Memorial Day Preaching Suggestions

This weekend, in the U.S., churches will be filled with civil religion as the civil part of the liturgical year (Memorial Day to Thanksgiving), as practiced here, kicks off.

Suggestions for what not to do this weekend if you are among those who will be preaching and choose to make some reference to the U.S. holiday/ holy-day:

1. Do not glorify war. Consider using a quote from a war-seasoned expert about war. Eisenhower, for instance, said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

2. Do not sacralize war. War is not a holy enterprise, a crusade led by God and God’s representatives on earth, but a human project caused by failures and full of evils, no matter what its rationale or outcome.

3. Do not make war salvific or Christian  by misapplying Jesus’ statement in John 15:3 about his own loving death and about radical discipleship (“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”) to war-deaths.

4. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking that any nation is the kingdom of God, or that any nation deserves the unqualified allegiance and praise due to God alone.

5. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking that there is anything more important than worshiping God and following Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

6. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking, “Man, that was a great sermon about this great country and our great wars!”

And one thing to do:

Make sure everyone leaves the church knowing it is Easter season and Pentecost is around the corner! It is the season of life and peace and promise.

12 Responses to “Memorial Day Preaching Suggestions”

  1. BRIAN LEPORT says:

    Amen and amen! I especially appreciate the Eisenhower quote. It is good to show that even those who went to war are allowed to recognize its evils.

  2. [...] a short post providing six tips for  avoiding civil religion this Sunday. You can find that here. I think all of his points are adhering or at least seriously pondering. At the end he writes, [...]

  3. Scott Kohler says:

    Great post Mike. I had a talk with one of my parishioners a couple weeks back in light of the Bin Laden killing, and of course we hit most of these points. It’s so thoroughly entrenched, though, even in Canadian minds, that it will take a pretty serious transformation in the practice of preaching (better, the preachers) for our people to unlearn…

  4. MJG says:

    Thanks, Scott, but you are absolutely right.

    I owe you an email and will try to do it by Monday. Family visiting!

  5. Mike C. says:

    Thanks for all of this, Mike G!

    I appreciate your wisdom and input in what we share each week. Your helping me rewrite, rethink, and re-listen.

    Mike C.

  6. MJG says:

    How did your day go? I’ll have more to say on this later.

  7. Ben Griffith says:

    So do you think there should be any place of postive speech concerning the “American” part of our identity and the place of warfare in our past? This isn’t meant to be a loaded question, I’m just wondering if you think there’s any place at all for acknowledging and memorializing fallen soldiers from our country’s historical narrative?

  8. MJG says:


    Thanks for the important question.

    “Any place?” Where? in the church? There is a huge difference between acknowledging or even memorializing, and celebrating. The church is given the duty and privilege of honoring and celebrating martyrs for the gospel as one of its primary tasks; that contextualizes all other deaths for causes. When we forget martyrs, past or present, we find substitutes.

    As Christians we should grieve the loss of all human life, especially in the brutality and futility of war. The most Christian thing we can do on a day like today is to pray for peace, and then to be grateful for those who have survived.

  9. [...] Michael J. Gorman provided some suggestions for how to preach during Memorial Day Weekend here. If you goofed up this year and promoted civil religion, well, there is always next [...]

  10. Mike C. says:

    It all went fine, Mike. Some expressed appreciation that we didn’t pretend the country wasn’t celebrating something or that we didn’t go into hiding. Others said it was a good wrap up for our discussion of RRR. I was impressed (once again) that even the lectionary can bring a relevant and timely Gospel word to the culture and all that’s happeniing around us.

    THanks for sharing,
    Mike C.

  11. MJG says:

    Great, Mike C.~

  12. Perhaps another suggestion (I know, a bit late, but maybe for next year?): avoid hymns that might have militaristic overtones. I can remember several years back, a lady at the church I was going to kept requesting “Onward Christian Soldiers” when her daughter had joined the armed forces (the Marines, IIRC, soon after Operation Desert Fox began). I may have misconstrued her intentions, as she may have simply meant it only to support her daughter, but the timing made it sound like a display of patriotism rather than worship.
    Furthermore, I think the list is useful for not only preachers, but all Christians to reflect on.

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