Sunday, June 1, 2008

Memorial Sunday

I spoke for five minutes during both services at my Church last Sunday--Wheatland Presbyterian in Lancaster. Most of the people in the Church found out I was going to Iraq by reading the Lancaster Sunday News article, so I thought it might be good for me to give some sort of update about what is going on in my life and with my family, the Army, etc. I also talked about why I joined and about getting deployed what I might be doing after we return. In Presbyterian Churches, we write things out. Here's what I said:

Serving Our Country, Serving Our Lord

For those who know me and know my family, they know without a doubt that the last year has been quite exciting—way too exciting for most people, to say the least. The excitement began on May 9 when I had a very bad bicycle racing accident. Just 54 weeks ago, Pastor Bruce was asking you to pray for me because I was in Lancaster General with a broken neck and many other injuries. The following Sunday and for a dozen Sundays thereafter, I worshipped Our Lord in a neck brace. Then on August 16th, out of the neck brace for a full two weeks, I re-enlisted in the Army National Guard after being a civilian for 23 years. In October my wife Annalisa and I decided to start the process of adopting a brother for our son Nigel—a process that is going on now. Then last month, I found out for sure that next February I will be deployed to Iraq with the 28th Aviation Brigade, Fort Indiantown Gap, PA.

Before I go further, I want you to know that everything that has happened to me in the last year has, according to Our Lord’s faithful promises, worked together for my good.

Some of you right now may be thinking I really must have whacked my head pretty hard in that accident. How can ten broken bones and orders for Iraq be blessings? I’ll admit, it’s not for everybody, but I have had the opportunity in the last year to see the limits of my faith, to test my courage, to test my resolve, and to live in daily dependence on others: on my family and my brothers and sisters here.

Most of us are divorced from the reality that the next life is just a moment away. I live vividly with that knowledge. We can all get used to the blessings we have and take them for granted. Beginning on May 2nd, my 55th birthday, I went through three weeks of Army training and for that three weeks slept in the same room with 40 other guys. Beyond all the other sounds you can imagine 40 guys making, all soldiers now have personal electronics of various kinds. War movies, heavy metal music, wrestling and horror movies played simultaneously until, thank the Lord, lights out. Of all men in this sanctuary this morning, I imagine I most appreciate the comforts of sleeping at home just now.

Because serving in the military means devotion to a greater cause and a willingness to give up freedom, it is easy to confuse patriotism with serving Our Lord. And, of course, on this Memorial weekend we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice of patriotism, those who gave their lives for our country. But there is a great difference. We are told to pray for our leaders, not to worship them. As citizens, we serve our country in various ways, but we are not to idolize it. As in so many other areas of life, the truth is clearest to those who actually do things, and dimmest to those who simply look on.

The forty guys in my training group certainly qualify as patriots, but that is not the first purpose any of them is training to go to Iraq. They need a job, want money for education, want the adventure of going to a combat zone, or just want to try something different. They all know the sacrifice they could be making, but that is almost never a topic of conversation.

I am looking at the time I am spending in the Army as time that will help to make me a better and more willing servant of the Lord. Each one of us, whether in the barracks I just left, or in this sanctuary, is to a very large extent the sum of our habits. Last year when I was in the hospital as soon as I recovered my wits between bouts of pain, I wanted my cell phone and I wanted a latte. The worst pain was in my right arm so the addiction to email actually had three weeks off. In Iraq we will have limited phone and email privileges—no round the clock access. And I think it is safe to say I will not be drinking lattes, racing bicycles, and traveling on an expense account to the world’s greatest cities.

By the time I retire from working full time, I want to be ready and willing to serve the Lord. I want to be able to help in disasters, live in bad climates and not be looking back at the world I frankly love too much. The real service will be then when I am able to live in this world without being of this world. And the Army will help to take the glitter off the world while giving me, among other things, the kind of fellowship most modern men are dying inside without.

CS Lewis says—you didn’t think I was going to go five minutes without quoting CS Lewis did you? Lewis says we are fools to think our lives are our own, even to think our time is our own. I have spent a long time becoming that sort of fool, but with Our Lord’s help I am on the fast track back to seeing my time as not my own.