it was a good idea to be a Roman candle.

Nonetheless, by faith, they did their duty. By faith, they were able to do what needed to be done. And so, friends, I want to say to you with regard to our church, with regard to almost any church, we don’t need to look very far to find heroes. In fact, there are a whole lot of churches out in the country where you walk out the door of the church on Sunday morning, and you can walk over up and down the lines with the names of the heroes, not on the wall, but on the gravestones — heroes of the church that made this place possible.

It’s not that they’re no longer with us. They are still with us– they are still with us.

I was reminded of that and quite humorously this week. I believe it was Tuesday morning. I woke up, opened up Facebook, and found that I had a friend request from Gerri Molina! I didn’t know that there was Facebook in heaven, but apparently, we have proved this now because I got a friend request from Gerri Molina. And I want to tell you if you had an opportunity to be Gerri Molina’s friend, you would be incredibly blessed.

In fact, I’ll tell you something. I am sorry for the pastors who will come to this church in the future. I am sorry for Carol and Mike because they will not meet Gerri Molina this side of heaven. Ditto for Keith Smith. Ditto for so many other wonderful people who have blessed my life.

And the last time I said this, I was in Caseyville. And I said, “I really feel sad for the pastor that will come because they’ll never get to meet Clara Merkel.” You never got to meet Clara Merkel, but she was the member of the Caseyville United Methodist Church that started the library in Caseyville, deeply loved by the whole town, and lived right next door to the church.

Every time I drive through Carlyle, I remember traveling from Caseyville to visit Juanita Perry in the nursing home there because you see you are– and I mean this with the greatest of honesty … You are my closest friends in this world. But I’ll be honest, as a pastorI have more friends in heaven than I have here today. We don’t have to look far for heroes to inspire us.

And if we had time today, I’d let each one of you take the microphone and say, “Here’s the person that touched my heart. Here’s the person that blessed me.” And you know something? We’d be here for days before you ran out of people to be thankful for. And in addition to that, many of them are people that I’ve never met. Glenn Dolan’s wife, never got to meet her. David Bookout’s wife, never got to meet her. Mike, your father, never got to meet him this side of heaven, but there will come a day, I believe, where we will be together again.

Therefore, in the very next verse, Paul goes on to say this, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …” And the picture he paints here is that up in heaven, there is this great colosseum that is full of people. And they are all tuned to the Kinmundy channel and watching what you and I are doing with the church that they left us. And by faith, they did their duty. And by faith, we do ours, because our heroes are watching over us.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. And because that’s true, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run, let us go forward with perseverance, perseverance, to run the race that is set before us. The rear-view mirror will remind us of our grief. But the witnesses that lived lives of faith will draw us forward.

Because you see, grief as it heals draws us forward. Now, it is true, as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” On the days that you mourn, you will be comforted.

One of the things that comforts us is a thing called a linking object. Now, I’ve been a part of a group called The Walk to Emmaus, where people come together for a weekend and lay people and preachers speak. They preach a sermon. What most people don’t know is that there’s a wooden hand cross that each speaker is given to hold while they’re speaking, to help them with their anxiety, to help them do by faith what they need to do. You see, it’s a linking object because every person at the weekend retreat holds the same cross.

But one of the things people do to deal with grief is they utilize what’s called a linking object, something that belongs to the deceased loved one, which are reminders of experiences and feelings. A bereaved son, for example, might wear his father’s watch. A bereaved daughter might serve the holiday meal on her mother’s dishes. And these things that link us with the people who are not here, they help us.

The overall goal, therapists suggest, is we need to relocate the address of the beloved, the place where they are, from the past and into the future; and so we move toward them.

In other words, someday we will be together again because, in essence, a church is a functional family of God where Jesus is Lord and people grow. And one of the things that helps us to be functional is to let the people in our past influence us. Because by faith, they did their duty. By faith, we do our duty.

Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, thank you for the incredible blessing that we did not suddenly appear out of nowhere, but that we were raised by loving parents. We were surrounded by good teachers. And in our church, many people inspired us and helped us. Lord, may the example of those heroes from our past lead us into the bright future that yu have prepared for us. They followed you, and so do we; but, Lord, it’s also a blessing that we follow them and are encouraged and helped by their example. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources

Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )
 

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