Rev. George Miller
Feb 21, 2010
Last Tuesday it was another cold, snowy day that us in Michigan have experienced all season long. The kind of day in which you curl up on the couch and watch a movie. So I put on the classic White Christmas expecting it to be a light-hearted romp.
Instead it began with a bleak situation: war. As bombs are exploding overhead Bing Crosby is singing to a group of sullen looking troops. An air strike sends the men running and building almost falls on Bing until he is rescued by Danny Kaye.
When the war ends Bing and Danny become a musical act, touring the country. They end up at a Vermont Inn run by a former war buddy, General Waverley. Business has been slow and the General’s about to lose everything. To help him out Bing and Danny stage a show and invite everyone from their old unit.
My favorite scene takes place opening night. All the soldiers are there, dressed in their uniforms. They give General Waverley a standing ovation and with a solid salute, Bing says “The troops are ready for inspection sir.”
Waverley falls right into General Mode: “I am not satisfied with the conduct of this division. Some of you are under the impression that you don’t have to wear neck ties, well you’re wrong, neck ties are to be worn!
Look at your appearance, you’re a disgrace to the outfit. Your soft, your sloppy, your unruly, your undisciplined...and I never saw anything look so wonderful in my entire life.”
“White Christmas” was fun, but it’s underlying theme was about people who survived tough times together and found a way to give back.
In some ways I could relate to the film. Although I never served in the military, my grandfather and father did. My grandpa was a proud veteran, marching in all the parades, chaplain of the VFW. He and his buddies played poker in the basement over hand-rolled cigarettes and cold beer.
My father said that Basic Training was the best 2 weeks of his life, and I believe him. But Vietnam was a different kind of war and no one kept in touch.
But as a New York City cop my father had war buddies of a different kind; the people he worked with were a loud, fast talking group of folk, full of an energy I love being around even today
Over the years I’ve watched the way soldiers interact with one another. As men, they may not share how they feel, but as War Buddies, they’ll talk on and on about KP duty and pranks pulled on one another; or snow stained with blood and best friends killed in front of their eyes.
There’s something about being with a group of people who have been tested beyond the limit, knowing they didn’t go through it alone. It creates a bond that comes across in shared stories, jokes and nightmares.
And I’ve come to understand that the phrase “war buddies” can be applied to any group of people who have experienced a hardship together that created a bond beyond race, age, economics or political views.
Local farmers who made it through a drought. New Yorkers who were there when the towers fell. Seminarians who faced final exams.
Sadly, as Americans we’ve lost the bond that existed during WW II. It’s been weakened as cable tv and the internet have wedged their way into our culture, making people more individualistic and content with being alone.
But I’m getting the sense that the Recession is changing things. It’s about the only good thing about this period of history. So many have lost their jobs or pay that we have become war buddies of a different kind.
People are back to cutting coupons, saving their pennies and finding ways to entertain themselves in a more communal fashion, like bowling or having people over for dinner.
As we bowl or pass the pot roast we’re sharing stories, some light and frivolous, others about our fears and wondering when this will be over.
Right now this recession has taken way too long, creating such a difficult present that a bright future seems all but impossible.
But when we get through it, we will all be war buddies of a different kind, and let’s hope we as a nation will be more thankful, stronger and better.
Can I get an amen?
That’s what today’s scripture is about. It’s about trusting that God will see you through, it’s about learning to be thankful because of the experience, and it’s about showing that thanks by reaching out to others.
Deuteronomy 26 is said to be part of a speech given to the Israelites. But this wasn’t just any speech; this was the speech, given by General Moses to a rag-tag group of sloppy, unruly people that both Moses and God loved so much.
Soon, their time of struggling in the wilderness will be over. They’re about to enter the promised land, a place rich in minerals and resources, where their animals and crops will flourish.
Moses seizes the moment to remind them of all they’ve been through. How God freed them from slavery. How God fought for them, gave them water from a rock, sent them manna from heaven.
Through everything God has been present. Still, those 40 years were not easy. They’ve had their share of obstacles and problems, mistakes have been made, opportunities have been lost
And manna doesn’t take the place of having a home to call your own. Nor is miraculous water the same as having a safe place to rest your head.
So before they are to take another step, Moses gathers them, and speaks. He says to them “When you come into the land God is giving you, and you make yourself a home, take the best of what you grow and bring it to the house of worship
Recall all that God has done, and after giving thanks, celebrate. But don’t party alone: invite those who are currently fighting their own battles. Invite the foreigners, make sure the widows and orphans have food to eat.
And after you have reached out to them, ask the Lord to bless you and to bless the land of milk and honey.”
Let’s explore this a little bit more. This speech is about a when and a how. First, hear what Moses is saying to his fellow war buddies: “When you come into the land.”
When. Such a powerful word. A word rooted in the present but looking towards the future.
“When” means that whatever we’re facing now is not over and done yet. There’s still a way to go.
But it also means that things are not so hopeless; soon there’ll be results, soon they’ll be done with their current struggle.
This use of “when” means hold on, don’t stop, don’t quit, don’t give up.
Followed by the “when”, General Moses moves into the how: when you’ve conquered your battles and life gets easier, don’t forget all that God did. Give thanks.
And how do you give thanks? Reach out to and care for anyone who’s going through a war of their own.
General Moses is saying to his troops “You were once in a wilderness war, defenseless and far from home. Now it’s your turn to take care of others because that is what God wants you to do.”
Notice that Moses is not leaving it up to the government or the taxpayers to take care of those in need. This command is beyond democrat or republican, beyond liberal or conservative.
And who are those still facing their own war?
The foreigner far from home. Make sure he has enough, invite him to share a meal, make him feel welcome, have a laugh.
Because we all have ancestors who were also from foreign lands.
Who’s still at war? The widow who lost her husband. How lonely she must feel. Make sure she has a place to stay, that she’s kept warm and has food to eat.
Because we all know what it’s like to feel scared and lonely.
Who’s still at war? The orphans with no family. How vulnerable they are with no one to guide them or sing them a lullaby before bedtime. Take care of them so they know that someone cares, that they are part of a bigger family.
Because at one time we were all young and defenseless.
Today’s scripture isn’t just for the Israelites, but for anyone who is in the midst of their own battle, who feels like bombs are exploding and buildings are falling all around them.
In conclusion, we may not be at a Vermont Inn putting on a Christmas show to help an old General, but we can each play a part being the best war buddy to those around us.
Everyone is facing their own battle, stuck in their own type of wilderness. In that way, Moses’ words still speak to us today just they did 3,000 years ago.
It’s a message about holding on with hope, knowing that as impossible as things seem God is working to bring calm into our lives.
It’s a message that anytime we reach out to others and are not selfish with what we have, we are giving thanks to God.
In doing so we will help bring rest to a wanderer, comfort to someone who’s alone, and community to someone who feels abandoned.
In doing so, we create a space for God to look down upon us with a smile, blessing us and our land, and all that dwells upon it.
All thanks and honor be to God who leads us through the rough times, the Spirit that brings generosity and thankfulness and Jesus Christ who has promised to be with us always, until the end of time.
Amen and amen.