How Will People Remember You? (Sermon For Memorial Day)

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

I just returned from spending five days with a dear friend in Chicago who suffered a massive stroke and is now in a coma, slowly moving toward death. He was a vibrant, active 64-year old man who was involved in lots of activities and projects. He went to bed Friday night expecting to wake on Saturday to work on more projects. Instead, he awoke paralyzed and unable to speak – medical science could not help – his earthly life is over – or nearly so.

So, while we usually spend Memorial day honoring our military heroes and sheroes – today I want to encourage you to consider another type of Memorial Day – your own Memorial Day.

When you leave this earthly life, how will you be remembered?

I was reading about a man named Ben just came to town as a new rabbi. Unfortunately, his first official duty for his congregation was to conduct a funeral service for a man named Albert, who died in his eighties leaving no relatives.

    Since Ben didn’t know the deceased personally, he paused from his sermon at Albert’s funeral to ask if anyone in the congregation would say something good about Albert. There was no response. Ben asked again: “Many of you knew Albert for years, surely someone can say something nice.”

    After an uncomfortable pause, a voice from the back of the room said, “Well, his brother was worse.”1

If you died tomorrow, what would people say about you?

Would it make you proud of the way you lived your life and the choices you have made?

What will your memorial be? If someone looks back on your life years from now, what will they remember about you?

None of us probably will solve world peace, cure hunger or have our names in the history books of the future; what will likely happen is that we will be remembered solely by those whose lives have been touched by our actions, by how we affected their lives.

There’s an old saying, “If you want to know how to live your life, think about what you’d like people to say about you after you die … and live backwards.” We earn our eulogy by our everyday choices:

    one day at a time,
    one choice at a time,
    one action at a time,
    one word at a time.

What would you do, if you were that told you had 10 years to live?

Would it change what you do with those days? Of course, it would. But what would you do differently in those days or years? Would you:

    Go wild, ‘party hearty’, ‘eat drink and be merry’, do just what you want to do: steal, speed, use drugs or alcohol?

    Would you become depressed and have a giant ‘pity party’ bemoaning your bad luck – bemoaning all the things you didn’t get to do or places you didn’t get to go?

    Would you ‘settle the score’ – seek out those who you feel have wronged you and let them have it? All the guys or gals who jilted you – the relatives who slighted you? The employers who cheated you?

I believe that we are a product of what we have been over the past years. If we did little with our life in the past, then probably it would be more of the same–only intensified. If we lived a life of love and generosity, then we would probably continue that way. In fact, it’s my guess we would work to be the best we could be for the remaining 10 years, or even 10 days. We would:

    Stop to ‘smell the roses’- savor a bright sunny day, the beauty of oceans and woods, go visit a friend, play ball with a child, take flowers to a sick relative, watch a sunrise

    Perhaps we would spend less time fretting over money lost or possessions, or arguments with neighbors 0 and take time to apologize for hurts we have caused.

    Maybe we would tell our friends and family how much we love them, repay a debut, return something stolen, repair a broken relationship, return a favor

In short, value our friendships more and work hard to do good and spread love – to help and uplift those around us.

The love we have for those who are really important in our life would grow even more. We would start to really see more of the good things in this world, and less of the bad.

We would care more about those in need, and help those who we can. We would not want to waste a single day, and would appreciate each day for what it is–a miracle. Would we stop learning and growing as a person? I don’t think so. If that’s who you were, you will continue to do the same.

One area that might change is our spiritual life. Most of us don’t usually give much thought to the inevitable ‘life after death’ and what happens to us when we die. If told the end is near, then we usually are faced with thinking about it. Gaining a sense of oneness with our Creator is a comfort. Maybe it’s the most important thing anyone can do in this situation [or any situation].

Would you fear this next stage of life?

Or seek to know your Creator more and more through prayer, study, discussions with those you admire and trust?

The money, titles, material things you achieve on this earth cannot go with you – only what your soul has learned and experiences will go with you to the next life. There is no lasting peace and comfort, with money, achievements, titles, hobbies or endless TV.

So what would you do?

In his book, When Everything You Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, Harold Kushner writes:

    “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it.”

What will people remember you for?

We need to:

    Live to be remembered for the eternal things; how you have loved, served, healed and helped

    Live to be remembered for giving some of what you have for the benefit of others.

    Live for acts of kindness that lighten the load of those who are hurting and weary.

Let us say together the Prayer of Saint Francis:

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    Where there is injury, pardon;
    Where there is doubt, faith;
    Where there is despair, hope;
    Where there is darkness, light;
    Where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
    to be understood, as to understand;
    to be loved, as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive.

    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

1 Ray Lammie, Ray Lammie’s Thought for Today
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 26 May 2013

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