Monday, November 11, 2013

A Sermon for Veteran's Day

Tonight I'm giving a sermon in my Fundamentals of Religious Proclamation (Preaching) class. I'm really challenging myself this time.  I'm attempting to deliver an inductive sermon.   Inductive sermons, as opposed to deductive, means a sermon that doesn't let the listener in on the point of the sermon until near the end.  The goal it to capture the listener's attention and curiosity.  (A deductive sermon, the more traditional approach, starts out with the main idea and then systematically makes the case for that main idea during the sermon.  Inductive sermons are difficult to do and I don't know if I've done it correctly here.  Additionally, I am challenging myself to give a sermon without notes.  I have mostly memorized the following.  I say mostly because it's not my intention to give the following word for word.  I'm working from an bare outline that I can speak from.  The following was written as part of my preparation for tonight.  I wanted to write down what I'd been rehearsing extemporaneously in the hopes that it would clarify my points and ideas for me. 

Remember back in the first grade when your teacher handed out dixie cups and a bit of dirt, some water and a little bean?  You were shown how to plant it, cover it over with dirt, and water it, and that a plant would grow.  But you had to wait first.  And that was my problem.  I had no concept of time when I was a kid.  I wanted everything to happen immediately.  So I watched and watched all day, trying to glance over and see if it was sprouting yet.  School ended for the day and still nothing.  I thought about it through the night and raced to the windowsill the next morning to find no change other than slightly drier soil.  And even though the teacher had said, “Billy, don’t water it anymore!” twice, I couldn't’ help myself and sprinkled just a bit more on it.  Still nothing,

But we know there is lots happening beneath the surface.  Once the presence of water is added, everything begins to occur, stored magic is unleashed and the process of life begun, even if unseen at the surface.

I want to tell you a few stories.  At the risk of being cliche, let’s go back in time.  22 years.  In the first days of 1991 the rains had not yet come to Israel.  Rains that usually arrived in November had not fallen.  But on January 17, two things happened.  One, The Gulf War began.  Two, the rains came.  In torrents.  Sheets of water for weeks on end.  And with them high winds from the northwest.  But on the same day the ground war began, the winds suddenly shifted slightly and started coming from the west.  Heading across Israel eastward straight into the lands of the aggressor, Iraq.  

The US military credits that shift of wind to be the main factor in Iraq’s decision not to unleash chemical warfare during the Gulf War.   For Kuawait’s winds, it appears, did the exact same thing.

Lets go back 71 years to the Battle of Midway.  The Japanese had been winning the war in the Pacific and believed the Americans were now sufficiently demoralized to hit our biggest target, the Midway Atoll at the northwesternmost point of the Hawaiian Island chain.  From intelligence codebreaking, the US knew it was coming, but not from exactly where or exactly when.

On June 3, 1942, Ensign Jack Reid was flying reconnaissance in search of Japanese warships on a south/southwestern search leg.  He and his navigator Ensign Robert Swan decided to push their search farther than originally planned that day.  And that’s when they first spotted the Japanese invasion force headed to Midway.  It gave the United States a tactical advantage that is in part credited with turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.

So how about we go back 237 years this time?  The ink on the Declaration of Independance was barely dry and British warships had been amassing in New York Harbor all summer.  The Battle of Long Island was the first major battle of the Revolutionary War since the signing.  

After three days of fighting, General George Washington was all but defeated and trapped on a bluff at Brooklyn Heights.  He had nothing but the East River behind him and 20,000 British troops preparing for a siege in front.  The order to retreat across the East River to Manhattan could not be carried out because of the nor'easter that had been plaguing the region for days.  Coupled with high winds that not only kept Washington’s men from escaping, it also kept the British warships from entering the East River to intercept them.  Eventually, the British stopped trying altogether.  But Washington did not.  They prepared for an evacuation he could not be sure would come to pass.

But at 11pm on August 29, 1776 the wind suddenly stopped.  Immediately they began ferrying across soldiers, weaponry, horses, and equipment.  Through the night they crossed.  Fishermen, and barges and rowboats, they moved them onto the island of Manhattan until dawn.  But at dawn they were not finished.  And just then, a thick fog descended onto Brooklyn Heights and concealed their evacuation for two more hours until 7 am when the last soldiers were unloaded onto Manhattan.  And then the American soldiers watched from across the East River as the fog lifted only 30 minutes later to reveal the British soldiers arriving at a now empty encampment, stunned at Washington’s escape.

This time we’re going to back pretty far.  We’ll go back 29 centuries.  Again we are in Israel.  The King of Syria was pissed.  Our prophet Elisha had repeatedly been blowing the whistle on him and saving the King of Israel.  The Syrian king found out that it was Elisha who was going all Wikileaks on him, and that he was living in Dothan.  So, during the night, the King of Syria sent an army to Dothan defeat him.  

In the morning, the servant of Elisha looked out the window to see the Syrian army encircling the city and promptly pooped his pants.  “Oh no, my lord, what shall we do?”

Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid.  Those who are with us are more than those with them.”  His servant must have appeared unconvinced because Elisha then did a remarkable thing.  He asked God to include his servant in the vision.  I wonder if he placed his hand on his servant’s eyes as he prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”

And then the servant saw alright.  He saw the mountain covered with horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha.  A celestial army which all along, until that moment, had been mustering, unseen.

We, too, have unseen help.  We, too, have unseen help!  Angels, and guides, and messengers of God hover around us waiting to love us; to make their presence known, to make themselves useful to us.  And like a bean sprout just beneath the soil waiting to burst forth, that truth is always there unseen, just around the corner, just beyond visible range, or swirling in the clouds like a fortuitous fog or a torrential rain waiting for just the right the moment to make its presence known.

We have been speaking of war today.  Today is Veteran’s Day.  A day when we remember.  When we remember the men and women who sacrificed their lives, whether killed in battle or, sometimes less mercifully so, lived, to continuously re-suffer the horrors of a life once spent in the trauma of war; surviving the war perhaps, but a sacrifice of a life just the same.  But what else might we include with those memories?  What else might we remember on this Veteran’s Day?  What of the miracles?  How about the fact that so often, in times of our greatest peril, the solutions to our problems were right there, unseen but not unaware, waiting for nothing more that for us to simply not give up.

Winston Churchill is often reported to have said: Never, never, never give up. Had he done so, had Ensign Jack Reid turned his plane back a little earlier, had Washington’s fog not come, had the rains of Israel arrived on schedule instead of on time, the world would be a very different place for us today.  

And speaking of serendipitous fog, wind and rain, in the book of Jōb, God challenges Jōb.  He says, "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?”  Jōb had not.  I have not.  But in faith I choose to believe that they, like all the hidden solutions to my problems, are there.  Like a bean sprout working magic beneath the soil, unseen but ever present.  Take heart today.  When you despair, remember what I have told you.  For we, too, have unseen help.  We, too, have unseen help.  And those who are with us are many indeed.