1439) “On My Way to Heaven”

My Brother_s Keeper

We hear much about Christians, who did nothing while the Holocaust was going on all around them.  But not all Christians were passive in the face of this great evil.  Rod Gragg’s My Brother’s Keeper: Christians Who Risked All to Protect Jewish Targets of the Nazi Holocaust (2016) details the extraordinary courage of 30 ordinary people who believed Jewish lives mattered and did extraordinary things to preserve them. Among the heroes: Scottish schoolteacher Jane Haining, who, when the Nazis came, stayed with her students at a predominantly Jewish boarding school in Budapest, Hungary.  The excerpt that follows was taken from chapter 25 of that book.

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     When she heard the wail of approaching sirens, Jane Haining knew what it meant: the Nazis were coming.  The date was April 4, 1944, and Haining was a Scottish schoolteacher in Budapest, Hungary, presiding over a boarding school composed mainly of Jewish children.  Teaching and caring for her Jewish students was Jane Haining’s life work.  It was a call that she had accepted as a Christian more than twelve years earlier.  In 1932, she had been a thirty-four-year-old single woman working as a secretary in a textile factory in Scotland.  She was a member of the Church of Scotland, and one night she attended a life-changing church missions program.  There she learned about a church ministry in Hungary that included a school for Jewish orphans.  Turning to a friend sitting beside her, she stated confidently, “I have found my life-work.”

     Haining had a delicate appearance that belied a strong Scottish personality and a bold faith in Jesus Christ.  She had grown up in a large farming family, had lost her mother when she was only five, and had acquired an independent spirit and a zeal for learning.  A bright student in her village grammar school, she was awarded a scholarship to a highly regarded Scottish academy, and then attended college in Glasgow and Edinburgh.  She had become a Christian as a girl, had taught Sunday school while still a teenager, and was elated at the opportunity to become headmaster of the girls’ elementary program at the Scottish school in Budapest.

     She thrived there.  She already spoke German, quickly learned to speak fluent Hungarian, and—despite a no-nonsense style in the classroom—soon became a beloved figure to her Jewish students, many of whom were orphans.  “She was a very sympathetic person,” a former student later recalled.  “So kind.  So good.  Everyone loved her very much.”

     She returned the affection.  Perhaps because she had lost her mother at an early age, she had a tender heart for children and especially for orphans.  “We have one new little six-year-old, an orphan without a mother or a father,” she wrote in a letter home.  “She is such a pathetic wee soul to look at, and I fear, poor lamb, has not been in good surroundings… She certainly does look as though she needs heaps and heaps of love.”  About another child she wrote, “We have one nice little mite who is an orphan and is coming to school for the first time.  She seems to be a lonely little soul and needs lots of love.  We shall see what we can do to make life happier for her… What a ghastly feeling it must be to know that no one wants you.”

     As Nazism spread through Europe and war erupted, the Scottish boarding school in Budapest became a sanctuary for its Jewish students.  “Anti-Semitism presented itself in many places and forms in those times,” recalled a former student decades later, “but in the Scottish school I never sensed it either from the teachers or another student, either directly or indirectly.  The school was a warm nest.”

     …Hitler ordered German troops to invade Hungary in March of 1944 and installed a fascist puppet government…  Hitler also demanded that Hungary’s eight hundred thousand Jews be deported for annihilation as part of the Nazi Final Solution…  Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann arrived in Budapest the day the German army invaded, and with a contingent of six hundred troops took command of the Jewish deportations.  Within ten days of his arrival, Hungarian Jews were forbidden to travel, use telephones, do any work besides common labor, or withdraw money from their bank accounts—and they were all ordered to wear a yellow cloth Star of David on their clothing.  Soon thousands of Jews were being assembled in Budapest and herded into railway boxcars for deportation to Auschwitz and other death camps.

     As she sewed the yellow stars on her students’ clothing, Jane Haining wept.  Upon learning that the German army had invaded Hungary, officials in the Church of Scotland ordered Haining and the other Scots who worked at the Budapest mission to immediately return home, but she refused.  To her, the Jewish schoolgirls she taught were her ‘daughters.’  “If these children need me in the days of sunshine,” she explained, “how much more will they need me in the days of darkness?”  It was wrong, Haining declared, “to distinguish one child of one race and the child of another.”  Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  As a British citizen, she was viewed as an enemy by the Nazi invaders, and an informer soon reported her opinions to the Gestapo.

