Listening to Voices of the Past

“Listening to the Voices of the Past” Heb 1:1; 11:1,29-12:3 5-29-16
For a video of this sermon, click here.

As a young man an older preacher in Montreat let me visit in his house. He passed onto me some old books-treasures to me that he would never use again. He also passed on some cassette tapes of his favorite teacher- Dr. Peter Marshall- chaplain of the U.S. Senate during WWII and pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. In some ways, Dr. Marshall was the most influential Presbyterian preacher of the last century- and that says a lot. His prayers were heard over the radio all across the country. He was the one who made popular the “Kirkin of the Tartan” service in America. Cassettes were about to go the way of all the earth- but I really enjoyed listening. It is important to listen to voices of the past for it gives us wisdom and perspective beyond the trends. If we think we are always right and if we have no humility, then we can toss out the pass and close our ears.
Memorial Day is a call to remember those in the armed services who in the past gave themselves to preserve us as a nation. The sacrifices people made, the pulling together accomplished, should not be easily forgotten. The rationing of food and goods in America during World War II should not be forgotten. People gave up sugar, aluminum, tires; but they also gave up sons, husbands, fathers for the preservation of our freedom.
Woodrow Wilson- “A nation that does not remember what it was yesterday does not know what it is today nor what it is trying to do.” We lose our sense of purpose if we do not know our past. I believe this is true of the nation, but it is also true of churches, families, and individuals.
I. IMPORTANCE OF REMEMBERING- Grateful people have good memories. Grateful people are also less consumed with themselves and the now. When you can gratefully remember the hard times and sacrifices of others to see you through, it will get you through the difficult times now and in the future.
The writer of Hebrews certainly wants us to remember the saints of old, and to know these saints are a great cloud of witnesses to us. Perhaps remembering is why Jesus tells all of His followers to take communion and to do it in remembrance of Him- his body and blood given for us. If we can remember this with gratitude it helps us to get through our own hard times. Jesus was celebrating the Passover when he told us to remember Him. Each Jew was to take the Passover remembering God had saved them with the Passover Lamb from slavery. On Memorial Day think back with gratitude.
60 million died in World War 2. 16 million Americans fought. 697,000 are still alive that is half of that number 3 years ago. If you are a veteran of WW 2 could you raise your hand? I know in Chapin we helped lead the state in starting and maintaining the Honor Flights to honor our WW2 vets.
One of the busiest airports in the world is O’Hare airport in Chicago. It is named for Butch O’Hare. Butch O’Hare was the first aviator to receive the medal of honor. He was flying on a sortie but someone didn’t put enough fuel in his plane and he had to turn back to the aircraft carrier. On his way he saw a squadron of Japanese planes. When he couldn’t get his squadron or the fleet he decided he would dive into the middle of them. He ran out of ammunition, but he kept diving, and the Japanese went another direction. O’Hare got his inspiration from his father. His father earned millions as Al Capone’s lawyer. his name was Easy Eddie. Al Capone made millions illegally bootlegging liquor, being involved in prostitution and gambling. Easy Eddie kept Capone out of jail. Easy Eddie sacrificed everything for his son. He felt he could not teach his son right from wrong without setting a good example. So Easy Eddie decided to testify against Capone. He did and it wasn’t long until he was gunned down in the street. But Easy Eddie had left his son a great legacy- a legacy of doing the right thing even at a great cost. It is easy to fly into Chicago and forget. There have been people who have stood up for what is right. We should remember them and follow in their footsteps.
II. REMEMBER THE FAITHFUL- Faithful unto death is a tough term. But there are people who stayed at
their post against overwhelming odds facing their own death. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.” In the book of Revelation (2:10) it speaks of being faithful even to the point of death and that God will give them the crown of life.
We can learn from everyone. For some we learn as warnings, some examples, and most of us are mixes between the two. But we especially need to heed the voices of the prophets and apostles. Scriptures is a way that we can listen to the voices long silenced. Scriptures speak to us not only of a people who were moved by the Holy Spirit a long time ago, but Scriptures also speak to our situation today. They can inspire us to do more. They can inspire us to trust in God and rest- to let go and do less. The scriptures can give us insight into life and into the heart of God that we only guess at without them. The scripture is not just a voice of long ago- in scripture is the voice of God. Within the words of the prophets and apostles is the Word of God.
