Remember the good old days when Memorial Day was celebrated with big parades and lots of free candy? Flags were flying, bands were marching, and those motorcycle guys were doing their fancy riding patterns.
Memorial Day was my favorite holiday as a kid, especially in the early days when it was always celebrated on my birthday, May 30. As an added bonus, it was also the traditional opening day for all the swimming pools. But in 1971 they moved the official holiday to the last Monday in May. Now I only get the occasional birthday parade. Oh well…
Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while serving our country in the military. They made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the rights and freedoms we all enjoy in these United States of America. It is a day for us to remember, appreciate, and honor that sacrifice. Did you know that we are to hold a national moment of remembrance at 3pm? Interesting, that is the same time Jesus died to save us from our sins. Coincidence? I think not.
The thing I like best about this day is seeing flags displayed proudly all across the land. I find it a great reminder that we are “…one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The stars and stripes also remind me of other phrases in our national songs and documents, such as:
I find myself reflecting on three words every year on this holiday: freedom, courage, and sacrifice. Our predecessors fought for freedom from a tyrannical ruling class. That took tremendous courage and sacrifice.
I find it interesting that God granted us freedom from the beginning. He gave us a few rules and the free will to do as we please. Yet we are constantly fighting to maintain that freedom from people who want to take it away. Thankfully there have been many brave souls throughout the ages who have fought the good fight for freedom, too many paying the ultimate price with their lives.
I ask myself two questions at this time every year; (1) What am I willing to fight for, and (2) What would I die for? God? Country? Family? Friends? Values? Principles? Beliefs? Tough questions, especially if you are attempting to be completely honest with yourself. I think it is difficult to know for sure unless and until you are faced with a life or death situation.
Here’s what I do know, it takes courage to stand up for your beliefs. Our soldiers take that stand every day. Saints do the same in promoting and defending their belief in God. Just as many military men and women have died protecting our country, so too have many Saints in protecting their faith in God. In fact we have a name for them, martyrs.
A while back I wrote an article about the first Christian martyr for a friend. It is a story of great faith and courage. I thought it appropriate to share on this Memorial Day.
The Stone-Cold Truth
Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? I do. Oh, by the way, you will be stoned to death if we don’t like what you say. Wait … what?!
Welcome to the world of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Little is known of Stephen other than the account in The Act of the Apostles, chapters 6 and 7. He lived from around 5 to 34 AD and was among the first seven deacons appointed by the twelve apostles. They described him as “a man filled with faith and the holy spirit.” Soon he was “filled with grace and power, and was working great wonders and signs among the people.” That could only mean one thing back in those early days of Christianity; Big Trouble is on the way!
The authorities didn’t like what he was saying or the growing number of followers he was attracting. This story sure sounds familiar. He was brought in for questioning for the crime of blasphemy. All of those gathered saw that “his face was like the face of an angel.” He proceeded to offer a divinely inspired history of God and His chosen people. Basically, the message was that God is good and His people had not been, especially their earthly leaders. Stephen made it painfully clear that they were repeating that history and referred to them as stiff-necked, persecutors, betrayers, and murderers. Ouch!
Just in case he hadn’t angered them enough he added, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” That was all the proof they needed to convict him of blasphemy. He was dragged out of the city and stoned to death. His last words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Yes, I have definitely seen this movie before. Do nothing wrong, tell the truth, and be viciously killed. At least the last edition of this story ended in resurrection and eternal salvation for us all. What is next in this sad tale?
Well, there was a young man named Saul of Tarsus present at the stoning. He was one of the chief persecutors of the early Christians. The faith, courage, and sacrifice of Saint Stephen puzzled and later inspired Saul. Soon thereafter he was struck down on the road to Damascus and converted to Christianity. This improbable and sudden conversion became the spark needed to ignite the rapid spread of the faith. Saul became Saint Paul the Apostle, one of the most influential saints of all time.
We have a painting of Saint Stephen in our home. I just stared at it and asked, “What is your advice for us.” The thought that immediately came to mind was, “Have the courage to seek, find, and live the truth.”
What is the truth you ask? Well, first of all, there is truth. In a world where truth has somehow become relative, it seems difficult to find objective, universal, and absolute truth. But it does still exist. There is not your truth and my truth. There is only the truth. God is truth. His word is the truth. He only asks that we love Him and our neighbors (i.e. everyone else). Everything in our lives and in the world is better when we do.
We show our love by striving to be what we were born to become, saints. To live in this world as best we can in order to make it to the next. To develop and use our God given talents to serve others. To seek and find God’s plan for our lives. To say yes to that plan and carry it out by behaving virtuously. To allow the holy spirit to guide our thoughts, words, and actions. To be courageous and stand up for what is right and true, no matter what the consequences may be.
You will survive and thrive with the truth on your side. Like Saint Stephen, you might even inspire someone to do incredible things to make the world a better place for us all. It might even be you.
Become the saint you are meant to be. Seek, find, and live the truth with courage.
Your challenge for the week is to give serious consideration to the questions, (1) What do you fight for, and (2) What are you willing to die for? Then take at least one moment of silence to thank those who have fought and died for you.
I find that my list basically boils down to our pledge of allegiance. Say it with me now:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
Have Courage my Saintly Friends, Scott