     As Budapest’s Jewish families were rounded up for deportation, she tried to reassure the children, and kept up a brave face.  If her Jewish students were going to be deported to some terrible fate, Jane Haining was determined to go with them.  She did—and the Nazis took her first.  When the Gestapo came for her, they came in a car with a blaring siren, arrested her, and took her away… The children cried for her as they stood outside the school and watched her get into the Gestapo car. She was sentenced to deportation, and was loaded into a cattle car with the Jews of Hungary whom she had come to serve and had grown to love.

     Her destination was the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz…  In the early summer of 1944, more than four thousand Hungarian Jews were being killed at Auschwitz every day; and Jane Haining was among them.  German authorities notified the Church of Scotland that Haining had died of illness; other evidence, however, revealed that she was executed with Hungarian Jewish women in a gas chamber at Auschwitz on August 16, 1944.

     By the summer of 1944, most Jews were killed immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz, but as a political prisoner Haining was imprisoned for about two months before she was executed…  Prisoners were fed a starvation diet of meager vegetable broth, were awakened at four thirty a.m. for a grueling twelve-hour workday, and slept on wooden racks in rooms that were crowded far beyond their intended capacity.  For Jews especially, the labor was intentionally so brutal that many prisoners quickly died of exhaustion.

     In the few weeks before her death, Haining was allowed to write a postcard to her superiors at the Church of Scotland.  Her telling observation reflected her understanding of what lay ahead for her—in this life and afterward: “There is not much to report here on my way to heaven.”

     …In January 1945, Soviet forces reached the Polish city of Kraków and liberated Auschwitz…  When Soviet troops captured the giant camp, they found only about seven thousand prisoners still alive. Some of Jane Haining’s Jewish students somehow survived the Holocaust, and they never forgot her. “Those children adored her,” one recalled. “She was a real mother of her ‘daughters.’”

     After Haining’s death, her Bible was discovered at the school. In it was a bookmark, and on it—in her handwriting—was a Bible verse from the New Testament book of Mark: “Be not afraid, only believe.”

Associated Press

Some children that survived Auschwitz and were liberated in January 1945

Photo by Yad Vashem/Center Street

Jane Haining  (1897-1944)

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Mark 5:36b  —  (Jesus said), “Be not afraid, only believe.”

Genesis 4:9b  —   “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Matthew 19:14a  —  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.”

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O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace.  Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg, 1978, (prayer #166)

1368) Giving Up Your Life for Jesus

Image result for dying for christ images

By Fred Craddock, page 155, Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike Graves and Richard Ward, Chalice Press, 2001.

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     Have you ever listened to a sermon in which the lineup of illustrations were Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, and missionaries who had their feet frozen off in the tundra of the north?  As a young person sitting in church listening to those stories, I just sat there swinging my legs over the pew, saying to myself, It’s a shame you can’t be a real Christian in this little town.  Nobody is chasing or imprisoning or killing Christians here.

     Then I went away to summer camp to Bethany Hills.  It was an inspiring time, with a night of consecration around the lake, and candlelight, and just everything about it so moving.  We sang, “Are Ye Able?”  I went back to the dorm and lay on my bunk and said to God, “I’m able.”  I said, “I’ll give my life for you, Lord,” and I pictured myself running in front of a train and rescuing a child, or, swimming out and getting someone who was drowning.  I pictured myself against a gray wall and some soldier saying, “One last chance to deny Christ and live.”  But I would not deny my Lord and I bravely confessed my faith, and they said, “Ready, aim, fire.”  The body slumped, the flag was at half mast, and widows were weeping in the afternoon.  Later a monument is built, and people come with their cameras.  “Johnny, you stand over there where Fred gave his life.  Let’s get your picture.”

     I was sincere then, as I have been these forty-five years since.  “I give my life,” I said, but nobody warned me that I could not write one big check.  I’ve had to write forty-five years of little checks–  87 cents here, 21 cents there, then a dollar three cents; an endless stream of small sacrifices.  

     I’ve been just nibbled away at this giving of my life for Jesus.

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“It is easy to die for Christ.  It is hard to live for Him.  Dying takes only an hour or two, but to live for Christ means to struggle every day.”

–Sadhu Singh, Indian Christian missionary  (1889-1929)

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Luke 9:23-4  —  Then Jesus said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

II Timothy 2:11  —  It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him.

Luke 16:10  —  (Jesus said), “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.  But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”

Matthew 25:23  —  (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

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Here I am, Lord.  Send me.

–Isaiah 6:8b

1146) A Sermon for Memorial Day (b)

Vietnam Reflections, by Lee Teter, 1988

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     (…continued)  Four Scripture passages that speak to this issue…

     I Samuel 17 tells the familiar story of David and Goliath.  David, probably only 15 or 16 years old, accepted the challenge to fight the giant warrior Goliath, and David killed him on the field of battle.  God, who many years later punished David severely for the sin of adultery, had no objection to David killing this giant enemy soldier whose army was making war against Israel.  In fact, the text clearly implies that it was God who made David’s unlikely victory possible.

