WORD FROM THE PASTOR:
Fighting for Each Other:
Thoughts on Veterans Day and Our 75th Anniversary
November brings us several special celebrations–All Saints’ Day, our church’s 75th anniversary celebration on Nov. 6, Thanksgiving, the beginning of Advent. It also brings us a commemoration that is not, strictly speaking, a “church day”, but certainly is a day that all Americans should honor–Veterans Day. The freedom we have to worship and to proclaim the saving Gospel of Jesus in our nation has been secured over the years by the dedication and service of our Armed Forces.
I have never experienced war–I missed the Vietnam conflict by about six months, turning 18 shortly after the draft ended. (I did register). However, the memory of my father’s service in World War II (3rd Infantry Division, Silver Star recipient) and my four years of high school ROTC gave me an enduring appreciation and love for the military.
It also made me an avid consumer of military films. I have no illusions that sitting in a theater or in front of a TV screen can in any way give someone a sense of what war is like. But for those who, like me, have never experienced the “real thing”, film is the closest we can come. The graphic realism of contemporary war films like “Saving Private Ryan” or “Blackhawk Down” at least gives us civilians a tiny sense of the sacrifices that have purchased our nation’s freedom. (Much more so than the war films I grew up on, where one never saw anything gruesome. I remember how shocked I was as a child when I first read All Quiet on the Western Front and learned that, in modern war, human bodies were sometimes blown apart. They never showed that in the old movies).
Two Vietnam films that have intrigued me are “Platoon” and “We Were Soldiers”–because of the dramatically different ways in which they present that conflict. “Platoon” is a grim anti-war film that depicts Vietnam as a conflict with no nobility or purpose. “We Were Soldiers” (unlike “Platoon”, a true story) presents the air cavalry troopers in the Ia Drang Valley as patriotic Americans idealistically laying down their lives for country and comrades. The difference in the two films could be explained, simply, as the difference between Oliver Stone and Mel Gibson; or the difference between an early battle like Ia Drang and the later battles depicted in “Platoon” (after some cynicism about the war had set in). Whatever the reason for the difference between the films, that difference is captured in their closing lines. In “Platoon” (which is largely taken up with conflict between American soldiers that explodes into violence), the Charlie Sheen character summarizes Vietnam by saying, “We fought each other.” In “We Were Soldiers”, the journalist character summarizes the war by saying, “We fought for each other.”
Almost every military analyst since World War II has validated the line from “We Were Soldiers”. Troops develop a bond with one another, and in the end they fight for one another. In any assembly of human beings, people will inevitably fight with one another–but ultimately, soldiers fight for one another.
Some of our best-loved hymns remind us that God’s church is like an army. We sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”, with the line “Like a mighty army moves the church of God...” My own very favorite hymn is “The Son of God Goes Forth to War”, with lines like “a noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid...” “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross,” we sing. The well-loved “Lift High the Cross” calls Jesus our “captain” and refers to us as “newborn soldiers of the crucified”. (Among some Christians, a certain1960s anti-military mindset tries to censor such hymns–for instance, I’ve seen “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war” rendered as “Onward Christian people, marching on to life”, and in “Lift High the Cross”, “captain” is sometimes changed to “Saviour” and “soldiers” to “people”. Fortunately, in our Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod this hostility toward military-themed hymns is non-existent.) The reference to the church as an army draws on such Biblical passages as Ephesians 6:10 (“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil”), Romans 13:12 (“Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”), and II Timothy 2:3 (“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus...”).
The coming of Veterans Day and our 75th anniversary celebration in the same month serves to remind us that the church is an army. And as an army, we want that line from “We Were Soldiers” to be true of us–“We fought for each other.” We want to stand shoulder to shoulder, supporting one another, praying for one another, encouraging one another. We want a keen sense that we have a common enemy–the Devil. We want to feel that all of us, all members of the church, are comrades in the struggle against the Evil One. Together, we want to live out the victory that Jesus Christ has already won through His precious blood shed on the cross.
We never want that line from “Platoon” to be true of God’s army–“We fought one another”. Whether on the denominational level or the congregational level, we need to continually remind ourselves: other Christians are not the enemy (unless they explicitly betray Jesus, in which case they cease to be Christians). Other Christians are on the same side, in the same army, that we are. No one who bears the name of Christ can ever be my enemy. He or she is my comrade–and I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with my comrades in the struggle against the Devil’s temptations.
This Veterans Day, we celebrate American service people who over the years have fought for one another–and, in fighting for one another, have fought for our nation. And as our church celebrates her 75th anniversary a few days before Veterans Day, we want to be reminded: We are part of God’s army, and as God’s soldiers, we stand side by side...battling against the Devil and for one another!
God loves you and so do I!