SCRIPTURE: JOB 19:23-27, HEBREWS 10: 5-10
"In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. "Amen.
This is Veteran's Day Sunday. It is not a special day of the church. Veteran's Day
is a national holiday to honor those who have answered the call to serve. Originally,
November 11th was called Armistice Day and was set aside to mark the end of the Great
war, the First World War, the war that was to end all war.
Do you remember what was said about that day in 1918? "It was the eleventh
day of the eleventh month, and at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour, there was
silence as if the world had stopped on its axis. Then all the bells in all the churches rang
out. Finally, the world was at peace."
But it wasn't the war to end all wars, as we know. November 11th was Armistice
Day until 1954 when, an Act of Congress changed the name changed to Veteran's Day.
That October, President Dwight Eisenhower, called on all citizens to "observe the day by
remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly, and through
rededication to the task of promoting a lasting peace."
When I began to consider our Veteran's Day observance, the first thing I had to
consider was the Scripture reading from the Book of Hebrews with an emphasis on
Jesus as a sacrifice, it seemed a perfect reading to explore on this particular Sunday.
Sacrifice is a word that we throw around pretty freely, and yet seldom pause to
consider what it really means. This seems an excellent occasion to do just that.
The Letter to the Hebrews is a puzzling, and sometimes disturbing book of the
Bible. It is easily overlooked since it is not a letter written by the Apostle Paul, and also
because its language is very strange to us. It is the language of temple, priest, altar,
and atoning blood. Old Testament terms that we thought we had left behind in the New
Testament. It is unfamiliar territory for which we have no point of reference. But the
book of Hebrews does center on a word that we use quite frequently: sacrifice.
This morning I would like to clarify what we mean by the word "sacrifice". And
to examine the distinction between the sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus Christ, and
the sacrifice made on our behalf by our military veterans. How is it the same, and how is
The word "Veteran" comes from the Latin word "vetus", meaning old. We think
of Veterans that way, yet, today we look around and see those we call Veteran's of a
much younger age. The parades are no longer for the old men in tight uniforms and
campaign hats, but also for younger men and women, who have borne the battle.
Barely a month before his death, Abraham Lincoln strode to the rostrum on the
steps of the United States Capitol Building and gave one of his greatest speeches - his
Second Inaugural Address. President Lincoln, the Great Emancipator ended his short
speech with words that have echoed down the long and dusty halls of history:
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in
the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to
finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care
for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and
his orphan-to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and
lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
The long Civil War was ending, and Lincoln knew it. His thoughts had already
turned to reconstructing the nation torn apart by a war that killed more than a half
million men. And in those thoughts Lincoln chose to lay the groundwork "to care for
him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan... "
Today, those words still hold as a receipt for a debt owed by a nation that sends
its young folks off to war as surrogates for its citizenry, as representatives of a National
Policy, and as purveyors of Democracy, Liberty, and Freedom. During that time, they are
called troop, soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, Coast Guardsman ...but once that service is
ended, they are, forevermore, Veterans of the United States Military.
As Veterans, they deserve a special place of honor in our society, and our
culture, for they have written a blank check, backed by their own life and limb, and
serving in place of all of us who did not go, and to keep us all free.
SACRIFICE is a word people use when they find themselves indebted to
someone or some group for things that sustain life or rescue life. People speak of their
parents making sacrifices. We honor people who speak the truth and who suffered
consequences for it, such as Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King. We describe the
loss of life in war as a sacrifice made to defend a nation or made for a cause like
The word sacrifice has these general uses when we wish to refer to something
done for us, without concern for self. When the sacrifice involves the shedding blood,
we reach a level that has power far beyond what we can estimate in words.
"Sacer" means holy and "facere" means "to make". As Gill Bailie points out in
his many writings on sacrifice - that does not really define the many ways in which
"sacrifice" is used since there are many ways of "making holy" that are not sacrifices,
and sacrifices that, in effect, make nothing holy.
On September 12, 1861, a 25-year-old farmer from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, left
his farm, and family and marched off to war against the Confederacy with the 79th
Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the Lancaster Rifles. In late 1863, this two
year regiment reenlisted en masse, earning the right to proudly display the word
"Veteran" on their battle colors.
