Toward the end of May, I recall a point lost in November of 1863.
President Abraham Lincoln stood on a battle-field in Pennsylvania and said,
We can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground.
The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
The world, of course, forgot the soldiers' names and valor and stories and instead remembered
the president's words, which continued:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought
here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in
vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This and every Memorial Day, we honor those who have given "the last full measure of
devotion," at Gettysburg and around the globe, across centuries and oceans, to protect and advance the American cause of freedom, the meaning of which, thanks to them, we
continue to enjoy the privilege of arguing about.
There are resonances, and also differences, in the words of Jesus.
He is not obsessed with freedom like we are, nor drunk on individualism.
He would wear his face mask and stay home to worship, not because he's a lemming who forfeits
his rights to obey invasive government—no one like that ends up crucified—but
because he values his neighbors.
Like the fallen heroes we honor, he is willing to lay down his life to save others.
And the night before he does, his concern is for them.
Today's gospel is the first part of his lengthy and poignant payer for the disciples he is leaving
There remains work for them, the living, to do in the difficult, dangerous world, which will not
understand or appreciate or support them.
Jesus' lifestyle of self-giving, other-centered love is not a shared cultural value; it is usually met with confusion, suspicion, skepticism, and resistance.
He won't be there to help and guide and see and touch and hold them anymore.
Maybe you can relate.
Who do you want to hug right now that you can't?
Whose precious hand do you wish you could hold?
Now that you are separated, what do you pray for them?
What do you ask the Father to do for them that you cannot?
Jesus asks for protection, connection, and distinctness.
Protect them in your name...protect them from the evil one: protect who and whose they
truly are – don't lose them, Dad.
Protect their connection to you, to me, and to each other: that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one....
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us...
Across the distance of physical separation, keep us together.
Unite our hearts and souls and purpose when our bodies cannot be in the same place.
And finally, Father, keep them distinct.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Set them apart from the world that plays fast and loose with truth and so often fears it.
Sanctify them, make them holy, make them and keep them beautifully strange, because the world
that resists them needs them. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong
to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them...
The world, of course, is a complicated, broken, beautiful, beloved place.
It is full of sin and lies and violence and fear and pain, dished out and deeply absorbed.
It is also full of beauty, charged with the grandeur of God as Hopkins crowed, drenched
and coarsing with wonder and goodness and possibility and resilient, triumphant life.
The world, as John's gospel understands it, is just like smaller pieces of it, including America
and your family and your pastor's heart.
It includes everything from heroic glory to hopeless horror, sainthood to sinfulness.
The story of the nation for which our valiant ones have died is such a mixed bag: unprecedented freedoms, slavery and Jim Crow; genocide and generosity; human rights and self-righteous inhumanity.
We have been both great and pathetic on the world stage.
And the fallen at Gettysburg and elsewhere have given their lives for this mixed bag like Jesus did for the beautiful, beloved dumpster fire that John calls the world.
This ungodly place created in God's image is where Jesus comes, to live and to die and to save.
This world is where Jesus plants the imperishable truth of resurrection.
This world is where he sends us to work the weird and wondrous love the world never
understands and always needs.
As Lincoln and life will tell you, this is nowhere close to easy; suffering is to be expected, not avoided.
Jesus said so too, but he also said something more that we do not long remember but that we can never forget.
After Jesus had spoken these words, our gospel begins.
Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain,
but your pain will turn into joy.
When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come.
But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of
having brought a human being into the world.
So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take
your joy from you...
The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and
you will leave me alone.
Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.
In the world you face persecution.
But take courage; I have overcome the world!
Of course, it sure looked like the world overcame him.
It sure looked like Darth Vader overcame Kenobi.
It sure looks like death and deception and danger and disconnection win.
The eloquent president's stirring words are surrounded by dead bodies and lost dreams.
But the divided nation with newborn freedom lives.
Bruised and broken hearts are resurrected.
And the Christ who prays for us makes us all one.
In him all things hold together, the author of Colossians sings.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to
reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through
the blood of his cross.
The fallen soldiers on both sides are held in his arms, their life hidden with Christ in God.
The patriots and traitors you argue with on Facebook are held together with you in Christ.
And you know what other opposing forces he reconciles?
God and the world.
Overcoming the world is also saving it.
Judgment is also mercy.
Anguish is also new birth.
Pain is also the doorway to joy.
Law is reconciled with gospel, suffering is redeemed into glory, and the most hideous form of
death the world could concoct is now a pretty necklace shining like true hope.
Christ's cross is weird, different, distinct, unusual, misunderstood, sanctified, beautiful.
It brings and holds together enemy and friend, hero and traitor, heaven and earth, saint and sinner, you and me and all life and all things.
It protects and connects and unites and distinguishes and remakes and saves and secures and
The cross makes the prayer come true.