This Memorial Day, let us remember not just those who have given the last full measure of devotion for our nation, but those who actively serve in harm’s way on our behalf.
One of my favorite actors is Paul Newman, and one of my favorite movies is, “Cool Hand Luke.” Luke was sent to prison for getting drunk and cutting the heads off parking meters. He should have been out pretty quickly, but he had problems with authority and he took on his fellow prisoners, the guards, and the road boss. The most famous line in that movie first spoken by the road boss. Looking down on Luke–after knocking him down, he says, “What we have here is failure to communicate.”
The Bible is all about communication. Seen as a whole, the Bible is not a monologue but a dialogue. We speak to God, and God speaks to us.
For instance, in the Psalms, humankind makes its case with God, sometimes praising the LORD and sometimes pleading with the LORD. The prophets speak to God on behalf of the people and they speak to the people on behalf of God. They often preface their speeches with the phrase, “Thus says the LORD.”
Today, most of us speak to God in prayer. A Moravian hymnist said that–
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed,
The motion of a hidden fire,
In every trembling breast.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try.
It is the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.
Prayer takes many forms. It can be public. In the liturgy, we lift up our common concerns and common problems. Prayer can also be intensely personal and private. In Matthew 6, Jesus said that when we pray, we ought to go into our rooms, and shut the door, and pray to the Father in secret, and the Father who sees us in secret will reward us (openly).”
Some people have success in prayer; others do not. I have had people speak to me of answers to prayer so remarkable that they could be called, “miraculous.” I have had people tell me that their prayers never get beyond the ceiling of the room in which they have gone to pray.
Isaiah the temple priest who was also a prophet had a dramatic experience of God. He wrote:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6 Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
There is, of course, more. God sent Isaiah to the people not to preach consolation and hope, but to preach so as to make their hearts fat, and their ears heavy, and to keep their eyes closed, lest they hear with their ears, and see with their eyes, and understand with their hearts, and turn to God for healing.
Isaiah had a tough assignment. Even tougher than being condemned to preach forever only on Zoom!
I think it is interesting that, in the Bible, when God sends his servants out to do something unpleasant or dangerous God often reveals himself more completely. In the case of Isaiah, God told him he had to face up to a disobedient and contrary people who would hate God’s prophet as much as they hated God. In the case of Jesus, God told him that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness–so that people who were bitten by the fiery serpents could look on it and live, so Jesus had to be lifted up so that people infected by sin could look on him, believe, and have eternal life. Both Isaiah and Jesus had to walk a lonely road. At times, both felt abandoned by God. Only their faith and their prior experience of God enabled them to preserver. William Barclay would say it is always better if we fix the hole in our roof before it starts to rain. It is always better if we turn to God when life is sunny before it turns dark with clouds. Or, as the author of Ecclesiastes has said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and you say, ‘My soul has no delight in them.'”
This is Memorial Day. I think it is interesting that before the Normandy Invasion, General Eisenhower called upon his troops to “beseech the blessing of Almighty God on this great and noble undertaking.” And before General Douglas McArthurs landed the Marines t Inchon in Korea, he read the 23rd Psalm with his general staff. These great leaders turned to God before the crisis.
The truth is, many people do not pray at all, and many more pray with very little success. Jesus said that we have not, because we ask not, and we ask, and receive not, because we ask selfishly. He says that we care more about what we want than about God wants.
When I was a boy, we had only two TVs. The first was a big Silvertone with a tiny little screen from Sears. The second was a masive black and white Zenith with a huge 17″ screen. It also had “Space Command” with four buttons. You pointed a remote at the TV, and you clicked one, and you cut it on, or off, or changed the channel. Prayer is not a remote control for God. It does not turn God on or turn God off, and it certainly does not change God’s will for us. Prayer is primarily the way we get things from God; prayer is the way that we align ourselves with God’s will for us. As the late Dr. J.C. McPheters, a Methodist pastor used to say, “Prayer changes things. Prayer changes me. Prayer changes you.”
John Bailey was the first president of the National Council of Churches. In his book, “Revelation in Recent Thought,” he wrote:
“We cry out to God in prayer, hoping for some fresh revelation of God. It does not come. It does not come because we have failed to act on the revelation we have already received.”
How true! If we draw close to God by acting on what we know God wants for us, God will draw close to us. Most of us know more about what God wants for us than we are willing to admit. God speaks to us through the Bible, which is God’s word, written, the record of God’s revelation to humankind. And God speaks to us through Jesus Christ, the Living Word, which is sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting fore-stroke and back-stroke. If it does not do us good, then it will do us harm. And the Holy Spirit convinces us of what is right, and of what is wrong, and enables us to make the choices that God would have us to make. Provide of course, that we hear with our ears, and see with our eyes, and understand with our hearts, and continually turn to God that God might heal and transform us.