America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law."
A few years ago, when I put out the call for names of veterans to be read at a Veteran's Day prayer service, I got an email back thanking me and remarking that "in the past, CCC has been overly "peacenik" and resistant to any such service."
If that's true, it's not surprising. Not because of anything about this community, but because we as Christians struggle with the tension between honoring two values that Jesus himself lived -- self-sacrificial love and commitment to peace.
That tension is brilliantly sung in "America, the Beautiful," one of the "patriotic hymns" in our own hymnal. I am particularly struck by the brilliance of that second verse as a way we might honor and live both of those values as Jesus did.
People have served in our armed forces for many reasons -- from volunteering, to the compulsion of the draft to economic compulsion. But whatever the reason, that service represents a willingness to put their lives on the line for a greater good. To offer, if necessary, what President Lincoln rightly called "the last full measure of devotion."
That act of self-giving is at the heart of our call to be disciples of the one who gave himself for the love of the world. It must be acknowledged, celebrated and even revered. In fact, the willingness to offer that "last full measure of devotion" is so sacred that we as a nation have a sacred duty to make sure it is never demanded except when absolutely necessary. That it is only demanded, as in the case of those honored dead at Gettysburg, literally to preserve not our nation's economic interest or our strategic position but the very freedoms upon which our nation was founded.
That's why on this Veterans Day, in addition to honoring those "who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life," we must ask God to "mend our every flaw." We must repent of those ways we have dishonored - and continue to dishonor - their service by sending them to fight, kill and die, for lesser and less pure causes than ensuring that "government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."
We have the greatest fighting force in the history of history, but with that comes the responsibility of restraint. The power not only to kill, but to force our own sisters and brothers to be takers of life should be used only in extreme circumstances. And when we do go to war, we must do so in ways that embody the freedoms and respect for the dignity of every human being we fight to defend.
The soul of our nation must be confirmed in self-control, her liberty in law.
I hope we will take a minute today to read these names below -- names of people in our congregation who have served and are serving. I hope we will take the time to thank them for their service the next time you see them.
I also hope this day and every day, we will dedicate ourselves to holding our nation to the highest standards of honoring their commitment, supporting any commitment of troops that is worthy of their devotion ... and working tirelessly to end any action that falls short of that high standard.
Thank you for your service:
... and any others I have missed. Please leave those in the comments section.