2nd Sunday after Pentecost
May 29, 2016
“The Faith of a Soldier”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of Christ our Lord. The sermon today will be based on the Gospel lesson read earlier from Luke 7.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
On June 6, 1944, a vast invasion force braved the English Channel headed for the shores of France – Normandy – in an all-or-nothing effort to gain a foothold in Nazi occupied Europe. After 2 years of planning, Operation Overlord, otherwise known as D-Day, became the largest and most complex military operation in history. 150,000 Allied troops opposed by 40,000 German soldiers along a 300 yard wide French coastline. The Allied forces identified 5 beach areas to attack and gave them the code names Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The Americans would take Utah and Omaha, the British would take Gold and Sword, and the Canadians would assault Juno.
American forces, designated Wave A, took on the nickname “The Suicide Wave.” The Suicide Wave had one order…get off that beach and move inland to make way for the rest of the invasion force. Waiting for the Suicide Wave were 32 fortified German bunkers offering the Nazi soldiers elevated firing positions for 120 guns shooting in a crossfire pattern on the American troops below who had virtually no cover on the beach. The Suicide Wave was an apt name; at most points along Omaha beach, the casualty rates ranged from 46-52% of American troops killed or wounded. At the most German fortified point, the casualty rate for the Suicide Wave was a staggering 92%.
Among those men on June 6th was 28 year-old Sergeant Alden Carlyle “Bud” Anderson – my grandfather. Machine gun fire ripped into the landing craft and so Grandpa went over the side. The landing craft, though, like so many others was too deep to off-load anyone which caused many soldiers to die by drowning, not bullets or bombs. Shrugging off his heavy backpack and gear, Grandpa Bud re-surfaced and manage to get ashore and hid behind one of the thousands of anti-tank obstacles the Nazis had erected. “Well Andy,” he said to himself, “you can either stay here and die or make a run for it.” 300 yards. 3 football fields into a deadly German crossfire. By God’s grace, Grandpa made it to the protection of the seawall unharmed.
He was eventually scooped up and added to the 35th infantry unit of General Patton’s infamous 3rd Army. Grandpa became a forward artillery observer with a 10-man light artillery crew. He ended up fighting in France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. He participated in 5 major battles including D-Day, the Battle of St. Lo, and the Battle of the Bulge. He was officially “separated” from the Army in 1945, 5 months after VE Day.
Once Grandpa returned home, he put down his bombs and bullets and picked up his Bible. He stopped fighting Germans and “fought” for Gideon’s International instead. My Grandpa was called to glory in 2002 and you can count on one hand with a few fingers left over how many times he talked about what he experienced in Europe. He, like so many other soldiers, did what soldiers do…whatever it took to survive; crossing whatever boundaries existed to ensure survival.
In today’s Gospel we hear about a soldier and Jesus and both crossed boundaries. Some believe that the essence of faith is strength; the stronger you are, the better a Christian you are. Not so. At the essence of faith is humility. The Roman centurion shows humility even though he never actually shows up. Did you notice that? The Roman soldier never actually shows his face in the narrative. First, he sends some Jewish Elders as messengers. Then, his friends come on his behalf.
Yet, despite his absence, boundaries get crossed. A soldier and a teacher. A Gentile and a Jew. A man of means and a man who had “no place to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). But these boundaries are not enough to stop what’s about to happen.
That being said, are there boundaries out there that hinder our ministry today? How do you feel about that panhandler with his cardboard sign standing so close to your car window at the intersection? How do you feel when you see the addicted and the poverty ridden splashed across the 6 PM news? Are these people outside our reach…or are they outside of our concern?
The Roman Centurion was clearly a respected man. Both Jewish Elders and friends are willing to approach a very-busy Jesus on behalf of the Centurion. That’s respect…and so also we rightly so in our day and age show respect for both veterans and active duty military service personnel. Why? Why is there so much respect? Because those who serve in the military are willing to make tremendous sacrifice – many times they make the ultimate sacrifice of laying down their lives so that others in our country may live free. Reminds me of someone else I know.
Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And that is exactly what Jesus did. He laid down His life so that you and I might live and live eternally because of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus’ sacrificial death brings. The cross of Christ – that’s sacrifice. The resurrection of Jesus from that dead – that’s sacrifice and authority and the ultimate boundary crossing from death to life.
The Centurion knew about Jesus’ power. He believed in Jesus’ authority. He trusted in Jesus’ love. The Centurion understood power and authority and Jesus had it. Because of that confidence, we find out that – yes – the Centurion’s servant WAS healed. Call it power or authority if you want, but I would call it love.
God owes us nothing; He has all the power and all the authority, yet He extends His forgiveness and grace to the Centurion, the servant, and to all of us because of love: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10 ESV). Jesus didn’t owe that Centurion or the servant anything, yet our Lord crossed the boundaries and showed His love and grace. In the same way, we don’t deserve what we get from God and we don’t get what we deserve from God. Prompted by this truth, we strive to step over boundaries, recognize the true power and authority of God, and seek to embrace and serve the least of our brothers and sisters in our midst so that they too experience the love of God in Christ.
Service. Sacrifice. Humility. These are the basic tools of a soldier; they are the basic tools of faith. Happy Memorial Day everyone.