     Romans 13 discusses God’s work through government and the Christian’s duty as a citizen of his or her government.  Verse one says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”  This does not mean that Kim Jong-un in North Korea and others like him, have been hand-picked by God and have God’s blessing.  What is meant in the passage is that the authority of government in a general sense is an authority that God works through to bring peace and order.  Certainly governments can go wrong, and these verses are qualified and limited in the Bible by verses such as Acts 5:29.  There, Peter said he would not obey the authorities who were telling him to quit preaching, saying, “No, we must obey God and not men.”  

     In day to day life this can all get very messy, and that too is described in the Bible.  Here, in Romans 13 Paul called government the servant of God, but in Revelation 13, that same Roman government a few years later is symbolized by an evil beast which, said John, received its power and authority from the devil.  Government in general is a gift of God through which he can do his work, just like God can work through individuals.  But governments can, like individuals, become evil, and then must be opposed by other governments so that people may be protected.  As I said, this gets messy; and, as Paul said elsewhere, we walk by faith and not by perfect seeing, and so good Christian people might well disagree on what to do and when to obey and when to resist.  But Romans 13 makes it clear that we must at least begin with a respect for the authority of the government.

     It is not my purpose here to examine the justice of individual wars.  Some would have more merit than others.  The need for, purposes of, and procedures followed in the Vietnam War, certainly the most controversial of all our wars, are still being debated decades after the last soldier fell.  There are many who think getting involved in Vietnam was a bad idea from beginning to end; and others who argue very powerfully for its necessity in slowing Communism’s rapid advance.  If now, almost a half century later, the experts are still debating the merits of that war, it would be expecting far too much of an 18 year old draftee to have all the answers in 1967.  Most Americans have simply responded to the call of duty.  But those are other questions for other times.  Today we honor and remember those who were willing to serve in war and in peace.

     In Luke 3 John the Baptist had been calling on people to repent of their sins, change their ways, be baptized, and prepare for the coming of the Lord.  Some soldiers asked John what they should do.  If there was anything wrong with being a soldier, we would have heard about it here.  John was not one to mince words, and if he thought that those men should get out of the military and become conscientious objectors, he would have been the one to tell them, and this would have been the time to say it.  But John says no such thing, and instead tells them to just do an honest job of it:  “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely and be content with your pay” (verse 14).  He did not even say don’t kill anyone, because he knew that a soldier might have to do that sometimes.  Jesus also met a Roman soldier one time, a centurion, one in charge of a hundred men (Matthew 8).  Jesus, like John the Baptist before him, also did not tell this soldier to give up his soldiering.  Rather, he granted the centurion’s request, healed his servant, and then even praised the centurion for his great faith.

     In John 15:13 Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus was talking about his own life that he was soon to lay down for his friends, friends that include you and me.  But those same words can be applied to our veterans; those who did or were willing to lay down their lives for others.  We have all been the beneficiaries of those sacrifices, and on this day we honor them.

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I Samuel 17:45-46a  —   David said to the Philistine (Goliath), “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands…

Luke 3:14  —  Then some soldiers asked him (John the Baptist), “And what should we do?”  He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely— be content with your pay.”

John 15:13  —  (Jesus said), “Greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends.”

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Lord God of Hosts, in whom our fathers trusted, we give thee thanks for all thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country.  Unite all the people of this nation to defend the freedom for which they lived and died.  Grant, we beseech thee, that the liberty they bequeathed unto us may be continued to our children and our children’s children, and that the power of the gospel may here abound, to the blessing of all the nations of the earth, and the thine eternal glory; through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship, Presbyterian Church U. S. A., Westminster, 1946, page 317.

1145) A Sermon for Memorial Day (a)

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St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Hanover, Minnesota; May 30, 2016

     Pacifism is defined as “opposition to war or violence of any kind, and the refusal to serve in the military because of one’s beliefs.”  There is, in the history of the Church and in the history of the United States, a long and noble tradition of Christian pacifism.  In every war, there have been Christians, like the Amish and Quakers and others, who when called upon to serve their nation in the military, have said “No, because of my religious convictions, I cannot do so.”  Many of them also said, “I will gladly serve our nation, but I will not serve as a soldier who may be called on to kill another human being.”  Our nation has provided for these conscientious objectors alternative forms of service, as medics or chaplain assistants or perhaps even in some non-military social service.  In other times and places, not in the United States of America, but other places, such options were not always given, and Christian pacifists would go to jail or perhaps even be executed for refusing to serve as soldiers.  One can admire such individual courage and faith, and at the same time appreciate that our government allows such freedom of conscience.

