Thank you for this opportunity to share with you today. I count it a great honor. For the comfort and inspiration of our souls, hear these sacred words from Psalm 46:1-11 and Matthew 24:4-14:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:4-14)
On this Memorial Day, I would also like to share with you a sacred address that has become a national treasure:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot 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.
It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they 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, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (President Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863)
Memorial Day is more of a day for the living than it is for the dead. The dead have now received their reward. And for us, the living, Memorial Day is meant for more than just remembering. It is a day meant for dedicating ourselves to “the unfinished work.” President Abraham Lincoln realized this when he stood on a battlefield saturated with the blood of young men who had given their lives in order to save their nation. And a year and a half later, President Lincoln’s life would also be taken in his effort to preserve the union.
All of us here today have been touched by the lives of loved ones, who gave their lives for a greater cause. I was asked recently if I was a veteran. And my reply was, “No, but I have great respect for veterans and for those who give themselves in the fight for freedom.” I do come from a long line of veterans. My fourth great grandfather, Robert Hurst was a veteran of the Revolutionary War; my third great grandfather, William Hurst was a veteran of the Seminole Indian War, my second great grandfather, Robert Augustus Hurst was a veteran of the Civil War; and my grandfather, Herbert Johns Hurst was a veteran of World War One.
If our ancestors and loved ones risked their lives to protect their homeland, then what will we do to pick up the pieces of broken freedoms, broken communities, broken families, and broken lives. I suggest that there are two things we can do in the endless labor of the unfinished work: Practice Love and Build Community!
Human Rights for everyone must be more important than our own self-interests and agendas. To dedicate ourselves to the proposition that all men and women are created equal, requires us to look deeply within our souls and to rediscover the mandate of love. One of my Catholic colleagues of high position, Pope Francis, has recently said, “Only love can save us!” Truly, there is nothing else that can save our nation and save our world.
So, let us love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves; let us love the alien because we also have been aliens; let us do unto others as we would have them do unto us; let us love one another as Jesus has loved us; let us love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
At the very core of human rights is love, and without love there is no sacrifice, no freedom, no real meaning to life, and no hope for our community and nation. Without the compassion of love we are no more than an angry mob that is let loose on a rampage of looting, burning, and killing; or a tyrannical, authoritarian power that crushes human dignity and freedom of expression.
One hundred years after President Lincoln’s address, the Rev. Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. made another speech that captured the minds and hearts of our nation as it struggled with civil rights. We know that speech by the title, “I Have a Dream,” delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., on August 28, 1963. He spoke in an eloquent way about the unfinished work of human rights and community. He had a dream of a nation and a community, whose children would not be “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” What a wonderful dream for all of us!
Community is at the core of our nation. Without the communion of love there is no community, and without community there is no union, and without union there is no nation. Such preaching sounds radical and dangerous. And, I suppose it is! Dr. King found that out when his life was taken in his effort to proclaim the proposition of a beloved community. So, let us treasure such a beloved community, a community for which we would lay down our lives, and for which we would continue the labor of the unfinished work. The beloved community is more than a dream. It is a new reality, which must continue to be purchased by all of us, for all of us.
Let us be dedicated together to “the unfinished work” that God has given us, to advance the call to love one another, to bring compassion, healing, and justice in our community and world. And, let us labor together as if the day has already arrived: A day when we will bring relief to the poor and marginalized, healing to the broken hearted, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; A day when people will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and when neighbors and nations will no longer fight one another anymore.
Let us pray: Dear God, fill our hearts with your love – the love of Christ to give our lives for our friends, and to live our lives with our friends in freedom and peace. Give us grace to find a way to bring healing and strength to one another, and forgive us of our selfishness and pride. Help us to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with you. And, continue O Lord, to create within us a pure heart, so that we may live and work together, until the day comes when others take our place in the unfinished work. Amen.
Written and delivered by the Rev. Dr. Ricky R. Hurst, Pastor of Main Street Baptist Church, at the Veterans Park Pavilion on Memorial Day in Emporia, Virginia, on May 25, 2015. Thank You to Rev. Dr. Hurst for sending the text for publication on Emporia News.