Weather Report November 2011

 

My father was a veteran of the Second World War. A shadow box containing his medals and dog tag sits in my office. He loved his country and delighted in attending Veteran’s Day parades in downtown Nashville. Having lived in the city of parades, New Orleans, for fifteen years, I can say the parades I attended with him in Novembers past paled in attendance.
 
As he grew older, he relished the relationships with those with whom he served. I accompanied him to several reunions of the 95th Division of the Third Army when he could no longer navigate traveling alone. Not once did I hear them recounting a particular fire fight or battle. Their conversations included such subject matter as their work, their families and the community forged long ago. 
 
There is a timely reason for a parade this November. President Obama has declared an end to the Iraq War and announced that troops will be home by the end of the year. This brings to an end a war that began in 2003, making it one of America’s longest. I welcome the president’s decision. What keeps us from attending the parade as members of this congregation as a sign of gratitude for the sacrifice of others and as a sign of our support of the war’s end, I ask?
 
Early in my time as your pastor I preached a sermon on the war in Iraq. Perhaps the observation that it was “too early” in my pastorate to take up such a hot topic is fair. Of course if I had waited until further in my tenure I may not have preached on it at all. Unlike some pastors, I do not fear my congregation. Pastors have a unique opportunity to address moral issues. If anything, I am derelict in the infrequency of such messages. The challenge is how to preach on a moral issue like war so as to encourage discourse and make it a part of the larger church.
 
Some advise avoiding the subject of war altogether. They first cite the fact that Jesus was mute on the subject. This observation is correct. Not a word about the horror of war and the cost of human life. Supporting Jesus’ strange silence on the issue is another troubling fact. The metaphor of a sword appears more than four hundred times in the Bible. A friend reminds us that the name “Israel” means, in fact, “El does battle.” Even Jesus borrowed the metaphor saying, “I have come not to send peace, but a sword.”  (Matt 10.34)
 
Staggered by the above argument, the Christian parries and lunges forward. There are religious grounds for protesting war. Jesus was mute on war, but neither did he inveigh against child abuse or abortion or genocide. Could it be that some evils are too obvious to require reproof? On the matter of swords I point out that a hand- held rapier is nowhere as promiscuously destructive as modern-day weaponry. Tolkien was no sort of pacifist, but the horrors of the First World War never relinquished their grip upon his imagination, i.e. The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The force of the machine gun, artillery, and poisonous gas unleashed for the first time was nightmarish.
 
I think sermons on moral issues can be preached. I do not profess to have mastered the challenge of such preaching. The challenge as I see it being to avoid a monocausalism that presents the issue as having but a single source, all the while providing the moral scales meant to weigh our problems. The preacher’s inadequacies do not negate the church’s witness on such matters. The moral scales we have been given in scripture are not broken or inadequate. They need to be put to thoughtful use.
 
So, what do you think about my suggestion that we attend this year’s Veteran’s Day parade as a group together? Could this be one possible means for expressing our gratitude for the war’s end and our appreciation for the sacrifice made? Of course I could go alone. A Christian witness has never necessitated numbers. —Steven