     On the other hand, the majority of believers in the history of the church and in the history of this nation have held a different opinion.  Thus, there is also a long and noble tradition of Christian soldiers, followers of Jesus Christ who believed they were serving God by serving their nation, even when that meant taking the life of others.  From the early days of the church there has been what is called the ‘Just War Doctrine,’ which recognizes that in this wicked world there are evil people who seek to conquer and kill and destroy, and they must be stopped.  Therefore, sometimes lives must be taken in order that many more lives may be protected and peace can be preserved.  This does not mean that every war is a just war, and it can all get very confusing.  But it does say that the commandment against killing has to be applied differently in a time of war.  The intent of that commandment is to protect life, and many times wars must be fought and some people must be killed so that many more lives can be saved.

     While I can admire the faith and convictions of the pacifists, and while they may at times be correct in refusing to fight, I do not agree with them.  And certainly, most Christians in most times and places have not been pacifists, but with or without knowing it, have been in agreement with the Just War Doctrine.  Most people, if their lives, families, and homeland are threatened, are willing to put up a fight, rather than submit to the threat.  Jesus did tell us to turn the other cheek, but that has usually been understood as having to do with getting along with others individually, and not intended to direct government policy.

     In fact, the Bible declares that governments must not turn the other cheek.  Romans 13 says that God has given governments the task of restraining evil.  Government is ‘an agent of God’s wrath,’ it says, to bring ‘punishment upon the wrongdoer.’  And how can the government do that work except through people?  And that must include Christians who are told in that same chapter to obey the governing authorities.  This is all far too complex for one sermon, but I want to say a few things about how this applies to Memorial Day.

     Good and honest Bible believing Christians have disagreed on all this, and there is room in the Church for such diversity.  I have never served in the military, but I am not a pacifist, and if I had been called on to serve, I would not have been a conscientious objector.  I have a deep appreciation for all who have served, and am grateful for our strong military.

     There is a quote on this question that is well worth pondering.  It is a little hard to determine who said it, but it has most often been attributed to the English writer George Orwell, who died in 1950.  If he did not say it, it certainly expresses his beliefs.  George Orwell was at first a pacifist, so in one war he was a conscientious objector, serving as a stretcher bearer to carry the wounded.  Then he changed his mind, and in the next war Orwell served as a soldier and carried a gun.  Here is the quote:  “We sleep peacefully in our beds only because rough men stand ready in the night to do violence on those who would do us harm.”  I have also seen it stated in these words:  “Those who protest against violence are free to do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf.”

     This is not to say that every act of war by every nation is always justified.  That is another question.  But Christians must not have a knee-jerk reaction against the violence that soldiers are trained to do.  I do realize I might be preaching to the choir, and that most of you here today are probably already with me on this.  However, I know that many veterans have an uneasy conscience about what they were called on to do in the military, and they should know that one can serve God as a soldier just as well as one can serve God by being a minister.

     As American citizens, we have much to be grateful for to you, our veterans, and especially to those who are not here today because they lost their lives on the field of battle.  The freedom and prosperity we enjoy, and, our government ‘of, for, and by the people,’ have been often threatened, and hundreds of thousands have died to preserve it.  It is still being threatened, as we all well know.  A strong military is needed even in peacetime, and so we remember and honor also those who served in the military and were not called on to go to war.

     Without the sacrifices and service of our veterans over the last 240 years, we would not have survived as a strong and free nation.  I agree with Abraham Lincoln who said a long time ago that the United States of America is the world’s last, best hope.  Therefore, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the whole world, we want to preserve what God has given us here.

     Not only as citizens, but also as Christians, we have reason to be grateful.  One of the most basic of those freedoms that has to be defended is the freedom of religion, which is, in the history of the world, a rather recent freedom.  If you look around the world today, you see that the freedom of religion is a most fragile and vulnerable freedom.  Even in nations that are attempting to build democracies, religious freedom often takes a back seat to the need to settle ethnic differences.  The religious freedom that we have taken for granted here all of our lives is not automatically guaranteed, and again, we can thank our veterans for its preservation thus far.  (continued…)

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Romans 13:1-4  —  Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities,for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.  Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?  Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.  They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

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O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy.  Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines.  This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

1144) One Soldier’s Testimony

This Memorial Day weekend we pause to remember the many soldiers who died to defend our nation and preserve our freedom.  The letter below wonderfully expresses much of what this day is about:  gratitude for sacrifices made in the past, appreciation for what we have in this nation, and the willingness to sacrifice even life itself to preserve it.  Along with that, it is a powerful testimony of faith; a faith that is grateful to God for past blessings (including deep gratitude for the blessings of marriage and family), a faith that puts the present in God’s hands (whatever may come), and a faith that looks forward to a future hope in that place where we will live again.  

