1st hymn               “My Country Tis of Thee”

Reading                               John 8:31-38

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’

Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.’

Our first hymn is a very well-known hymn and sometimes referred to as “America.” It was written in 1831 by a young 24-year-old Baptist seminarian named Samuel Francis Smith while attending seminary in Massachusetts. It was inspired the German Lutheran hymn, “God Bless Our Native Land” and uses the melody of the British national anthem, “God Save the King.” With only 50 years of national identity forming, the country was very much in its infancy. Smith was aware of this and wanted to distinguish America from Britain while still retaining some of its heritage. The song managed to do this, straddling ever so carefully over British and American national pride.

Of course, the primary theme of American nationalism is centered around freedom. Freedom was very important to the young Americans as they broke away from the British monarchy and all its restrictions. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly are freedoms clearly outlined in our constitution. Freedom was on everyone’s mind in the early days of America, including Smith’s. Men had fought for it, men had died for it, and Americans had celebrated it.

Americans were more than democratic republicans. They were also predominantly Christians, and they were familiar with the words of Jesus. In our reading from John, we heard Jesus proclaim, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Christian Americans have long understood that their true freedom comes from believing in Christ. The freedom from the monarchy was all well and good but it was only a matter of time before the newly formed government imposed more restrictions. There is only one source of true freedom-Jesus Christ himself. When Smith wrote his hymn, he celebrated American freedoms while also honoring Christian freedom. As we celebrate this Memorial Day, we remember all those who died in protecting our freedoms, both American and Christian. We give thanks for our freedoms and never take them for granted.

2nd hymn              “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”

Reading                               Psalm 107:23-32

Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

Our next hymn is another familiar hymn used by the British Royal Navy and the United States Navy and Marine Corps. It was written in 1860 by the British composer, William Whiting, and tries to convey the fears and dangers of fighting at sea. Whiting was inspired by Psalm 107, an excerpt of which we just heard. Fighting in any war, whether on land or at sea, is a terrifying thing to do. Only the brave can survive the horrors of war and even when they return from war few of them want to recall the horrors they witnessed. God allows for war, but He isn’t encouraging of it. Men and women aren’t good towards each other. They aren’t loving each other in the way Christ loves us. God understands war, God has a purpose for war, but God is not pleased by war. No, God despises war because it creates death. Our God is a God of life, not death, so of course He’s not much of a fan of war.

In fighting, sometimes there is death. But sometimes there is also grace and an escape from death. Both our hymn and Psalm 107 celebrate God’s gracious salvation in times of fear and danger. Our God is strong enough to save us from whatever conflicts we find ourselves. Sometimes death is a means of salvation. God knows this. Perhaps that’s why He allows for death. It can be a salvation from unnecessary pain and suffering. And besides, death isn’t an end but rather a beginning, a transition. Whether we live or whether we die, we are God’s beloved children, and He is everlasting. We celebrate his grace and everlastingness in our reading and hymn.


3rd hymn               “God of Our Fathers”

Reading                               Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Our next hymn was written by Daniel C. Roberts in 1876 following the Civil War and to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the signing to the Declaration of Independence. The country was a bruised and battered country having endured four, long years of brother fighting against brother. Even though the Civil War had ended a decade prior to the writing of this hymn, Roberts could still sense shaken and defeated Americans. As we mentioned earlier, war is not a pretty event especially when waged between brothers. To have the fundamental structure of all human gatherings, the family unit, under attack was particularly frightening for all Americans. Families need to be protected. Of course, they’ve been under attack since the days of Cain and Abel and will likely be under attack for many years to come. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be protected and nurtured. Families allow for steady growth, encouragement, and productivity.

Roberts had a two-fold agenda in writing his hymn. First, he wanted to remind Americans that they had endured 100 years faithful formation. Sure, the Civil War in the early 1860s certainly threatened to upend that formation but even then, the country came out of it stronger without the terrible institution of slavery. Americans needed some solid patriotism to adequately celebrate the centennial anniversary. At the same time, Americans needed praise of the family unit. They needed to remember the faith of their fathers that carried them away from the British monarchy into the foreign American land. They needed to remember the faithfulness of our heavenly Father. Psalm 46 tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The post-Civil War Americans needed to hear this more than ever! “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”

Fathers and the family unit are important and foundational to the structure of society. The faith of our fathers helps us endure difficult times and keeps us united with our heavenly Father. Not to mention all the sacrifices our fathers make to protect the family unit. We honor them in our patriotism.


4th hymn               “O God Our Help in Ages Past”

Reading                               Psalm 90:1-6

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’ For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

Our final hymn was written long before the others in 1708 by the masterful British composer, Isaac Watts. It is a direct paraphrasing of Psalm 90, an excerpt of which we just heard. Watts wanted to convey the timelessness of God in his words. Conflicts come and go but it the faithfulness of God that lasts forever. Watts could have expanded his title to “O God Our Help in Ages Past and Ages to Come.” It is true, our God has always helped us and will always help us in times of conflict. Our God is a good and gracious God. He graciously gives each of us an allotted time in this world. Some of use our time foolishly, others use our time wisely. Some sacrifice their time to ensure the time of others. Jesus sacrificed his time. Those who died in service to our country sacrificed their time. God sees such sacrifices and encourages such sacrifices. Recall the words of Jesus, “No one has greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for others.” (John 15:13) Love is conveyed through sacrifices and love is what this world so desperately needs. And like God, love is timeless. There is great hope in love.

Our hymns for this morning have celebrated freedom, God’s grace, fathers and families, and sacrifices. Memorial Day is about remembrance, appreciation, and celebration. Let us rejoice and give thanks for the sacrifices made by some and God’s grace to protect our families and our freedoms. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.