John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day; a day in which we remember and honor those in the military who have given their lives for our nation. We remember, too, their families. We not only remember the soldiers of all the armed forces, but also the police, firefighters and other civil service personnel as well as civilians who have paid the highest price to make and keep this country great. We also remember those individuals in our lives who have given of themselves on our behalf. To me, they have contributed to the betterment of this country, as well as my life. This country is admirable, at many different levels, and for me, part of Memorial Day is remembering what makes this nation exceptional.
Of course, there are many things that we can point to that need improvement in this country, that are not up to standards. There are many critics of the United States, and to those critics, all I can say is…we’re not done yet. We are still young compared to any other of the leading nations; we are still learning, growing, and evolving.
There are many influences that contribute to the prominence of America. One of them is the freedoms allowed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
Many other rights are delineated in our Bill of Rights, among which are the freedoms to assemble and petition and to bear arms; the right to a fair trial by a jury. Yet the ones that set us apart from most other countries in the world are our freedoms of speech and press. We can pretty much state or write any opinion. I believe that these freedoms are fundamentally important in making our country great, but they are not the most important.
There are other components of our greatness, such as the opportunity to make a living, find a career, and make a good life. Another aspect that contributes to our greatness is our charitable nature. Americans give more than any other country to the rest of the world. 39% of the world food donations come from the United States. We give billions to various causes around the globe annually. We adopt more children than all other countries of the world combined. When there are natural disasters, the U.S. is usually the first country there to help. Americans have giving hearts.
We embrace, encourage, and endorse the creative arts and are leading innovators in the sciences and technology. We appreciate individualism, new businesses, and entrepreneurship.
There is extraordinary tolerance toward cultural diversity here, perhaps because we may have more diversity than any other country. That is one of the challenges that we have when we compare ourselves to other nations in terms of education, intelligence, tendencies, or abilities. No other country has the variety of heritages sitting in a classroom.
Since abolishing slavery in 1865, in a short 154 years, we have come a far distance in reducing racism in all forms. Yes, of course, there are still episodes of intolerance, and we can still improve and are improving. But in general, the United States is quite tolerant of various ethnicities. There are no laws that prevent any ethno-socio-economic background from attaining a good life or worshipping as they choose. Those obstacles are introduced by closed-minded individuals outside of the law.
All of these qualities are important and contribute to America’s greatness. But for me, the most important ingredient of our greatness – is our consciousness. Just as we are considered great individuals when we think and act greatly, choosing exceptional, courageous, and high-minded behavior, similarly, we are the great nation that I see in my mind and heart when we do that as a nation.
One story I like that exemplifies this quality comes from Oliver North. North explained that in 2003 he witnessed a Marine unit attacked by an Iraqi regiment. Just as a Navy medic was carrying an injured man toward the helicopter an Australian news team snapped a picture.
As the corpsman passed the journalists, one of them said, “Hey mate. What did you do that for?” It was a tone of ridicule as if criticizing him for being a dumb American. “Didn’t you notice that wasn’t a Marine?”
The man that the corpsman carried on his shoulder, who he had already bandaged amidst the clash of gunfire and was now carrying to safety, was an Iraqi soldier. In response to the Reuters news crew, the Navy medic gave them a gesture, that universal gesture of contempt, and said, “Didn’t you notice? He was wounded; that’s what we do. We’re Americans.”
And for me, it is this global consciousness that makes America great; this sense that despite our differences and despite our duties to our respective countries, everyone deserves to be carried out of harm’s way. Why?” Because we are all Children of God. This mindset prompts us to come to the aid of the natural disaster victims, the Chilean miners, and the tsunami and earthquake victims. This sense of sacrifice is what ignites within my heart as I consider Memorial Day. The willingness for the soldier to move beyond the small self and to pay the ultimate cost. For anyone to move to a higher place and embrace the oneness of humanity and act … that moves me.
America knows that as individuals, we are endowed with unalienable rights by our Creator. What we are still developing, and what some are bitterly resisting today, is the awareness that we are not only individuals, but we are part of something bigger: a family, a community, a nation, a world, the Oneness in God. And from this growing awareness comes the Divine’s whisper to our hearts, “Patrick, not only have I endowed you with certain unalienable rights, such as Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, but because you are a component of something larger, My Family, I have endowed you with certain unalienable responsibilities that include: love your neighbor as yourself, respect each other, serve one another.”
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Even beyond this focus on friends, Divine Awareness asks that we see through the eyes of Christ. In our opening Bible verse: The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. It is seeing through the eyes of Christ that births the ‘good shepherd’, creates the willingness to risk our own life for others; to “lay down our life for the sheep”, even if we don’t know them.
We are changed by being in the presence of divine awareness. That’s why it is good to read spiritually uplifting books and associate with loving people. This is one of the benefits I receive by coming to church and being around all of you. Together, we create an environment of love and peace; there is a communion in Spirit and a Power here that uplifts me.
Yes, tomorrow is Memorial Day, when we honor those who have gone before us and have given their lives so that we can be sitting here today. We honor those individuals who have positively impacted our lives and are no longer in their bodies for us to thank personally. The most powerful way to honor the sacrifice made by these souls is to ask ourselves: What sacrifices are we called to make for the greater good – in our family, among our circle of friends, and in our congregation, community, and nation? How are we being asked by Spirit to look beyond our own well-being and ensure the well-being of other people less fortunate than ourselves, their children, persons with medical risks, law-abiding immigrants, and the flora and fauna of our planet?
But even as we beautify the memory of our loved ones, let us remember to make beautiful the lives of the living. We feel a part of life itself if we see another life blooming because of our thoughtfulness. Perhaps we have it in our power to speak a word, to take some action, to pray a prayer that will nurture and bring to fruition the flowering of a spirit that might otherwise wither. Let us look for the means by which we can make our present relationships lovelier.
Memorial Day is about remembering, and then dedicating our own lives to a larger, greater good for those we love, for our nation, and for the planet. It is my prayer that our remembrances inspire us to live out our gratitude by accepting our responsibilities as Children of God and as a Good Shepherd: to love each other, serve each other, and respect each other, and then by giving thanks for everyone who has contributed to our present good.
I wish you a blessed Memorial Day.