Rick Warren had a great devotional on this and I want to share it with you. Paul wrote to the Philipians, “I thank God for the help you gave me.” Now Philippi was one of the toughest places that Paul started a church. He was beaten arrested, put in prison, survived an earthquake, and asked to leave the town. Yet Paul said, “Every time I think of you I give thanks. What was Paul doing here? He was choosing a selective memory. He chose not to dwell on the painful things- but on the good things of the believers. The longer you know someone, the more you can take that person for granted or the more bad things about them you have to remember. Maybe you are reliving a lot of painful things in your life about someone. Choose to forgive and instead give thanks. It is how Jesus looked at his disciples, and it is how Jesus remembers us, and asks us to think of others. What you choose to remember and dwell on are a matter of the will. God has freed your will to dwell on the good. Paul says as much when he says, “Whatever is good, noble, think on these things” in Phil. 4:8. Look to the good examples in life. Choose to forgive the bad and move on.
III. SPRINGBOARDS INTO THE FUTURE- Do you want to enter the future on your own blind- or would you rather enter into the future knowing who holds the future and with the wisdom of the ages at your fingertips? The voices of old tell us to trust. They tell us that it is okay to sacrifice- sacrifice our time, our effort, our selfishness for a greater cause- the kingdom and glory of God.
I want to encourage you to listen to the godly voices of old and build your future on that. There are a lot of self-proclaimed experts and life coaches out there who can tell you what you want to hear. Do not just listen to what you want to hear. Do not listen to those whose lives do not match their teaching. In the schools they talk all the time about mentoring, and getting an older volunteer in to read and pay attention to the kids. Plato and Socrates had that mentor and discipleship relationship. It is also true of the Bible. Barnabas chose Paul to disciple. Paul chose Timothy. Timothy was told to find faithful people who could teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). The faith entrusted to us is passed on by our choosing to remember the godly. The world will tell you to doubt everything. The scriptures tell us to focus on God and trust Him in everything. Hear the voices of those who have gone before us. Let those voices speak to our day. God is not a God of the past. He is the God of past, present and future- but He is the same God – just like this earth is the same earth. Remember what has worked in life before. Do not go your own way.
Katesha grew up in the church. She had parents who loved her, sacrificed for her- not perfect parents- but who is? As she grew up she met people who thought it was old fashioned to follow godly values, and she gave into their ways- a little in high school but a lot in college. She tried to keep her faith, but it was hard. She was smart, but she ended up not taking school seriously enough. She ended up getting pregnant with no partner, dropped out of Francis Marion. In the end, Katesha, like the prodigal daughter, came back home to God becoming active in St. Patrick’s Church in Charleston. She got a job in real estate. She wanted her child to know God and took that child to church every Sunday. Against all odds, and with the help and forgiveness, she got going again. Last year Katesha Breland graduated from Claflin Magna Cum Laude and her daughter,Tyler, gradated Summa Cum Laude. Katesha remembered who she was and came back. We can always come back.
What is it like to forget? In my mind one of the worst things I have seen in life is someone who forgets- either because they have had a stroke or they have Alzheimer’s disease. It is sad to forget your loved ones’ name. It is sad to forget where you are from, what you have done. I can remember when my father had these multiple little strokes he forgot so much, and he was with people who forgot too. One lady that I had never met before told me she was married to my father- the very first week he moved into the nursing home. These kind of things are not uncommon in Alzheimer’s unit. It is a little bit funny, but it is even more sad. It is sad to forget who you are and whose you are. Yet there are people who are forgetting on purpose. They are not teaching the faith to their children or grandchildren; They have Alzheimer’s of the soul. Memory is a good thing. Let us remember those who sacrificed for us. But let us remember the One who gives us life and sacrifices for us so that we might have life too.