God Remembers

Delivered May 26, 2002 by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper.

Sermon Text:
Psalm 10:12-18

Well, as you know tomorrow is Memorial Day, and it’s interesting to look at what American’s actually think of Memorial Day. A lot of it depends on your generation, but most American’s nowadays more look at Memorial Day as the day when summer begins, or the weekend when the swimming pool opens or the weekend when all the major sales go on. Or maybe it’s just great to have a three-day weekend with a paid day off, or it’s a time to spend time with your family and friends around a barbecue. Now all of those things are currently true, but obviously the real reason why we celebrate Memorial Day is to remember. It’s to remember those who have given their lives in service to this country, but not just this country but to justice that we might enjoy the life that we now do. But more than just remembrance, it’s also meant to promote healing. Memorial Day came in to be after the Civil War when healing was needed between the north and south. Memorial Day is meant to be a day of remembrance and of healing. Part of the problem, well, maybe not a problem in one sense, but one of the reasons why many of the younger generations don’t have the same meaning behind Memorial Day is that we haven’t lost that many soldiers in the last couple of decades. In fact, more lives were lost on September 11 than in the last 25 years, in terms of American soldiers in the last 25 years losing their lives in war and battle. And so Memorial Day has lost much of the punch that it did for earlier generations, many of whom knew people who had lost their lives, who were very personally impacted by war and by the sacrifice of so many.

But as we think about remembering and healing on Memorial Day, it occurred to me that we need to remember more than just those who lost their lives. We also need to remember those who were left behind, because many of those who lost their lives left families behind. Husbands and wives were now alone. Children were fatherless or motherless. Parents lost sons and daughters. Even on September 11, although over 3,000 were killed, tens of thousands lost an immediate family member, lost a mother or father. We should not forget. God does not forget either those who are lost or those who were left behind. God cares for both and through him, so should we. I would like for us to turn to Psalms 10, Verses 12-18. It’s a Psalm, which is really a prayer. It’s a prayer of remembrance and a prayer of help for the helpless. You can find it on page 387 of your red pew Bibles. Please join with me.

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God., Do not forget the helpless. Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”? But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out. The Lord is King forever and ever; The nations will perish from his land. You hear, O Lord the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,defending the fatherless in the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

May the Lord add his blessing to this reading from his word. Please join me as we pray. Lord, we do thank you for your words that come to us through the Psalmist. And Lord we pray now that you would encourage us and challenge us to greater faithfulness as we are both encouraged and comforted, but also called into service by these words. For we ask it through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

My daughter, Joy who is about three, one of her favorite things to play with daddy is various and sundry role playing and she generally names who I am and names who she is, and then we just role play. And one of her favorites is David and Goliath and I generally get to be Goliath, being a little bit larger than she is, and I often try to scare her as Goliath. I remember one of the first times we ever did this, I tried to scare her and said, “You should be afraid” and she just looked at me and said, “I am not afraid.” I said, “Why not?” and she said, “Because God is with me.” Not only did that melt a father’s heart, but it was wonderful to hear that my daughter is already learning that God is with her and therefore, she doesn’t need to be afraid. And that’s really the point of this Psalm, is that God is with us. He has not forgotten us. He has not left us alone. We don’t need to fear. In fact, it says that God is the helper of the helpless. He is the defender of the one who is oppressed and afflicted. It says the victim commits himself to the Lord. I am going to use the word victim a number of times this morning, and what I mean by that is not the victim mentality that so many people have like, oh woe is me, this happened and this happened. It’s more in terms of its original meaning when we truly are a victim. Many people are victims of things that are beyond their control. It talks a couple of times about the fatherless. The fatherless. One, who has lost his father, his or her father, or mother for that matter, is a victim. And God does not forget victims. He is their help. And he does that in a number of ways.

First of all, God values those who in other places might seem valueless. Most victims generally tend to view themselves as less valuable for a whole host of different reasons. One being, why did this happen to me? Maybe I deserved it. Often victims tend to think of themselves, they tend to feel invisible. Nobody really sees what’s happening. I am forgotten. But we are told in Psalms 10 in verse 14, “But you, O God, do see grief and trouble.” God does see what happens to us. We are not invisible to him. He sees and he cares.

