"Off to War": The Romance and the Reality"


A sermon based upon Joel 3:9-10 and Micah 4:1-4

Tomorrow is Memorial Day: a national holiday in which schools are closed, banks are closed, in order that we can take the time to hold in tender love the memory of those soldiers and sailors, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force members, who have lost their lives in Iraq & Afghanistan, in Somalia & Serbia, in Kosovo and Vietnam, Panama & Grenada --those are the wars during my lifetime --as well as those who lost their lives in battles in Europe and in the Pacific, in both of the World Wars of the last Century, and in the Korean Conflict. For their service & their sacrifice, we are grateful. Dear God, bless them.

The Memorial Day holiday actually originated during the Civil War, when regions (North & South) mourned their losses and celebrated their particular military heroes. In 1911, President Wilson consolidated and nationalized those regional remembrances to a single day: Decoration Day, a time to go to the cemeteries and freshen up the memorial stones. The names of fallen Civil War soldiers are the oldest ones in Alpena’s Little Flanders Field, where tomorrow’s Memorial Day ceremony will take place at 11 o’clock in the morning.

The point is: for the past 107 years, this weekend has been set aside from "business as usual" (not as a reason to have a mattress sale, or a car dealer’s spring blow-out), but to recognize--across all social groups and all branches of the military --one common theme: the sacrifice of American lives in war.

Those wars were fought (we have been told) in the pursuit of liberty, democracy, human rights, & the self-determination of nations far from the American continent. So, we take this holiday to say "Thank you" to our service personnel… who gave not only their time & talents, but gave their very lives in service to America’s global goals. (!)

When I was in the Army, I felt that to wear the same uniform --in service to the same values, as those who had died in past wars--was indeed an honor. Regardless of the character of the person who wore it, we lower enlisted folks were told that we saluted the uniform! But all of us, whether civilian or military veteran, owe a debt of gratitude to those who died in battle to maintain our liberty and standard of life. Memorial Day says that we remember them, and we appreciate even now the sacrifices they made on our behalf! We commend them again and anew to the eternal care of God.

Tomorrow, if you have the day off of school or off of work --or if you see in the newspaper a "Memorial Day special" sales event--pause for a moment, and say a prayer of thanks for the past 242years of American independence, and beyond that--remember the "unsung"heroes, the ordinary American military members serving in some of the most remote locations on earth .(Even if we don’t really know why they have been deployed there, nor have any coherent & consistent rationale for when they will come home, those military forces are obeying orders.)

Too many of them have sacrificed their lives in wars old and new --in places far flung, like Iwo Jima, and very close at hand, such as Gettysburg--and, frankly, our homeland is less robust because of those losses. Back when this congregation in Alpena was brand new, the American Civil War broke out and some of those soldiers’ names are inscribed on the white crosses at Little Flanders Field.

The Union Army lost some 360,000 soldiers in the American Civil War and the Confederacy lost another 260,000. That’s 620,000 people who died in that traumatic era here on American soil; our own citizens killing one another. Gruesome!

We hope that our government leaders today will not be so flippant, fast & loose in sending Americans into far-flung wars for no good purpose. I mean: American troops have been fighting, killing, & dying in Afghanistan for seventeen years already, and we ask: what for? There’s been a return of American troops to Iraq and an escalation of fighting in Syria, not to mention saber-rattling toward Russia and supporting proxy wars against Iran.

I’m sure you have been told that the First World War was called "the War to End All Wars".(Wishful thinking 100 years ago!) More than 20 million people died in that bloody European chaos, including 116,000 Americans, sent overseas.

The poppies still grow in Flanders Fieldin Belgium, and in the Ardennes, and the other battlesites/gravesites where tens of thousands of American, British, Canadian, Australian & New Zealand foot-soldiers are buried. Patty & I visited the Flanders Field Museum in Ypers, Belgium, back in November 2001 --shortly before Veterans Day --and saw the thousands of poppies in wreathes made by English schoolchildren to honor their war dead. The names of the dead are etched in marble walls, arches, gateways to the city. The museum itself is interactive and very moving. It makes real the "hell" that war is.

Some of you may have served in the Second World War and saw fighting first-hand, some of you I know served in the Korean War, and a few in Vietnam. I don’t have to describe war to those of you who have been there, done that.

Robin Meyers, the Minister of the Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, who lost members and friends in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, writes these words:

"If the whole, terrible, wretched truth could be known about the Iraq War–in one blinding, bloody moment like looking into the sun without blinking –anyone with a conscience would turn away and vomit. …

"The sadness would be joined with righteous indignation, because it is impossible to love the world and not hate what destroys it! For every fallen soldier, for every dark-eyed Iraqi girl and boy, for every wailing mother wandering in the carnage of the latest bombing,