I have always had a special affection for our military men and women. As young as I can remember, my life was positively influenced by people in uniform. My uncle served his whole life in the Air Force. I hardly ever saw him but always wanted to visit him at his base in Hawaii. It was always a special gift to be able to connect with him and his family.
The oldest son of my next door neighbor went into the Air Force when I was just in kindergarten or so. Eventually he married my oldest sister. He just retired after 39 years of service. In Boy Scouts some of the most active volunteers were the Vietnam veteran dads of my friends. They always told the best stories and had the coolest survival tips.
Before I understood what any of it meant, I knew there was something different about these military people. Despite the often gruff or solemn exterior, despite the fact that so many of them had been trained to kill, they always seemed willing to serve, willing to make the extra sacrifice and had a little bit bigger heart, even if it was sometimes buried deep.
As I got older I realized that in John 15:13 Jesus put words to the powerful act of self-sacrifice: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” In my experience this verse encapsulates my experience with our service men and women. Although they are called upon to do the most indescribable and unthinkable acts, they often also have the biggest hearts and the greatest love – love of country, love for their fellow man, love for the world and the ability to make a global difference overseas.
One act of love is respecting their commanding officer whether they agree with them or not. This Fourth Commandment issue of “Honor your mother and father” quite literally can mean the difference between life and death for you and the people with whom you serve. Choosing to respect people who are placed in a position of leadership is lost or at least well hidden in our social media and sound bite society. We are too worried about ourselves, and the Devil is constantly sowing seeds of distrust. We forget about the sake of a greater good, a good that is outside of ourselves and the sacrifice it takes to get there.
This leads to another act of love modeled by our military. In Matthew 5, Jesus expands on what sacrificial love is truly about: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
In the United States the personal freedoms we have mean that people are allowed to disagree. Instead of our military fighting for their particular ideal they are in fact fighting for the freedom to vehemently disagree. This isn’t just a concept; it’s a reality that gets put to the test frequently, including over the last few years.
This Memorial Day weekend please remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, who have paid the highest price for the freedoms we have. As the children of God, exercise those freedoms by gathering for worship and for sharing the true Gospel of Jesus. In true faithfulness share that Gospel in love – true love – love that is shown by setting aside your personal agenda and sacrificially loving our enemies, just as we are loved.
Pastor Erik Gauss
Scripture Readings for Sunday, May 29