Often victims also feel misunderstood. Nobody really understands what they are going through and even if they see the symptoms, they don’t really, they just can’t understand. And often people will say, “Oh it will get better, don’t worry. Just cheer up.” You know, “turn that frown upside down.” That’s a total misunderstanding of where a person is, but scripture says that God does understand. It tells us in Verse 17, You hear O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; God understands our heart. He understands our needs. He understands our pain and our desire. While other might forget, while other might misunderstand, God does understand. He hears our heart. Victims, the afflicted, the fatherless often feel alone and powerless. Once again, we are told that we are never alone. We are told that God defends the fatherless and the oppressed. He remembers the helpless. We are not alone. And although we may be powerless in a given circumstance, we have a defender who is not. You see often once again as victims we often feel hopeless. We often think, what is there in the future for me, except the same pain or the same loss that I experience now. The scripture tells us that God encourages. God brings hope to those who need it.

We are told that one way to help children, in fact probably the best way to help children work through trauma is to tell them stories about heroes. People who have made it through difficult times, because it helps them to understand that my pain, my loss, my grief, my affliction isn’t the last word. There is more ahead. And what is scripture except, well it is a few other things, but most of scripture is a book of stories, isn’t it? Stories of God’s faithfulness from generation to generation to generation to generation, not always taking people out of their problems immediately, but God working within them. Often using people as his main instrument of working and of help. So that when it says, God hears and listens, the way God generally does that is through you and I hearing the cry. That’s the way it often works itself out in concrete ways. We, as people created in God’s image, created for good works that he prepared in advance for us to do as his workmanship. We are the ones to listen to the pain of others. We are the ones to carry out God’s defense of others. It’s the way God most often works.

On Memorial Day we celebrate those who gave their life in the fight for justice and freedom. God often accomplishes his purposes through us, his human instruments. And we bring hope as we work, we also bring hope as we are able to share stories of hero’s. You know, it’s not necessarily a Christian story, but three or four days ago in USA Today, front page article on the sports section was about Lance Armstrong. You may know that name. He is considered the best bicyclist in the world today. He has won the last Tour De Frances in a row. In 1996 he almost died from testicular cancer, but he survived and he came back an even stronger cyclist than ever before. And he has dedicated his life to helping those with cancer. He is a story that people look to, to say, “Here’s a person who has gone through what I am going through.” He, as a sports hero is one of the few who is willing to actually sit down with normal people and listen to their story about what they are going through in cancer. Are you and I willing to sit down with others and hear their story? Or are we like most who would just rather not get involved with that kind of thing. See listening takes time, time is money you know. It takes energy, it takes love, and it takes care. What are the ways that you and I can be God’s instruments of care and help of hope? There aren’t quite as many orphans nowadays, as there use to be. But there are still quite a few fatherless and motherless people in our society. Often they come in the form of a single parent family, a single mom or dad trying to raise a family. How is it that we as a church can come along side of them, to wrap our arms around them as the family of God, so that all children have even multiple fathers and mothers at least in the spiritual sense? To pretend that all is well in the world and all is well in families is to be blind, is too simple to be deaf to the cries that God hears and desires for us to hear.

You know one way that Central is already involved with the fatherless is through our unreached people group. You see in 1960’s the communists came in and started a civil war against the Burmese. Well the (deleted-group-name) were some of the fiercest warriors of all the tribes of Burma and so the communist came in and they recruited the men of the tribe to be soldiers and a large number of them were killed, and so that about a quarter to a third of all (deleted-group-name) children, over a period of 20 years became fatherless, because their fathers were killed in the civil war. And you have helped to fund two orphanages among them. So that those children can grow up, in at least some sense, what a Christian family is like, knowing their heavenly Father, knowing that they are not alone, but that they have a defender and it’s God and he works through his people, you and me.

I think of even some folks here at Central, like I think of little Sammy Hale, you might have seen him running around, small Korean kid the same age as Joy. Steve and Sue Hale adopted him from Korea, so that he would have a mother and father and he would grow up knowing his heavenly Father. There are so many things that we can do in this world. But it’s not just the fatherless, there are many different kinds of people who are victims, who are afflicted, who are oppressed. Are we willing to take the time and open our eyes to see the pain of those around us, to open our ears to hear, open our hearts to receive them, and our hands to serve them?

After September 11, many people did give up their time to help out, but even more gave money to help in he efforts and money is good and helpful, but money only goes so far. Often in fact what happens is we write a check and then we forget because we have done our time, we’ve done our good deed, but God never forgets. God is always at work and so ought we to be, at work as his instruments in the world. God remembers, do we? God hears, do you and I hear? God takes up the cause of those in pain, are we willing to? And if you are one of those who is a victim, who is grieving, who is afflicted, who is oppressed, I also want you to know that you are not alone. You are not without hope. God hears. God values you far more than you value yourself and by God’s grace He is going to use us as his people, as his family to be a blessing to you. May God give us that grace.

