I’m Your Greatest Fan

A sermon preached at First Church Middletown CT on November 13, 2022

Psalm 16
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. 
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. 
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 
I keep the Lord always before me;
because [God] is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 
For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. 
You show me the path of life. 
In your presence there is fullness of joy; 
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Luke 14:1-6
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had edema. And Jesus asked the experts in the law and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

On November 11, Applebees offered a free meal to anyone serving in the military – active or veteran.  There were a few conditions – you had to eat the food in the restaurant, and had to have some proof of your service.

I’ve got to say that being offered a free meal at Applebees beats the socks off those times people called me a filthy name while wearing the uniform of my country…. or those times when my fellow Marines met with scorn while coming home from Vietnam.

But you know, it’s also kinda weird to be part of a PR campaign.  

Veteran’s Day is, for me, a wild mixture of sincere appreciation for my service, virtue signaling, and being used by those who want to monetize my service.  That mixture led me, today, to think about fanboys and cheap grace.

Fanboys – who don’t need to be boys – those folks who want the glory but not the cost.  Cheap grace, easy words for a hard way of life.  And oddly joy-less to boot.

Jesus set out one day to have lunch with some folks on the Sabbath.  Under the rules and customs of his life and times, the Sabbath was a day on which no work was done…. I went to high school with what we called hard shell Baptists who lived like this – no work, no movies, no card-playing, no tv-watching – it isn’t my way, isn’t our way, but it is a real way of living religiously.   

At any rate, on this day, Jesus happened to meet a man who, the Bible says had edema.  We might cast about for what illness would cause this, but that’s not the point of the story.  The point is that this person is ill and needs healing.  And Jesus turns to his lunch hosts,  people who stick to the strict letter of the law, and he asks them if it’s permitted to heal this man, even though it’s the Sabbath.

As it happens, Jesus knows it is – you can break the Sabbath rules to save a life.  But he wants the folks standing there in front of him to declare themselves, to show a little humanity.  They keep silent, however.  Their silence – in the custom of their time and place – means that they recognize the truth of what Jesus says, but their support of that truth is pretty weak.

Jesus doesn’t let it sit there, though.  He then asks his hosts, “listen, if your son, or your ox fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you rescue him, or it?”  And with this question, they still do not respond.  But this time, it’s more that there is no good response to what Jesus has said; of course you would rescue your child, your animal.  So Jesus not only has them back to the wall, agreeing silently that he’s right, but then drives the argument home to them.  

Their agreement with Jesus is no longer a kind of cheap, easy, agreement, like when I nod my head “yes” and agreed that the food is great, when I know it isn’t but I don’t want to argue.  Jesus wants them and us to understand the need to move from a passive ‘sure, ok, whatever’, to an active, “yes, that’s really important.”

Yes, this is the weekend we recognize and give thanks for those who have served our country.  At its best, it’s a time for heartfelt appreciation, even as we recognize that for Christians, there’s always an inherent conflict between the need for military service, and our commitment to recognizing God’s spirit in every human being.

Christians believe that war is always wrong, even as it is sometimes fought for an important reason.  I was raised a Hicksite Quaker, taught from my earliest days that all wars are wrong, that there is never a justifiable reason for fighting.  I learned those lessons while sitting in a meetinghouse on the land where the Battle of the Brandywine was fought in our Revolutionary War.  I sat on benches stained dark with what we kids all thought was blood from when our meetinghouse had been used as a hospital during that battle.  We  all knew about the grave in the cemetery with both American and British soldiers buried together.  When I was ten I didn’t get the irony of teaching pacifism on a battlefield, in what had been a military hospital, but I certainly understood the symbolism of enemies together for all eternity in that grave.

Ours was a fully featured pacifism; youth group was a time to learn how to survive going to prison for refusing to cooperate with the draft.  The bottom line expectation that all of our young men would refuse the draft.

At the same time, I knew that my devoutly Quaker uncle, and my equally committed Quaker cousin had joined the Navy in World War II.  And when my family moved to south Florida, the realities of what had happened in Europe began to turn from pages in textbooks into the reality of the stories of my classmates.  

My high school, in a community now called Pembroke Pines, was, for a segregated school in the south, remarkably diverse.  Mostly Yankees, we had a small group of Seminole Indians from the Dania Reservation (my best friend’s dad was the Indian agent for the reservation).  We were pretty much equally divided into Protestants, Catholics and Jews… a diversity of background I had not experienced up north.  And as I got to know my Jewish classmates, I slowly realized that most of them did not have grandparents., that most of them had lost close family members in the Holocaust.  

I listened, I read, I thought.  I don’t supposed it’s the least surprising that by the time I graduated from high school, I had acquired a deep belief that the world was flawed, that it was foolish to expect it to get better just because some of us refused to participate in war.  More than that, I began to think that it was not possible to live in the United States without participating in our commitment to engaging in war.  Whether pacifists want it or not, we are all protected by those who are willing to take up arms.  

When I joined the Marines, I truly believed that it was a sin to kill people, but that it was necessary from time to time to do so, to protect my country.  Even though I would not be called upon to fight, I understood that by joining the service, I was taking part in something I had been taught all my life — was wrong.

I probably don’t need to tell you that it was disillusioning to serve in the Marines in the 1960s, during the Vietnam years.  Not disillusioning to be a Marine… disillusioning to see how our military were being used by mindless, soulless technocrats in Washington DC.  That’s when I began to see that there were much worse things than serving in the military.  

One of the realities of life is that we all die.  Those of us who are veterans of military service are those among us who offered up their lives that we all might live free.  There is no shame there, no sin; there is nothing but honor in swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Some of us ended up giving our lives, some of us did not, but we all made that commitment.

We each face times in our lives when we have to make hard choices, when maybe what we have to do is something that, at some level, will seem wrong – but in that doing, something really good will happen.  It isn’t good to kill, but if it means that a whole population lives, then it can be necessary.

We have a responsibility to understand all the implications of our choices, to know that if we are not alert, we can be used.  That’s true whether we’re talking about military service or helping out that cousin from wherever who just wants to camp in the back yard for a week.  It’s true when we’re talking about the choices we make in running our businesses, teaching our students, or raising a family.  Our Christian faith calls us to a thoughtful way of living.  It may be easier to see when it comes to something like military service, but it is always there, always part of that commitment that Jesus wanted the Pharisees to make.

Psalm 16 says:
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 
I keep the Lord always before me;
because [God] is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 

When we are faced with those tough decisions, God’s presence is always with us and God will help us discern the best way forward.  In that presence, in that help, we will find the joy of deep faith.

Amen.

©2022, Virginia H. Child