Sunday, November 13, 2016

Freedom and Love

Today we observed Veterans Day in a long standing tradition of the parish to host the Hazleton Liberty Band, playing and Armed Forces Salute, America the Beautfiul and more. This band dates back to the time of the Civil War and in fact played at the surrender at Appamattox. We had worship that included folks bringing pictures of veterans. And special lessons-
Our lessons were from Deuteronomy 10:12-14, 17-31, Psalm 46, Galatians 5:13-18 and the Gospel of Luke 21:5-19. Portions of our liturgy came from the Armed Services Prayerbook and other resources from the ELCA and some self created.
Our bulletin opened with these words:
When we assemble for worship, it is as citizens of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ. We gather
as those who give thanks first for our freedom in Christ. We also are grateful for freedoms
won and secured by those who have served and are serving for bring peace in the world. As
Lutherans we celebrate that we are each given a vocation, a calling, to serve the gospel.
Today we give thanks for veterans- those who have been called to serve in the military, and
for their families. We also give thanks that God is our refuge and strength and we remember
that our God calls us to continue to work for peace in our world and to care for those in any need.

Here is my message:
You’d be hard pressed to find people who have a greater understanding of “God is our refuge and strength” than our veterans. Through crisis, disaster and separation from home and loved ones. Through morally and physically challenging missions,  the sacrifice of time, and more often than we’d like, sacrifices of physical and emotional wellbeing. Our veterans and families know it well. The cost of freedom is high. Today we remember those who have served, living and in the church triumphant. I remember the service of my Father and uncle Jack during the Cold War era. Dad was in the Army and Jack was in the Marines, so probably a little rivalry there. My Dad served in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. They had taught him Russian and he listened to Soviet transmissions in to see what the Russians were up to- 12 hours on and 12 off. Lots of coffee and cigarettes while you worked and maybe some beverages to power down. Out there at the end of our country on an island. Friday I was standing at the World War II memorial in Sybertsville, and saw the names of members of this congregation, and all of Helen Roth’s work for the adding of names. I thought of all here who served. Michael’s uncles served in World War II.  Like Henry, who was “D Day plus 4.” He never spoke of it. Came home, married, had a family, went to work and never spoke of what he undoubtedly saw. But when he went down to the basement to listen to the Phillies, you let him go. He was still fighting the war.

Long before our wars abroad, there was a different war in this country. Michael and I both have relatives that fought. On different sides. And a couple fell in love, across different sides. Northerners fighting for the Union married Southerners. Imagine that.

Our Civil War was not only a time of  sacrifice but  the challenge of being country. Friends and family were on both sides of those fighting and those at home. The songs we play and sing as our national story, are stories of  bravery, and service, but also what it means to be free. Scripture tells us that the truest expressions of freedom are expressions of love, even when doing so is absolutely against other feelings or interest, and even one’s own safety.

During the Civil War, following a battle, two Confederate soldiers were carrying a wounded friend through the darkness when they were challenged by a sentry who demanded identification. "We are two men of the Twelfth Georgia, carrying a wounded comrade to the hospital," they shouted back, only to learn they had accidentally crossed into Federal lines. To their surprise, they heard,"Go to your right,"directing the men back toward the Southern lines. "Man, you’ve got a heart in you," they hollered back.

Countless episodes of enemy soldiers helping each other occurred. In 1864, a ground fire threatened wounded Northern soldiers lying between the lines – until a Confederate officer stood up, exposing himself to enemy fire, and shouted, "We won’t fire a gun until you get them away." An impromptu cease-fire followed while Federal troops removed their wounded.

Our friends with the Liberty Band today, ( a group which dates back to the Civil War and played at the surrender at Appomattox) will appreciate that when the opposing lines were close enough, and the shooting had temporarily stopped, army musicians sometimes engaged in battles of the bands. Near Fredericksburg, Southern soldiers listened admiringly to a Northern band performance during the winter of 1862. When it concluded, a Johnny Reb called out, "Now give us some of ours" – and the Yankee band obliged with a rendition of "Dixie." When the band concluded, soldiers from both sides broke into a melancholy chorus of "Home, Sweet Home."