Nearly four years after enlistment, Sergeant William T. Clark returned to that
farm, older by those four years, experienced in soldiering and nursing wounds that
would eventually kill him four decades later. Clark, wounded three times at the Battle of
Perryville, KY, in 1962, and again at the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga, would serve as the
Judge of elections in November of 1864 when members of his regiment proudly voted
for Abraham Lincoln's reelection.
Clark's blank check cost him the partial use of one arm and issues with his
intestinal tract due to his wounds, and a lifetime of battling malaria from his time in the
Deep South. During his four years in the 79th Pennsylvania, Clark, and the regiment,
spent less than 60 nights under a roof.
On September 29th, 2006, another 25 year olds blank check was cashed. Petty
Officer Michael Monsoor, a United States Navy Seal, already a recipient of the Silver Star
and the Bronze stat for courage and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty, gave
his life in Service to his country, and to his fellow seals. He threw himself on a live
grenade to save his fellow seals. For his extraordinary courage, his country awarded him
the Congressional Medal of Honor. Petty Officer Michael Monsoor's blank check was paid
The book of Hebrews takes the Old Testament notion of sacrifice and casts it in
New Testament terms. In the old system, the priests went daily into the Temple (the
successor of the wilderness tabernacle) and the high priest went annually into the Holy
of Holies on the Day of Atonement. Sacrifices were made as part of those rituals. In the
"old" notion of sacrifice-the people were rescued from din by the life of the sacrificial
animal. Their sins were symbolically placed on the sacrificial animal, as a substitute for
them. People could begin again, with a clean slate.
But Hebrews has an inherent flaw in the old system. If my car is not working,
and I have to take it back to the mechanic week after week-he obviously has not
succeeded in fixing it. The fact that the old sacrifices had to be made over and over
again meant that they had not gotten to the root of the problem
Hebrews explains that all long the tabernacle or Temple was always a temporary
substitute for something brand new being worked out by God. The new sacfrice system
spoken of in Hebrews is not the blood of animals, but the blood of the Messiah. Finally,
the sacrifice of Jesus reaches deep inside of us, to transform us at the core of our being.
We are not washed clean, we are made brand new. The priests stood daily at their
sacrificial duties. Jesus doesn't have to offer his sacrifice anymore. It is complete.
When Jesus submitted to those who killed him rather than exercising violence,
the temple veil was torn in half and something brand new happened on that darkest of
days. Christ into a brand new way of existence transformed an event that first seemed
to be so terrible and final ..
In the Gospel of John, Jesus instructs us: "...Greater love has no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
In this way, Jesus defines sacrifice as an act of love. Not an act of hate, or an act
of war, but an act of love. So who is it that is the object of this love? Well, it is those
who serve with the Veteran most assuredly, and any Veteran can tell you that the bond
between those who serve in war together indeed creates a "band of brothers." Some
Veteran's will deny this bond, calling it brotherhood, but we know it is love, for so Jesus
Did he not lay down his life for all of us? Did he not choose to allow others to
end his life in a most horrible fashion, knowing full well what was in store for him, and
did he not do so without remorse, without a second thought? And that love extends
back to us...to you.to me.to all of us, for did He not go in our stead? Did the Veteran not
go in our stead?
And so, it is love that causes men like William Clark to leave a verdant farm and
loving family to march off to war, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with his friends,
neighbors and fellow soldiers, braving the heat and ferocity of battle, even though
wounded. And men like Michael Monsoor, who laid down his life for his friends.
Those blank checks are far too often paid for in blood and breath, tears and
trauma. Yet...they were written and tendered with love.
How do we compare the sacrifices made by our Veteran and that made by Jesus
on the cross? Both are both costly and precious. Both are made in love. Jesus lived a
sacrificial life and through his life teaches us to do the same. As the nation pauses on
November 11 to observe Veterans, thanking God for their sacrifice, dedication and
service to country, I would ask that you pray for those who struggle with disabilities and
pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, asking God to bring powerful healing and
renewal. Pray that each one will know the gratitude of a thankful nation.
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH