Faithlink Discussion: Memorial Day Sunday

by jacobjuncker

I have waited to post on this week’s Faithlink, because I knew I would be preaching on the topic today.  Below is the manuscript copy of my sermon from today.  It was incredibly difficult to give.  We ended the service with communion with the prayer that Christ would nourish us with himself that we might be agents of his peace and freedom in the world. 
It was interesting to receive feedback from the congregation today.  People who commented, whether welcoming of the struggle or not, all voiced the dilemmas present in ethical discussions on war.  One man told me that there are “legitimate” wars and that those persons must be memorialized (he said we should honor those who served in WWII, but questioned the remembering of those in the present Iraqi and Afghani conficts).  Another, talked with me about “just war” theory (that some wars are justified).  And one told me that I was unfit to be a pastor.  I left this Sunday, encouraged by the number of people who voiced their struggle on patriotic holidays like Memorial Day; and, I left discouraged by the fact that their were those who were not willing to hear and, regardless of whether they agreed or not, deciding not to engage in conversation.
In preparing for this Sunday’s sermon, I read a book which made the argument that those who think they have God figured out have just created for themselves an idol.  Those who truly know God, know that God is beyond our understanding.  Therefore, faith is always a struggle.  I agree.  My friends, I invite you into my struggle.  As always, I appreciate your feedback in a spirit of dialogue.

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I only remember my grandfather ever crying twice.  I watched him cry at my grandmother’s funeral as he mourned the death of his wife of 60-some years.  I also witnessed my grandfather crying, when he recounted the deployment of his army comrades, his company, in World War II.

My grandfather was a proud service-man, but he missed his deployment because of a broken foot which eventually led to his flat feet making him unable to serve in combat duty.  The ship which was hauling my grandfather’s company to war was sunk before it deposited its men on to the battlefield.  All hands were lost.  Remembering their story and the tragedy of their deaths, my grandfather would always cry.  That, he would say through his tears, could have been me.

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This past Friday, we hosted the dedication service for the new “Veterans Memorial Parkway.”  We are no longer the church at the corner of S 18th and 350 S.  We are now the church at the corner of S 18th and Veteran’s Memorial Parkway.  Some 150-200 people gathered for the renaming of the road.  Quite a few veterans, the mayor, the chief of police and even some of you came out to witness the dedication.  We were reminded at that service that there are 2.2 million World War II survivors still alive; however, 263,000 of those brave persons will die this year.

One of the things that really stood out to me was a short snippet from one of the speeches.  The gentleman, a veteran, recounted a saying that is on the Massachusetts state seal.  This saying was put there in the wake of conflict as the colony sought independence from the king.  It says, loosely translated: “By the sword we seek peace, but only under liberty.”[1]  The presenter then said that this was the general feeling of all who serve their country in the military.  It was in that moment that I began to question the appropriateness of such statements on church grounds.

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I truly struggle with Memorial Day.  It’s not that I think we should downplay the service freely given by brave men and women who serve in the armed forces.  Indeed, it is only appropriate that we remember them and the price they paid/pay to keep this country “safe.”  I struggle with the fact that we have to set a side a day to remember those who have died in war.

 In this week’s Faithlink, which takes a look at Memorial Day Sunday and the United Methodist Church’s understanding of it, the authors recount “The Cost of Freedom.”  They write:

 At Lexington and Concord, Gettysburg and Antietam, the Argonne Forest and the beaches of Normandy, Chosin and Inchon, Saigon and the Mekong Delta, and Baghdad and Kandahar, more than 1.3 million Americans have bled and died in the name of freedom. Statistics vary as to the exact number of soldiers killed in combat. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, 4,435 soldiers died in combat in the American Revolutionary War; in the Civil War, this nation’s bloodiest war, 140,414 soldiers on the Union side and 74,524 in the Confederate Army died; 53,402 died in World War I; 291,557 died in World War II; the Korean War saw 33,739 Americans die; and 47,434 died in Vietnam.  As of May 17, 4,384 Americans have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom; and 1,056 have died in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  According to the US Central Command, 2,449 of these deaths [in Iraq and Afghanistan] were people between the ages of 18 and 22; an additional 1,837 were between the ages of 23 and 28.

from Faithlink, vol. 16, number 5 (May 30, 2010). Copyright © by Cokesbury.

If you want to read the entire article, you can pick up a Faithlink every week in the Entryway and in Fellowship Hall under the bulletin boards or receive it via email (just let me know and I can get you signed up).

I struggle with Memorial Day, because, like my grandfather, it breaks my heart to know that so many men and women, not just in this country but all around the world have fought and died for peace and freedom.

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The Bible has several very clear teachings on violence and, hence, directly applies to war.  The Bible has much to say about violence and its place, or lack thereof, in the Kingdom of God.  The prophets—Isaiah (2:4, 9:5, 9:7, 11:6, 32:17-18), Hosea (2:18), Joel (3:10), Zechariah (9:10)—and let us not forget Jesus Christ, our Savior, all proclaim peace and freedom apart from violence.

Jesus proclaimed from the mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account….for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:7, 9-12).  Jesus goes on to say that “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (5:39b).  When one of the disciples chopped off the ear of the High Priest’s slave in defense of Jesus during his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus not only healed the slave, but he also rebuked the violent disciple saying “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:51-52).

I struggle with Memorial Day, because I know the Good News of the Gospel.  The Good News that peace and freedom do not come by means of the sword.  Peace and true freedom are not established through means of violence, war, and most certainly not death.

Peace and true freedom come from Christ alone, not the sword.

“For freedom,” Paul writes.  “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1a).

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:13-15).

I struggle with Memorial Day, recognizing that war does at times seem like the “best” option.  In times of genocide and “evil” tyranny war is enticing and seemingly “efficient” option for dealing with the situation.  But does goodness come through death?  Is justice retributive?  I struggle with Memorial Day, and I invite you into that struggle with me.

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We then transitioned, unmanuscripted, into communion by recounted that “one died that all might live” and have peace and freedom.  The first song, sung in the video below, was played during Holy Communion.

[1] From “Public Records: The History of the Arms and Great Seal of the State of Massachusetts” <http://www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/presea/sealhis.htm>  Accessed May 29, 2010.

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