Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sermon for Veteran's Day 2014; Joshua 24:1-14

Rev. George Miller
Joshua 24:1-14
November 9, 2014

One day the Navy Chief noticed a new seaman and barked at him. “Get over here! What’s your name sailor?”

“John,” the new seaman replied.

“Look,” the chief scowled, “I don’t know what kind of bleeding heart, momma’s boy, namby-pamby stuff they’re teaching you sailors in boot camp nowadays, but I don’t call anyone by his first name.”

“It breeds familiarity, and that leads to a breakdown of authority. I refer to my sailors by their last name only. Smith, Jones, Baker. Whatever.”

“And you are always to refer to me as Chief. Do I make myself clear?”

“Aye, Aye Chief!” said the sailor.

“Now that we got that straight, what’s your last name?”

The seaman sighed. “Darling, Chief. My name is John Darling.”

“OK, John. Here’s what I want you to do…”

Today is an important day. We’re not only holding our Annual Meeting, we’re also acknowledging Veteran’s Day.

Since it’s the second Sunday of the month we have also shared in saying our denomination’s Statement of Faith.

It is good and appropriate that we share these words as they help shape our understanding of who we are and what it means to be a member of the United Church of Christ.

Perhaps you’ll like to take your bulletin home today so you can read over what we said, because words matter.

It starts by calling God the Eternal Spirit. It is to God’s deeds, not our own, that we testify.

And it states that God, the Eternal Spirit, our head Chief, sets before us the ways of life.

Further on, it boldly states that we are called, to be servants in service to others, to proclaim the gospel and to accept the cost and joy of discipleship.

It is a covenantal statement, expressing who God is to us, who we are to God, and what it means to accept the opportunity to experience forgiveness, to experience grace, to experience eternal life, not in our realm, but in God’s.

Very similar to today’s reading. In Joshua 24 we have basically come to the end of a narrative that lasted 6 Biblical books.

The people are no longer slaves in Egypt, they’re no longer wandering the wilderness, they’re no longer newbies in the Promised Land.

After promises made to Abraham and Sarah, after the ministry and leadership of Moses, Miriam and Aaron, after the disaster of leaders who were too afraid to accept the immediate blessing, after the threat of Balaam’s curse, the congregation has settled into the land of milk and honey, streams and calm waters, manure-rich soil and flowers all around.

Joshua knows his time on earth is coming to an end, and so, as a faithful leader, he gathers God’s people to retell them their history, to remind them of their story.

On behalf of God, the Grand Chief, Joshua reminds them of all the verbs God has done:
God took them, God gave them children and land, God sent them leaders, God brought them out of bondage.

That would have been enough, but Joshua continues with their history: God made the sea cover their captors, God destroyed their enemies, God sent blessings when the world wanted to curse them.

When politicians wanted to hurt them, God sent hornets, when they had reached their breaking point God gave them land and homes they had not worked for.

Creation, salvation, blessings. Blessings, salvation, creation. Again and again and again.

Joshua tells the people this so that they will revere the Lord, so they will let go of the ways of the world, and so they will make the right choice, that day and every day, to serve the Lord.

Joshua is doing what any good religious leader will do: putting God first, recounting how God has acted throughout history and throughout their story.

In doing so, he empowers them to remember. To remember who they are. To remember just how far they have come and the grace they have received.

To remember just how much their cup has overflowed and how in God they keep drinking from their saucer.

To remember it has not always been easy. It has never been completely struggle-free. That there have always been obstacles; there have always been struggles, tough times and difficult decisions to make.

But God has always prevailed, and God has always been there…

…over a year ago a Vietnam Vet met with me, plagued by horrific memories of the war and the emotional wounds he still carries.

He shared with me a copy of his Bible, a very special Bible created especially for Vietnam Veterans.

The first page laid it all on the line. The editor writes: “It was unreal. On Tuesday I was locked in a life-and-death struggle in a jungle country next to nowhere.

A few days later, after my discharge, I was eating lunch at McDonald’s, in clean and safe American suburbia…I couldn’t handle it and became filled with anger…”

“I can answer a lot of questions about the war, but here’s one I can’t- why them and not me…”

The writer goes on to talk about what it’s like to live alone in quiet desperation, the memory, the nightmares, the images and smells of rain, of jungle, and of children begging in the city.

Just when it seems to be too bleak, too dark, too much to bear, the author states “Here’s the GOOD NEWS. God knows…he understands. No matter how lonely or isolated you feel, (God) cares. No matter what you’ve done, (God) can forgive.

No matter what your struggle, (God) can bring you through. There is hope.”*

That is what Joshua is doing in today’s retelling of their history; this is what Joshua is doing by retelling their all-too familiar story.

This is what our Statement of Faith is doing and why we have been reciting it in unison the second Sunday of each month.

Because it is not just about me, it’s not just about you, it’s about US.

And not us as a particular congregation, or us as a particular denomination, or us as a particular faith.

But us as a people, as God’s people, called to choose each and every day who we will pledge our devotion to.

It doesn’t matter how we wish to be called: John, Darling, Buddy, Chief, Beloved.

It’s important to know who we are: elders, warriors, leaders, faithful members of the flock, heroes, sinners, grace-receivers.

We are Children of God, a Community in Christ, Sister and Brothers in the Holy Spirit.

Created, saved and blessed.

Called to be servants in service to others, to proclaim the gospel and to accept the cost and to accept the joy of discipleship.

Walking closer and closer with Thee.

Amen and amen.

*Taken from the Vietnam Veteran’s Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.

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