Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The famous writer and journalist, Andy Rooney and Harry have something in common- they shared a war. Rooney who served in World War II, chronicled his experiences in his book, My War. Drafted into service, Rooney was assigned to serve as a journalist for the GI newspaper, “Stars and Stripes.” The paper served as a way to keep all of the servicemen and women connected to the bigger picture of combat. Rooney followed along as the Allied troops re-took Europe after the Normandy invasion.
It is entirely possible he and Harry crossed paths during Harry’s service in Patton’s Fourth Armored Division Corps of Engineers. They certainly saw the same world as the troops entered Germany. Rooney wrote about the marvelous feats of the Corps of Engineers, but also in his way had a little fun. After all, humor is a necessary component for enduring what these men experienced, especially for those who had the task of being the front of the front line. A little good natured ribbing was natural along the way. It wasn’t disrespect; it was a coping skill for all that those men and women faced.
Rooney notes that the Corps of Engineers built impressive portable pontoon bridges as well as repairing arch and truss bridges. The portable pontoon bridges were exciting to cross as they swayed in the river current. The engineers were proud of their achievements and missed no opportunity to proclaim the virtues of their work. Rooney tells a story of a bridge built by the Corps across a small stream. On the approach to the bridge was a sign in large hand-printed letters that read something like this” YOU ARE CROSSING THIS STREAM COURTESY OF THE 342ND ENGINEERING CORPS. THIS BRIDGE WAS BUILT IN LESS THAN 72 HOURS UNDER HEAVY ARTILLERY FIRE AND IT ALLOWED TROOPS TO ADVANCE DEEP INTO GERMANY.”
The British Corps of Engineers took great delight in poking fun of the boasting of the Americans. About a mile or so down the road, in British territory was a bridge of a similar quality over the same winding stream, and the Brits erected a sign as well. Their sign read “THERE IS NOTHING REMARKABLE ABOUT THIS BRIDGE.” But of course the bridge was remarkable- all of the bridges were remarkable as was the work and bravery of the men.
In one sense Harry was perhaps like the British soldiers, in that he wasn’t the proud type to call attention to himself. That was not his way. But he too has a bridge story, one for which he received commendation. As Harry’s unit was moving through territory, they came to a bridge heavily rigged with landmines. It appeared at first that the bridge could not be crossed. This would mean delay as the old bridge would be taken down and a new one built. Troops might even become separated. But as Harry eyeballed the bridge, he was convinced it could be safely crossed. The response of his commander? “Prove it!” And so Harry by himself made his way across by himself-safely. And the troops then moved forward. Because of his expertise, time was saved and the troops were able to stay connected and move forward more quickly.
I was not fortunate enough to be blessed to know Harry, but I am blessed to have listened as some of you have shared the ways he was connected to you. If I could sum up the theme of the stories I have heard about him in one word it would be “connections.” AFTER THE WAR, Harry was a master of many skills, who worked at Armstrong where he actually secured three patents. He worked as a mailman, as a lineman for PPL, as a census taker. Always ready to help with the electrical work on your project. I wish I had him at my house recently. He was never too busy to reach out. As I thought about all he did, and how he lived, I saw that all of his work was about that word, “CONNECTIONS.”
I am not particularly electrically minded, but even from my one shop class in school, I remember that the key to electricity is the circuit, or connection in electrical work. When the circuit is connected, there is power and light and things happen. When it is broken, there is darkness and confusion. Harry, or Linny to those close to him, was all about connections. Not an outgoing man, but he was kind, steady, faithful, hard working, devoted. Once you were in his life, he held on, always maintaining that link.
• He was connected to his family-his wife of 67 years, T. Continuing to try to stay connected even as their memories failed, hers significantly. Connecting in the nursing home even when as her Alzheimer’s advanced, it was not clear she knew.
• To his daughter, S, his son-in-law, S. His grandchildren, even his in-laws with whom he and T lived for a time. To his brother B and his family. Always staying connected out of a deep love and devotion.
• Connections to friends, co-workers, neighbors, but also to people that surprised me, but maybe not you. Which leads to another war story. When Allied soldiers were moving through Germany, they were often given housing by local families. One such family in fact gave shelter to Harry and 7 of his compatriots. After the troops moved on, Harry stayed in touch. Writing to the family long after the war, and ultimately returning to visit those who were still surviving after the war- to say “thank you.” The family said he was the only one of the soldiers who did so, maintaining a connection that no one would have expected.
OUR READING TODAY FROM ROMANS IS ALL ABOUT CONNECTIONS TOO. The apostle Paul, was a man who remained a faithful witness in the face of adversity-travel far away, risk, even prison. More importantly a witness to a commitment to connections-reminding those he connected with of God’s commitment- COMMITMENT TO AN UNBREAKABLE CONNECTION. Listen again to how strong that connection is-
• neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can break God's connection-that’s pretty powerful.
I can imagine these words as God’s words to a soldier in the shock of war, in the trenches of life.
AND in the life events and trenches you have faced and face now that perhaps have seem just as overpowering. In the face of all of these things, I proclaim to you this day God’s words of hope for us today.
In the midst of sorrow and loss at Harry’s death, we hear our hope. We heard it at the beginning of the service in the words of our Thanksgiving for Baptism, also from Romans, chapter 6- Words that remind us that we have the promise of sharing with Christ, not just in death, but in life, through our baptism. One end of the connection. Then in the beginning of Chapter 8, Paul tells us that this baptism means we are adopted as God’s children- WE have hope while we wait. We are told that when what we face seems too much to bear, when we can’t find the words to pray anymore, the Spirit keeps the connection flowing- praying for us, praying with us, knowing our hearts. When we sigh, God sighs; when we cry, God cries.
And then we hear that through our baptism and Christ’s death and resurrection, the two ends of the circuit are closed, are connected. WE ARE CONNECTED to the promise- God’s promise that death does not have the last word. Though we feel in our loss, like there is a break in the connection, we can rest assured that God is still connected to each of us. God’s claimed Harry and each of us in baptism. Claimed us, saved us and assures us that there will be more to the story- from a God that keeps his promises. A God that says, "In difficult days I will be with you. You can count on this. I will be your refuge and your strength. I will be there in times of trouble to carry you through."
“I promise to never, ever stop loving each of you.” God will never give up on us. May this help you to live in the confidence that no matter what has happened or will happen, God’s promise and presence are NEVER GONE- NEVER SEPARATED from us.
At the end of World War II, Winston Churchill was at a dinner and a man stood up and said, "At the Battle of the Bulge we had evidence that the British soldiers were braver than the Nazi soldiers. The Battle of the Bulge proved that." When Churchill got up to speak, he said, "That's not true. The Nazi soldiers were just as brave as the British soldiers. But the British soldiers were brave for five minutes longer."
Brothers and Sisters, we know what it feels like to wonder if we can hold on even five minutes longer. But when it all looks bleak or dark, hang on to this hope! The list of overwhelming things Paul shares are designed to remind us that there is nothing too big for God’s power, and nothing that will break God’s connection of love for us, and the promise it brings.
Live in the confidence that the God who gave his Son Jesus on the cross will not break that connection. He'll be there-to carry you, to give you the strength to endure, to bring good out of the negative. He will be there- in love, speaking again and again to you, that for you, for me, for Harry,
NOTHING can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and unto eternal life.
Thanks be to God!