Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day: A Sermon on Sacrifice

This past Sunday we participated in a special service honoring Veterans at a local church. We joined the Pastor of the church in the Sermon, in which we attempted to define sacrifice as it pertains to our Veterans, and indeed, to all persons. Here is that Sermon.

Pastor: Introduction

When I began to consider our Veteran’s Day observance and how to plan worship, the first thing I had to consider was the assigned scripture reading. When I saw that it was Hebrews, with an emphasis on Jesus as a sacrifice, it seemed a perfect reading to explore on this particular Sunday. Sacrifice is a word that we throw around pretty freely, and yet seldom pause to consider what it really means. This seems an excellent occasion to do just that.

The Letter to the Hebrews is a puzzling, and sometimes disturbing book of the Bible. It is easily overlooked since it is not a letter written by Paul, and also because its language is very strange to us. It is the language of temple, priest, altar, atoning blood …Old Testament terms that we thought we had left behind in the New Testament. It is unfamiliar territory for which we have no point of reference. But the book of Hebrews does center on a word that we use quite frequently: sacrifice.

Our task this morning is to clarify what we mean by the word “sacrifice”, and to examine the distinction between the sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice made on our behalf by our military veterans. How is it the same, and how is it different?

Response: A brief statement about the importance of a Veteran’s Day observance.

The word Veteran stems from the Latin word vetus, meaning old. We think of Veterans that way, yet, today we look around and see those we call Veterans of a much younger age. The parades are no longer for the old men in tight suits and campaign hats, but also for younger men and women, who have borne the battle.

Barely a month before his death, Abraham Lincoln strode to the rostrum on the steps of the United States Capitol Building and gave one of his greatest speeches -- his Second Inaugural Address. The Great Emancipator ended his short speech with words that have echoed down the long and dusty halls of history:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
The long Civil War was ending, and Lincoln knew it. His thoughts had already turned to reconstructing the nation torn apart by a war that killed more than a half-million men. And in those thoughts Lincoln chose to lay the groundwork “…to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan…”

Today, those words still hold as a receipt for a debt owed by a nation that sends its young folks off to war as surrogates for its citizenry, as representatives of a National Policy, and as the purveyors of Democracy, Liberty, and Freedom. During that time, they are called troop, soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, Coast Guardsman…but once that service is ended, they are, forevermore, Veterans of the United States military.

As Veterans, they deserve a special place of honor in our society, and our culture, for they have written a blank check, backed by their own life and limb, and serving in place of all of us who do not go, and to keep us all free.

Pastor: The General Definition of Sacrifice

Sacrifice is a word people use when they find themselves indebted to someone or some group for things that sustain life or rescue life. [Peter Schmiechen defines sacrifice, 53-54, Saving Power] People speak of their parents making sacrifices. We honor people who speak the truth and who suffered consequences for it, such Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King. We describe the loss of life in war as a sacrifice made to defend a nation or made for a cause like freedom.

The word sacrifice has these general uses when we wish to refer to something done for us, without concern for self. When the sacrifice involves the shedding of blood, we reach a level that has power far beyond what we can estimate in words. ‘Sacer’ means holy and ‘facere’ means “to make”. As Gil Bailie points out in his many writings on sacrifice-- that does not really define the many ways in which “sacrifice” is used since there are many ways of “making holy” that are not sacrifices, and sacrifices that, in effect, make nothing holy. The recent shooting at Foot Hood

Response: The nature of sacrifice as offered during war

On September 12th, 1861, a 25 year old farmer from nearby southern Lancaster County left his farm, and family and marched off to war against the Confederacy with the 79th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the Lancaster Rifles. In late 1863, this two year regiment reenlisted en masse, earning the right to proudly display the word “Veteran” on their Battle Colors -- the 79th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Nearly four years after his enlistment, Sergeant William T. Clark returned to that farm, older by those four years, experienced in soldiering, and nursing wounds that would eventually kill him four decades later. Clark, wounded three times at the Battle of Perryville, KY, in 1862, and again at the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga, would serve as the Judge of Elections in November of 1864 when members of his regiment proudly voted for Abraham Lincoln’s reelection.