One man wrote, that they concluded, that the war was the real enemy, and not each other.
“My friend, the enemy,” was a phrase veterans of the war came to call each other at places like Gettysburg where they gathered and remembered – with the understanding that, Northern or Southern, they were Americans all. And all free.
All free.
The gaping wounds of conflict take long to heal, we know, but those who have faced battle head on know best how important it is that we do so. Freedom is precious. And for all of us, God desires we know freedom.
Paul writes “You all are chosen for freedom.” “For freedom Christ has freed us. Stand fast.”

Stand fast.
Don’t let yourself be shackled to the ideas that rob us of that freedom.
You are freed from the results that are the consequence of life lived apart from God.
And Paul urges us to see others not as rivals but as children of God.
No matter who we are, we are freed children of God
Because Jesus has set us free to love.
How do we live as the free?
Love is the answer.
But in truth, it’s an answer with many questions.

This day we lift up those who shown us love, because they have answered the call, the vocation, the work of serving in our military in war and in peace to protect our freedom. Our military personnel past and present carry out the calling of freedom. And we who are free are called to love. How do we love them? Our songs are great, but is in more.

We who are free can love by being as dedicated to serving our military personnel and their families when they come home as we are dedicated to sending them to serve.
To provide real access to care for those who are wounded. To provide for the needs of military chaplains who show God’s love to those in active service. And for those who come home fractured and still fighting the trauma and stress, we must support, lobby for and and fund the resources to give our men and women the chance to know freedom from their challenges and to be able to receive the mental health and substance abuse support they need for wholeness. We cannot meet sacrificial living on their part with empty promises on ours. We simply cannot.

Paul writes, we are called into a freedom that mirrors God’s life- dedicated to serving others in love.
God’s vision is that the human way of being- is love.
True freedom is expressed in love.
This is not as an ideal or a virtue. Love is care for others expressed in concrete acts of unselfishness. Freedom and love have a cost that we are called to share.
Our faith working through love means not living for oneself.
We cannot allow ourselves to say that our budgets don’t allow for more dollars for our veterans and their families. We must challenge this limit upon love. We must be prepared to meet sacrifice with sacrifice.

And we must expect more from ourselves as a society when we speak and act as the free.  Some imagine that freedom is the freedom to live out whatever we desire, to say whatever we want, to do whatever we want, to know no limits or controls. Lately and on all sides, this living without a filter has led to hateful speech and actions that are a misuse of freedom. When we are using our will in opposition to liberation of the human spirit of others, we misunderstand freedom.
Freedom in this sense leads to the enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions and envy Paul warns against in Galatians. Sound familiar?
We try to shape a world of self interest, and it is tempting to buy into the notion of counteracting this with a different expression of “now I want MY way.”
This is why Paul will go on in Galatians to urge we remember the fruits of the Spirit, and perhaps most of all, self control.

The gifts of self control and other fruits of the Spirit are not laws but characteristics.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit are what God gives us to help us balance many questions we have as we try to live as a community of those who are free and those called to love. God in Christ continues to love and free us in the work of the cross and to guide and empower us to live out freedom and love.

Sisters and brothers there is much before us as we ponder how to be free together. How to love one another.
Paul tells us “Keep walking in the Spirit.”

May we avail ourselves of God’s gift in Christ and the fruit of the Spirit, not tapping into the feel good now, consequences be damned response. We must resist threats from within and without that encourage us to flaunt what we think is freedom but will lead to what the world looks like when we ignore the calling and nature God has given us.

May we continue to give thanks to God for all who secure our freedoms. If we truly want to honor their legacy and God’s freedom given,  may we rest in the freedom that God’s love in Christ is our true refuge and strength and respond to others in love.