Veterans Day deserves a special service with Bible readings appropriate to what is being observed. It just so happens that the Scripture scheduled to be read on this Sunday in the year of the church is just right for the occasion, especially the Gospel story of an upcoming wedding and reception and lamps with oil to keep them burning through the night of waiting.
Christians then and now know the wedding and reception are veiled references to Jesus-the Bridegroom, His followers-the bride, and the reception-the glorious banquet that will begin the perfect marriage, when the blissful life will start and war will be no more, no more tears or grief or death; when the weapons of warfare will be forged into tools for growing crops and all will be fed, no one will be hunger; when the blood-drenched uniforms of warriors will be burned and enemies will sit around the warming fire as friends…
the imagined God-intended future of veterans who return from the horrors of war, carrying this Gospel lamp which they pass on to us to keep burning until that Day when God, the Creator, will be wedded to all that God has made, and war will be no more.
The Gospel story’s call to Christ’s followers to pierce the darkness around them with well-tended lamps, takes on a special ministry for veterans to pass on to us to see the light they bear burns with the flame of the REALITY of WAR.
As a child I busied myself collecting tin cars to be recycled into military equipment. I worked hard to get enough to display more and more red strips on my white armband. When the next-door neighbors left to spend the winter in Florida, I turned the straw around their shrubbery into a trench to fire at Nazis I imagined were invading us.
I learned every rank in the military, and was thrilled when a friend gave me some patches. I thought war was a game to play and uniforms to admire.
But then I grew up and, as a fresh-out-of –seminary pastor, saw young men in our parish have the number that sent them off to Vietnam. All came home, one with visible wounds, others with the invisible scars of drug addiction, still others with the deadly affects of Agent Orange that showed up years later.
I saw the wounded in beds at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia with half a face or no limbs, and heard stories of veterans’ sleepless nights that Chaplain Zampetti knows as he relives the horror of Korea’s Pork Chop Hill, and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find too painful to tell and impossible to forget.
Now I see the ministry of veterans is to expose the REALITY of war.
In the words of General, who became President Eisenhower, “War is hell!” which you who are veterans know and make your legacy to pass on to us and live with the question, “What does it take to be able to say, ‘War no more!’?”
The veteran’s lamp also bears the flame of RESPONSIBILITY, COMMUNITY, and FAMILY.
A lifeboat was about to be lowered from the sinking Titanic when a woman suddenly thought of something she had left in her state room and had to have. They gave her three minutes. According to the story, (adapted from www.Semons.com for Nov. 9 ’14)
“She ran across the deck that was already slanted at a dangerous angle, raced through the gambling room where all the money that had rolled to one side, came to her stateroom. She pushed aside her diamond rings and expensive bracelets and necklaces to reach the shelf above her bed and grabbed three small oranges. Then she quickly found her way back to the lifeboat and got in.”
Faced with impending death, oranges were more precious than diamonds and gold which is what you who are veterans know and turn into
- the “orange” of responsibility – pictured in Tammy Duckworth, the Iraqi vet who lost both legs in a helicopter cash, and returned to serve in Veterans Affairs and now Congress; and in a photo made into a poster showing an unnamed vet in a wheelchair exerting the effort to stand at a parade when our nation’s flag, carried by his comrades, passed by, while others on the sidelines just sit and watch,
- and the “orange” of community and the “orange” of family brought to life in photos of a mother returning from combat being hugged and kissed by her young daughter, and a new Dad cradling his infant for the first time…
all images of people who gave, now giving back, knowing the “oranges” of responsibility, community, and family are the most precious things in life; too valuable not to pass on to us.
The veteran’s lamp also bears the flame of HUMILITY and DIVINITY.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, when speaking from the White House on February 7, 1954, said in his broadcast to an American Legion Program: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” (Wikipedia)
Some veterans have returned home to go back to serve former enemies as missionaries and relief workers; some have stayed home to work as pastors, priests or rabbis, humbled by war to confess that humanity needs a divinity.
Joshua knew when leading his people through territories of hostile tribes on the way to a settled life, that to survive the dangers around them they needed to cling to belief in the God within them; and so, they pledged,
“God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods; The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey” (Joshua 24: 16, 24)
There are veterans who come home with stories that inspire the rest of us to make that pledge. One will be told in the film premiering on Christmas Day, “Unbroken: The Louis Zamperini Story” of a man who had to wait for his life to bear that flame.
His is the story of an Italian immigrant kid fighting off taunts until his older brother challenged him to channel his anger into running than made him an Olympic star in 1938 in Berlin where Hitler shook his hand. World War II kept him from a possible gold metal. Instead he was a bombardier in the Pacific flying with Phil, the “Super Man” pilot whose father was a Methodist minister. When Louie saw him praying he asked, “Does (God) say anything back?”
It would take a shot-down plane, weeks in a raft with enemy fire and shark attacks, and a storm that had Louie pray, “If you get me through this, I will dedicate my whole life to you. I’ll do whatever you want.”
When captured by the Japanese he endured one prison camp after another with beatings and kicks and then mining coal in the bitter cold winter that crippled and emaciated his body.
After the Allied troops arrived, he returned home a hero, but obsessed with nightmares he tried to drive out with alcohol.
His wife literally dragged him to a Billy Graham rally, and he walked out, only to be coaxed to return a second night when Billy Graham talked about war and suffering and the question of God’s silence. Dr. Graham pointed to the stars and then said God Who made them is not too busy to count the hairs on our heads and be interested in us.
Louie remembered those star-lite nights in the raft and the prayer he had prayed; instead of bolting for the door, he made his way forward, at last answering God’s call which ended the nightmares, sent him back to Japan to forgive his captors, created the Victory Boys Camp for troubled teens aged 5-13, and in 1980 carried the Olympic torch in Japan. He died on July 2 of this year at the age of 97…but lives on in his faith that passes the flame from Jesus’ Gospel story on to us…to bear the light of Christ that pierces the darkness …until God’s new day dawns.
And so, we pray:
“Give me oil in my lamp... keep it burning
Give me love in my heart, keep me serving…till the break of day.” AMEN.