Clark’s blank check cost him the partial use of one arm and issues with his intestinal tract due to his wounds, and a lifetime of battling malaria from his time in the deep south. During his nearly four years in the 79th Pennsylvania, Clark, and the Regiment, spent less than 60 nights under a roof.

On September 29th, 2006, another 25 year-old’s blank check was cashed. Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, a United States Navy Seal, already a recipient of the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for courage and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty, gave his life in Service to his country, and to his fellow Seals. His official citation reads as follows:

"FOR CONSPICUOUS GALLANTRY AND INTREPIDITY AT THE RISK OF HIS LIFE ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY AS AUTOMATIC WEAPONS GUNNER FOR NAVAL SPECIAL WARFARE TASK GROUP ARABIAN PENINSULA, IN SUPPORT OF OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM ON 29 SEPTEMBER 2006. AS A MEMBER OF A COMBINED SEAL AND IRAQI ARMY SNIPER OVERWATCH ELEMENT, TASKED WITH PROVIDING EARLY WARNING AND STAND-OFF PROTECTION FROM A ROOFTOP IN AN INSURGENT HELD SECTOR OF AR RAMADI, IRAQ, PETTY OFFICER MONSOOR DISTINGUISHED HIMSELF BY HIS EXCEPTIONAL BRAVERY IN THE FACE OF GRAVE DANGER. IN THE EARLY MORNING, INSURGENTS PREPARED TO EXECUTE A COORDINATED ATTACK BY RECONNOITERING THE AREA AROUND THE ELEMENT’S POSITION. ELEMENT SNIPERS THWARTED THE ENEMY’S INITIAL ATTEMPT BY ELIMINATING TWO INSURGENTS. THE ENEMY CONTINUED TO ASSAULT THE ELEMENT, ENGAGING THEM WITH A ROCKET-PROPELLED GRENADE AND SMALL ARMS FIRE. AS ENEMY ACTIVITY INCREASED, PETTY OFFICER MONSOOR TOOK POSITION WITH HIS MACHINE GUN BETWEEN TWO TEAMMATES ON AN OUTCROPPING OF THE ROOF. WHILE THE SEALS VIGILANTLY WATCHED FOR ENEMY ACTIVITY, AN INSURGENT THREW A HAND GRENADE FROM AN UNSEEN LOCATION, WHICH BOUNCED OFF PETTY OFFICER MONSOOR’S CHEST AND LANDED IN FRONT OF HIM. ALTHOUGH ONLY HE COULD HAVE ESCAPED THE BLAST, PETTY OFFICER MONSOOR CHOSE INSTEAD TO PROTECT HIS TEAMMATES. INSTANTLY AND WITHOUT REGARD FOR HIS OWN SAFETY, HE THREW HIMSELF ONTO THE GRENADE TO ABSORB THE FORCE OF THE EXPLOSION WITH HIS BODY, SAVING THE LIVES OF HIS TWO TEAMMATES. BY HIS UNDAUNTED COURAGE, FIGHTING SPIRIT, AND UNWAVERING DEVOTION TO DUTY IN THE FACE OF CERTAIN DEATH, PETTY OFFICER MONSOOR GALLANTLY GAVE HIS LIFE FOR HIS COUNTRY, THEREBY REFLECTING GREAT CREDIT UPON HIMSELF AND UPHOLDING THE HIGHEST TRADITIONS OF THE UNITED STATES NAVAL SERVICE."
For his extraordinary courage, his country awarded him the Medal Of Honor.

Navy Seals wear a distinctive gold pin combining a trident, anchor and Eagle. At his funeral, Navy Seals lined up on each side of his coffin and as it passed, each one slapped his Seal pin into the wooden lid as a final tribute to their fallen brother.

Petty Officer Michael Monsoor’s blank check was paid in full.