At this I would like to close my sermon by asking Elder Norm Burkey to share a bit of his own life, Norm if you would do that, and then I will close in prayer.

Norm Burkey: Good morning. I would like to take a few minutes to share about a wonderful work the Lord has been doing in my life over the last four years, and I am really thankful for the opportunity to do it this particular weekend. Two things you need to know about me, is that on my next birthday I will be 62 years old, and I am a war orphan, is the second thing. My dad was killed in March 1945 in Italy, just a few months before the end of WWII. And even though my mom never remarried, she raised the three of us. We knew things about my dad, but we didn’t know my dad. We didn’t know who he was, what he was about. It just wasn’t discussed and I have learned in the last four years, that that is a very common thing for whatever the reason after the war was over, people just didn’t want to talk about it, and to the point where the word “dad” wasn’t even in the vocabulary of my brother and sister and myself. And in fact, I guess up until four years ago, I would have argued that this wasn’t even an issue in my life. I had a good life.

But one night I was home alone, my wife Mary was at work and over dinner I was reading my issue of Newsweek and there was an article in Newsweek that week about a support group formed by two ladies, two ladies who didn’t know anything about their dads either and wanted to know more about them. They have since expanded that group to several hundred people. That particular article triggered several things in me. First was really an immense sadness and it was very similar to the reaction when my sister called a few years ago and told us that our mother had died and that’s the reason I said I am 62 years old. We are talking 40 to 45 years ago. And the other thing that triggered was a great desire to get to know my dad. I don’t really have a good place to do this, so I will do it now and I just felt a need to do it. I would like to introduce you to my dad, Private First Class Norman Burkey of the 10th Mountain Division. Since then, I have been on a wonderful journey. I have become an active participant in a group called WON, which is the WWII orphans network. It’s our support group. I have been able to talk to WON on the telephone and to have received letters from several of my dad’s buddies, who were with him in his outfit and in fact were right there when he was killed. I have also been assembling materials, so that my kids and my grandchildren can also get to know him. Most important, I have been able to mourn for my dad. One thing I have learned is that children go through a mourning process, but most of us anyway we need to go through another process when we become adults and I have been able to do that in my life. The Lord has been very involved intimately in this process. I could have missed that Newsweek article, I could have missed the whole thing and one of the things we have learned as orphans, is that there was no list. The government has thousands and thousands of lists, but there was no list of the war orphans, so we have had to find each other. He was also involved in the timing, frankly up until a few years ago I was too busy with my life.

Like many of you my wife and I started with nothing, started our married life with in fact we put everything we own in the back of a ’55 Pontiac after we got married and went off to New York City to start our life. So I was busy with a career, with raising my children and the other thing is I think if I had started before that it would have really been hurtful to my mom while she was alive. Looking back on it now, I can see that she really never recovered from the death of my dad. I think it would have been too sad for her to deal with. But I see it as a great illustration of how the Lord is active in our lives from the very beginning to the very end. It doesn’t matter if we are 2, 62 or 82. This particular journey didn’t start until I was almost 60 years old. We are never too old or too young and I can contrast that with my work life. I am a few years from retirement and I have a great job and I work with great people, but they are not about to invest thousands of dollars in my career. In fact, my development plan for this year is one sentence. The boss kind of said, “well if you see something interesting, go ahead and do it.” That’s my development plan. But that is not how the Lord treats us. And another aspect is that I tend very much to the glass is half empty and so I need constant reminders that God is much more interested in healing and blessing me, than He is in punishing me. I would like to finish with just a small bit of my favorite scripture in the Bible from Psalm 139. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Thank you.

Thank you Norm. Let me just close off this time with prayer before we go into singing our next hymn. Please join me.

Lord, as we approach Memorial Day, a day of remembrance and healing, Lord help us to remember. And help us to be your instruments of healing, not just tomorrow, not just today, but every day. Lord open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, our hands, our families. Lord help us to be thankful for those who have gone before, thankful for those who have given their life for the future for us. Lord also help us to be willing to sacrifice, to give a future to others. For we do pray it through Jesus Christ our only Lord and Savior. Amen.