Veteran’s Sunday/24th Sunday after Pentecost
November 19, 2017
2 Samuel 1:19 and Romans 5:8
“Grace is Never Cheap”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The texts that engage us today are 2 separate verses from the OT and NT; from 2 Samuel 1:19 and Romans 5:8 and they read as follows: “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!” and “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Today we are celebrating Veterans Day. “Wait!”, you cry. “Veteran’s Day was last Saturday!” True, but it’s less important the date we choose; we simply want to give thanks to God in honoring the men and women who faithfully answered the call to serve in our nation’s military. Today is our time to remember that much of what we enjoy in life comes to us through the service and sacrifice of others. In the same way, God’s grace often comes to us through others without our realization. And, most certainly, God’s grace is never cheap!
There is an interesting song written by David in the Old Testament that emphasizes this truth. God had chosen David as Israel’s future king, and David was very popular among the people after he had killed the giant Goliath. Unfortunately, the reigning King Saul became very jealous over David and repeatedly tried to kill him. David’s very close friend and Saul’s son, Jonathan, tried desperately to restore this broken relationship between Saul and David, but it was not to be. David was forced to live as a fugitive, constantly on the run and in fear for his life.
Then, in the first chapter of second Samuel, a tattered and exhausted messenger arrived at the camp where David was hiding. The messenger brought news that both Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle. As proof, he handed David a band from the king’s arm, and, the most prized possession, the king’s crown.
One could assume that David must have been overwhelmed with joy. After all, he was now free from danger! And, more importantly, the wicked and deranged king Saul was dead, and David’s path to the throne was finally cleared. But instead, David mourned bitterly over the news and composed a heart-wrenching song that reflected his grief. Throughout the song, a powerful phrase recurs again and again… “how the mighty have fallen….how the mighty have fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:19). These are not words of gloating, but words of deep lament. David recognized the service and sacrifice of Saul.
How quickly have we taken for granted the service of those who served our country? How many times this week have you focused on what you don’t have rather than being thankful for what you do have? Think about the simple graces or undeserved blessing we have already enjoy on this day. That warm cup of coffee and the banana on our cereal – how many faceless and dirt-poor people made that possible for you? Or, what about the clothing on our backs – how much of it came from the sweatshops in third-world countries? And then there are the untold hundreds who make possible the gas and oil that fuel our cars, electricity for this building, and the “disappearance” of our garbage and sewage. When you think about everything in your life, the list of struggling contributors you don’t even think of becomes overwhelming. And who, fellow Americans, has made it possible for us to travel wherever we please, to speak whatever we think, to read whatever we want, to worship anyway we please, and to elect whomever we choose? Has any of that come to us without cost? There is nothing free about freedom. Do we ever consider the many, the hundreds, perhaps the thousands of lives that have, in some way, been sacrificed for our moments of comfort today, which we take for granted?
When the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out, there was a brief renewal of interest in the war experiences of our veterans who had spent much of their post-war life not talking about what happened. “Saving Private Ryan” was the story of a squad of Army Rangers sent to save a fellow soldier – James Ryan – whose three brothers had been killed in battle. The squad undertakes a search for a “needle in a stack of needles.” Army officials wanted Private Ryan to be sent home to spare his mother the agony of losing all of her sons in combat. The Rangers find Private Ryan but are caught in a fierce battle, and the squad’s captain is mortally wounded. With his final breath, he whispers to Ryan “Earn this.” Obviously, no matter how “good” Ryan would live for all the years to come, he could never earn what those men had sacrificed. “Earn this!” We can’t. We can never earn the grace under which we all live. But, may God forbid that we ever ignore the cost!
What happened at Normandy and Europe and the Pacific Theater, sadly, has been repeated again and again – at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, at Da Nang in Vietnam, at Fallujah in Iraq, and at Sangin in Afghanistan. Even when our nation is not at war, American servicemen and servicewomen are often killed or wounded while aiding our allies or protecting our borders. So today we ask ourselves…are all those who die or are wounded in such service righteous? Do they “earn” righteousness? No. They are no more righteous that those who slaved to provide our coffee, bananas, clothing, fuel, or sanitation. They are no more righteous than we are. Our service doesn’t make them or any of us righteous…but faith in Jesus Christ does.
When we live in that kind of awareness, then we begin to get a faith glimpse of what Paul was talking about in Romans. “But God demonstrates his love in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:8). Think about that! In fact, as Paul put it, God intervened into history … “at just the right time,” – specifically, “when we were still powerless” (5:6). His is a divine service, a divine sacrifice. The cross and empty tomb is the ultimate D-Day invasion; the eternal attack on sin, death, and the devil was announced a complete, total, absolute, and unconditional victory.
Inscribed near the entrance of a cemetery in Okinawa, where many American military personnel are buried, are the words “We gave our todays in order that you might have your tomorrows.” Today is our day to honor all our veterans for all they have done for us for which we are extremely thankful. But it is also a day of vivid reminders of God’s total grace in our lives – not only in daily treasures we have but also, and especially, in the crown of life, which is ours through Jesus Christ. We can call his grace “amazing” as we do in the beloved hymn, but there really is no adjective to describe its cost. Above all, it is not now, nor has it ever been – cheap! There is nothing free about freedom; there is nothing cheap about grace. Thank you, veteran’s, for what you have done for our country; well done, good and faithful servants! Thank you, God, for what you have done for us in Christ Jesus.