It was Labor Day in 2010 and I was slowly cruising around Berkeley California attempting to stock up the dorm room prior to courses beginning in the morning. The speakers and sub in the Pontiac were pumping out a broadcast from the only local Country radio station, when their DJ encouraged the audience to submit music requests that were inspired by their professions. This effort to honor the professions in the community was intriguing and inspiring to me. Later that evening, I mentioned this experience to John, who was intrigued, but quickly noted that it was a shame that music about military service is depressing.
I accepted his comment as a challenge. I was determined to expose an uplifting anthem for the American Veteran. The assumption was that the challenge would be a breeze, because Country music tends to be patriotic. Admittedly I am disappointed to acknowledge that I have failed, because whether it is James Otto’s Soldiers and Jesus or Toby Keith’s American Soldier, the emphasis is on service and sacrifice.
In fact, the ethos of the American Veterans in Country music may be summarized in Billy Ray Cyrus’ Some Gave All about a conversation with a Vietnam Veteran, the chorus is:
All gave some and some gave all
And some stood through for the red, white, and blue
And some had to fall
And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties and recall
Some gave all
All veterans have served and all veterans have sacrificed, but as of 18 June 2012 approximately 656,222 American service men and women had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Our American Veterans have served their neighbors, their communities, their government, their nation, and perhaps arguably our globalized world.
Our American Veterans have all sacrificed on behalf of those they serve. In times of peace, the demands of the United States Armed Forces require the sacrifices of time, of being removed from their communities and transplanted to another, and occasionally the inability to travel home for holidays, birthdays, and other family functions. While in times of military conflict, these demands are intensified and may include: not being present for the birth of your child; being separated from spouse and children for 6, 12, or 15 months with minimal communication; risking mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wounds of combat; and perhaps the ultimate sacrifice of their life.
In order to honor the service and sacrifices of our American Veterans, the United States Federal Government established Veterans Day. Veterans Day is a tribute for all men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reserves, whether past or present, whether in times of peace or in times of conflict.
These American Veterans have become a, if not the, primary symbol of service and sacrifice in the United States of America. Arguably, it is firmly rooted in the historical and continued sacrifices of military service members and their families.
These firmly rooted principals of service and sacrifice are not simply restricted to the United States Armed Forces. Our secular communities could not function without the service and sacrifices of our civil servants, including the police and fire departments. Our health care communities could not be sustained without the service and sacrifices of medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, Para-medics, and EMTs. Our faith communities can not be sustained without the service and sacrifices of ordained and lay ministry. And this could continue forth with government, education, and beyond.
In fact, the principals of service and sacrifice are intensely illustrated in our scriptural texts this morning. The illustrations are through our widows.
Our first widow appears in 1st Kings. The prophet Elijah arrived in a town and commands the widow to provide him water and a piece of bread. The widow is understandably hesitant, because it might literally erase the food supply for her and her son. Yet, Elijah ensured the widow that God had promised her and her son would not be hungry. Ultimately, the widow does sacrifice the final morsel of bread in service to Elijah, while trusting with all her being in the promise of God to provide for her need.
Our second widow appears in Mark. Jesus witnessed a widow contributing two pieces of the smallest coinage into the treasury, yet he declares that she had contributed more than the wealthy. The observation of Jesus has several significant parallels with the first widow, including: (1) the widow sacrificed her remaining resources and (2) the sacrifice was to the treasury, which was devoted to the services of the temple.
We, as Christians…as Lutherans…as Americans, are summoned into a life of service and sacrifice. According to John, Jesus stated(chapter 13:34):
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.
As Christians, we are summoned to love our neighbors as Christ first loved us and we are to imitate Christ. In fact, our Hebrews text describes the blood sacrifice of Christ upon the cross; further Country Rock artist Matt Kennon illustrates the sacrifice of Christ in That’s Love with the words:
A lonely son hanging from a cross
We know he died for all of us
When you sacrifice for someone else
And you put them before yourself
And you don’t think about what you’re giving up
Matt Kennon implies that sacrifice is required for the love and service of the neighbor. This implication echoes in the service of our Veterans, the service of the widows, and undeniably in the service of Jesus the Christ.
Martin Luther arguably would have agreed. Luther argued in The Freedom of a Christian that “a Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone’. The argument is simple, the merit of Christ upon the cross freed Christians from the slavery of sin and the obligation of the law. Yet, Christians are freed for the loving service of the neighbor, not rooted in the obligation of the law but as our response to the pure grace of God. Thus, the Christian becomes the servant of all.
Karen Bruhn, a professor of Reformation History at Arizona State University explained that the notion is comparable to “puppy love”. When we are in love, especially in the earliest stage, we have a tendency to sacrifice of our time, our material means, etc. These sacrifices are rooted not in obligation, but in pure desire and love filled with delight.
While wresting with this implied requirement and root of sacrifice in the love and service of the neighbor curiosity was stirred within me; do these terms share a common root? Well, they do not. However, sacrifice has an interesting root. Sacrifice is a merger of two Latin words, sacr or “to make sacred, holy” and facere or “to make, to do”. Thus, literally sacrifice is “to do and/or to make holy”.
Perhaps, the loving service of our neighbors, our healthy human-human relationships, and the God-human relationship are held as spiritual, holy, and/or sacred because of our sacrifices. Our sacrifices whether it is military service or civilian, whether it is time or material goods, summons the individual to not be curved in on the self. Perhaps, these sacrifices encourage us to recognize, witness to, and engage the needs of neighbors in loving service out of desire and love with delight, not obligation. Perhaps, that is the command of Jesus Christ himself.
May the triune God continually call us to the sacrificial, loving service of our neighbors. Amen.