“Keep These Words”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

May 25, 2014 – Memorial Day

Scripture:  Deuteronomy 6:1-9


They call them “driveway moments.” You know those times when you’re driving home, or to work, or maybe even to church, and you arrive at your destination, and you pull into the driveway, and you park the car, and you turn off the engine… and then you sit there with the key still in the ignition, because you can’t stop listening to what’s on the radio.

If you come by the church on certain mornings, you might find me there in the parking lot, waiting for the end of an NPR segment. And if you see me there, and if you ask me what I am listening to, what has so captivated my attention, it is more than likely that the answer will be StoryCorps, the program in which ordinary people like you and me interview one another about the deep truths and important moments of their lives.

Since it began in 2003, more than 90,000 people have participated in StoryCorps conversation in cities and towns across the country. “We do this,” says StoryCorps’ mission statement, “to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters. At the same time, we will create an invaluable archive of American voices and wisdom for future generations.”

You may have noticed by this point that I believe wholeheartedly in the power of sharing our stories. And so today, on this Memorial Day weekend, we will hear several stories from the StoryCorps Military Voices Initiative—first-hand accounts from some of the individuals and families who experience the terrible human cost of war. These are recent stories, stories from the past ten years, but they are also stories that have played out over and over again across the decades and centuries. These are sad, hard stories, because they reflect the sad, hard realities of warfare, so if they will hit you too close to home, it’s okay for you to tune out or step out for a while. Please do what you need to do to take care of yourself.


Click on the images or names to listen to each story.








“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart,” said Moses to his people. “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

“Keep these words,” said Moses to his people. Tell this story again and again. Do not forget this story. Do not forget who you are. Do not forget who God is. Do not forget what God has done for you. Do not forget what God has called you to do. Keep these words. Tell this story.

We humans can be a forgetful lot. There are stories all over scripture and all over history of the various ways and times in which we forget who we are, to whom we belong, who we are called to be. There is a famous and often-quoted saying that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And so we must tell the stories of our past, lest we find ourselves caught in an endless and inescapable cycle. And in particular, on this weekend, we must tell the stories of the people who bear the cost of war, the excruciating cost of our all-too-human tendency to turn to force and violence to solve our problems.

And as we keep these words… as we hear these stories… as we remember so many who have died in so many wars… as we grieve with the loved ones of all those fallen… as we commit ourselves to caring for our veterans when they come home broken in body, mind, or spirit… as we urge our leaders to find other ways than war to advance the cause of freedom and justice… we must also tune in to a God-is-still-speaking “driveway moment.” We must also hear God’s voice, speaking to us again, saying:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)


You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)


Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Psalm 34:14)


They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)


Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)