Pastor: The nature of sacrifice in scripture

The book of Hebrews takes the Old Testament notion of sacrifice and casts it in New Testament terms. [N.T. Wright, 94f, in Hebrews for Everyone] In the old system, the priests went daily into the Temple (the successor of the wilderness tabernacle) and the high priest went annually into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. Sacrifices were made as part of those rituals. In the “old” notion of sacrifice- the people were rescued from sin by the life of the sacrificial animal. Their sins were symbolically placed on the sacrificial animal, as a substitute for them. People could begin again, with a clean slate.

N.T. Wright says that Hebrews points to an inherent flaw in the old system. If my car is not working, and I have to take it back to the mechanic week after week—he obviously has not succeeded in fixing it. The fact that the old sacrifices had to be made over and over again meant that they had not gotten to the root of the problem.

Hebrews explains that all along, the tabernacle or Temple was always a temporary substitute for something brand new being worked out by God. The new sacrifice system spoken of in Hebrews is not the blood of animals, but the blood of the Messiah. Finally, the sacrifice of Jesus reaches deep inside of us, to transform us at the core of our being. We are not washed clean, we are made brand new. The priests stood daily at their sacrificial duties. Jesus doesn’t have to offer his sacrifice anymore. It is complete.

When Jesus submitted to those who killed him rather than exercising violence, the temple veil was torn in half and something brand new happened on that darkest of days. An event that first seemed to be so terrible and final was transformed by Christ into a brand new way of existence. We worship a God who chooses to suffer violence rather than meet it in kind. God enters into humankind’s 10,000 year cycle of violence and thus breaks the cycle forever.

Response: Where and how does love operate in the actions of the warrior who goes forth on our behalf?

In the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 15, verse 13, Jesus instructs us:

“…Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
In this way, Jesus defines sacrifice as an act of love. Not an act of hate, or an act of war, but an act of love. So who is it that is the object of this love? Well, it is those who serve with the Veteran most assuredly, and any Veteran can tell you that the bond between those who serve in war together indeed creates a “band of brothers." Some Veterans will deny this bond, calling it brotherhood, but we know it is love, for so Jesus showed us. Did he not lay down his life for all of us? Did he not choose to allow others to end his life in a most horrible fashion, knowing full well what was in store for him, and did he not do so without remorse, without a second thought? And that love extends back to us…to you…to me…to all of us, for did He not go in our stead? Did the Veteran not go in our stead?

And so, it is love that causes men like William Clark to leave a verdant farm and loving family to march off to war, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with his friends, neighbors and fellow soldiers, braving the heat and ferocity of battle, even though wounded.

And men like Michael Monsoor, who laid down his life for his friends.

Those blank checks are far too often paid for in blood and breath, tears and trauma, yet…yet…they were written and tendered with love.

Pastor: Conclusion:

How do we compare the sacrifices made by our Veterans and that made by Jesus on the cross?

1. Both are both costly and precious
2. Both are made in love
3. But only the sacrifice of Jesus shows us the way out of the cycle of violence in which we have been held for millennia.

Jesus lived a non-violent life and through his life teaches us to do the same. But the Christian Church has been ambivalent about war since the theory of just war was developed by St. Augustine. The theory assumes that non-violence is the norm for Christians, but expresses conditions in which we can ignore these fundamental Christian teachings.

We are still locked into a cycle of violence that sends out substitutionary sacrifices (Military men and women), because we are unable to live in the way that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. We have not yet learned the new way of being that Jesus demonstrated for us, in his sacrifice. In Christ, God is creating a new way of being, a new community of reconciliation by resisting and overcoming the power of the world with God’s saving power.

By Jesus’ resistance to violence he breaks the cycle of violence. “It is possible” proclaims the cross! “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” With these words, Jesus inaugurates a new age. We have only to embrace this wondrous love, and show it in our own lives and actions to help usher in this new age. We best honor our Veterans by working for peace, so that this generation of warriors might be the last.

End

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Bush Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2009: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Fifth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved.

2 comments:

allcolorsofpink said...

Very well done on "Veteran's Day".
Enjoyed it very much. I say THANK YOU to all Veterans on this day.
God Bless you all.

allcolorsofpink.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful!