As you no doubt are aware, today marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. I know as President, Lincoln realized the power of words, especially from him at the time. And I know the times were exceedingly tense, a truly pivotal time in our nation's history, which would have made him even more sensitive to the power his words might have. But still I wonder. Did the president have any idea the impact these words would have?
We have a tendency to "romanticize" historical events. Looking back on them, we do so with a Hollywood eye, seeing it all through the lens of movies and special effects and dashing leading men and so on. For those living those events, it was simply life. You work, you eat, you sleep, and then you do it all over again. Life went by a second at a time, with all it's "pleasures." Mosquitoes still bit. Bathroom breaks were necessary. All the stuff of life Hollywood leaves out.
For Lincoln, it was another day on the job, another horrible day in a horrible war. Another speech in a life of campaign and policy speeches. Did he ever realize that these words would be the words that defined him, that defined his presidency, his legacy? Considering that the speech ironically includes the words, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here", I don't think he really did. But I guess we'll never know.
Yet here's the thought that follows for me. I'm no president (I was once told that if God had called you into ministry, don't lower yourself to become President of the United States). I have no momentous occasion to speak upon, such as the battle at Gettysburg; no nation-defining moment to address. And in spite of the fact that technology and the internet have allowed me to throw thousands of words out into the world, both written words through this blog and spoken words through our church's online sermons, I know that those words will never reach as many as Lincoln's even in his own day. And yet, I wonder if I have anything to say that is memorable?
It's been 150 years since that speech. Do I have anything to say that is worth remembering more than 150 minutes? On the one hand I would say yes, because God in His strange wisdom has chosen to call me to the ministry of proclamation. And I know that the Word He has given me to proclaim has eternal value and lasting power. But what about the words I use to proclaim it?
Because on the other hand, I would say the answer to the question is "no." I'm not sure I've ever said anything of true lasting value. I may want to chalk it up to life and circumstances. We've established the fact that I'm not a political figure, a key speaker at a key time. But that shouldn't be an excuse. My goal should still be to communicate the truth of God's Word in a way that it will have a lasting impact, make a difference in people's lives.
I know that in ministry we often never see the result of our labors. It isn't until years later that we might hear from someone that this or that message, this or that word of counsel had any impact. And I'm good with that. It's not about the "recognition" anyway. But still, it would be nice to know that our efforts are having some influence.
For me, even more important than the words I offer our congregation, are the words I've given my children. What impact will they have, for good or for ill? Have I said anything of value that will be remembered in years to come? Other than the jokes of t"he silly things dad always said." I hope that I've offered them something of value. It may not rate a celebration in 150 years, but hopefully it will at least rate a mention to the grandkids.
I guess the point here is that we all ought to realize that our words have the potential to make a mark. Regardless of our position, regardless of the size of our "audience," we all have the potential to leave some memorable words to our families, to those God has placed in our path. What will our legacy be? What will we be remembered by?
Well, as you reflect, why not take time to read Lincoln's words, or listen to one of the many recitations such as the one below.