Trinity Sunday/Memorial Day 2018 (B)
May 27, 2018
Here I Am. Send Me.
Grace, mercy and peace be yours abundantly in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our great Triune God. The sermon today is based on the First Lesson read earlier from Isaiah chapter 6.
My dear friends in Christ,
On Dec. 30, 1944, US Army Captain Robert Trimble had just completed his 35th and final bombing run over Germany, and understandably he was elated that his tour of duty was over. As he landed his B-17 Flying Fortress in Suffolk, England, Trimble knew he was free to go home. The Second World War was coming to an end, his tour of duty was over, and he could now fly back to his family in Pennsylvania, where his wife Eleanor had just given birth to a daughter. But he didn’t. Trimble was called in by his commanding officer who made Trimble an offer: You can go home on leave for three weeks and then face the very real possibility of getting new orders that will put you in harm’s way again, OR you can take an “absolutely safe” job out of the combat zone flying planes back and forth from Poland.
No-brainer, right? Trimble accepted the new orders believing it would be a relatively risk-free mission with very little chance of combat or harm. Landing in Poland and checking in with the commanding officer of the small U.S. contingent there, Trimble asked, “Where are these planes that they want ferried back to England?” That’s when Col. Thomas Hampton dropped the bombshell, informing Trimble that flying planes out was only a ruse to deceive the Russians. Trimble wasn’t there to pick up a plane. Surprise! His real business in Poland was a top-secret mission, working with counterintelligence agents – spies – to find recently liberated American POWs and death camp refugees to help them get home.
Trimble was secretly sent into Russian-held territory to rescue thousands of British and US prisoners of war who faced new danger from Joseph Stalin’s Red Army in the frozen wastelands of Poland where many POWs were executed without mercy or sent to Siberian gulags and worked to death.
So Trimble, even though his time of active service commitment was up, began making regular trips into Poland hunting for survivors, starting at the Auschwitz death camp then scouring the snow-covered countryside, constantly dodging the suspicious Russian secret police. Trimble saved hundreds of Jews left in deserted death camps and 400 French women abused by the Nazis after being shipped east as forced labor.
Trimble used any means necessary – deception, stealth, bribery, even drunkenness – to smuggle out men and women alike from many different nations. By VE Day in May 1945, Robert Trimble had helped smuggle an estimated 1000 POWs and hundreds of civilians out of harm’s way. For his heroism and bravery the United States awarded Trimble the Bronze Star for heroic achievement in the combat zone, but that was done secretly and after the war. US officials feared that their new allies the Soviets would be offended by his efforts so his mission was publically denied. The French didn’t care and they awarded Trimble the “Cross of War”, a medal only given for acts of the highest valor in combat with the enemy. When someone needed to go, as hard as it was, Robert Trimble went. (the book of his mission is called “Beyond the Call”) When his country called, Trimble said “here I am. Send me.”
Speaking of calls, in today’s First Lesson, the prophet Isaiah around 740 BC was shown a vision of a heavenly temple thrown open to view, even to the most holy place, the Holy of Holies. The prophet, standing outside the temple, sees the Divine Triune presence of God seated on the mercy-seat, raised over the Ark of the Covenant, between the cherubim and seraphim, and the Divine glory filled the whole temple.
Isaiah heard the angels calling “Holy Holy Holy” – an extremely rare usage of a triple superlative that indicates the supremely holy and Triune nature of God – to one another as God revealed Himself in all His splendor, and that’s when Isaiah realized that he was in trouble. “Woe is me! For I am lost,” Isaiah despaired. That’s a very common reaction for beings in God’s divine and holy presence. It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last. Moses and Gideon both despaired in God’s presence (Exodus 3 and Judges 6). Peter fell down at his Lord’s feet, and cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Even the angels flying around are covering their faces in humility. Creation has always instinctively known this truth – because of our sin, no one can see God and live unless God allows it.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” God asks this question, not as if He were unresolved whom to send, but that Isaiah might have an opportunity of voluntarily offering his service. Newly forgiven of his sins by God, Isaiah is now ready to be sent regardless of how difficult things might get.
Throughout the ages, mankind has heard the call of God and volunteered their service regardless of how difficult things might get. Men and women alike have left behind comfort and become missionaries in harsh and unpredictable lands. Men and women alike have left behind the safe comfort of home to serve in military service with no promise that they will return. And even if they do return, they face the horror of the battlefield on the home front because of PTSD. Every hour another veteran commits suicide because of PTSD and other stresses after their deployment. Men and women alike have left behind homes and lucrative careers in order to do the work of the church; to spread the Gospel as pastors, teachers, DCEs, and Deaconesses.
Isaiah heard the call to go and serve and so he did. In World War II, Robert Trimble heard the call to go and serve and so he did. And the call from our Triune God is a call to you as well. You are called uniquely to be His messenger of the Gospel and made holy by the sacrifice of Jesus. In addition to your unique calling – your “vocation” – there are some commonalities.
And what is God calling us all to do? “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). (Jesus said) “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life” (John 6:40). “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:9).
Are you starting to get the picture? God entrusts you with His divine call and His divine gifts to be a good steward of both. He calls you to believe and to love and to serve. He calls you to sacrifice and to give. He calls you to not just believe in His miracles, but to be a miracle in the life of another person just as Cpt. Robert Trimble did for 1000+ WWII survivors.
Happy Memorial Day everyone.