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July the 14th, 1861

Washington DC

My very dear Sarah:

     The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days– perhaps tomorrow.  Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

     Our movement may be one of a few days duration, or it may be one of severe conflict and death to me.  “Not my will, but Thine O God, be done.”  If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready.  I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter.  I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution.  And I am willing– perfectly willing– to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.

     But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows, is it weak or dishonorable that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle with my love of country?

     I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last sleep, perhaps, before that of death.  And I am suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart.

     I have sought most closely and diligently for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I love, and I could not find one.  A pure love of my country and of the principles I have often advocated have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

     Sarah, my love for you is deathless; it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

     The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long.  And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us.  I have but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed.  If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

     Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you.  How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been!  How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world to shield you and my children from harm.  But I cannot.  I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more…

     Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

     As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care.  Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood.  Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters.

     O Sarah, I wait for you there!  Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

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Sullivan Ballou (March 28, 1829 – July 29, 1861) was a lawyer and politician from Rhode Island, and an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War.  He was mortally wounded in the first Battle of Bull Run and died a week later.

This letter was never mailed.  It was found in Ballou’s trunk after he died, and then delivered to Ballou’s widow.  Sarah never remarried.  She later moved to New Jersey to live with her son, William. She died at age 80 in 1917 and is buried next to her husband.

The letter is a wonderful expression so many things:  faith in God, love of family, love of country, courage, honor, duty, gratitude to God, and trust and hope in God’s promise of eternal life.

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I Corinthians 13:4-8a  —  Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends…

John 16;19-22  —  Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’?  Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you:  Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

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My dear God, if you so desire that this be my last hour, then let thy will be done… and I shall gladly die. Only let your holy name be praised and glorified by my sufferings and death.  If it were possible, dear Lord, I would live longer for the sake of your blessed people.  But if the hour has come, then do as you please, for you are the Lord of life and death.  Amen.  –Martin Luther

1060) No Greater Love

By John Mansur, from The Moral Compass: Stories for Life’s Journey, edited by William Bennett, 2008, pages 466-7.

This is a remarkable story of sacrifice born of deep friendship.  The author says, “I heard this story when I was in Vietnam, and it was told to me as fact.  I have no way of knowing for sure that it is true, but I do know that stranger things have happened in war.”

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     Whatever their planned target, the mortar rounds landed in an orphanage run by a missionary group in the small Vietnamese village.  The missionaries and two children were killed outright, and several more children were wounded, including one young girl, about eight years old.

     People from the village requested medical help from a neighboring town that had radio contact with the American forces.  Finally, an American Navy doctor and nurse arrived in a jeep with only their medical kits.  They established that the girl was the most critically injured.  Without quick action, she would die of shock and loss of blood.

     A transfusion was imperative, and a donor with a matching blood type was required.  A quick test showed that neither American had the correct type, but several of the uninjured orphans did.

     The doctor spoke some pidgin Vietnamese, and the nurse a smattering of high school French.  Using that combination, together with much impromptu sign language, they tried to explain to their young, frightened audience that unless they could replace some of the girl’s lost blood, she would certainly die.  Then they asked if anyone would be willing to give blood to help.

     Their request was met with wide-eyed silence.  After several long moments, a small hand slowly and waveringly went up, dropped back down, and then went up again.

    “Oh, thank you,” the nurse said in French.  “What is your name?”

     “Heng,” came the reply.

     Heng was quickly laid on a pallet, his arm swabbed with alcohol, and a needle inserted in his vein.  Through this ordeal Heng lay stiff and silent.

     After a moment, he let out a shuddering sob, quickly covering his face with his free hand.

     “Is it hurting,  Heng?” the doctor asked.  Heng shook his head, but after a few moments another sob escaped, and once more he tried to cover up his crying.  Again the doctor asked him if the needle hurt, and again Heng shook his head.

     But now his occasional sobs gave way to a steady, silent crying, his eyes screwed tightly shut, his fist in his mouth to stifle his sobs.

     The medical team was concerned.  Something was obviously very wrong.  At this point, a Vietnamese nurse arrived to help.  Seeing the little one’s distress, she spoke to him rapidly in Vietnamese, listened to his reply, and then answered him in a soothing voice.

     After a moment, the patient stopped crying and looked questioningly at the Vietnamese nurse.  When she nodded, a look of great relief spread over his face.

     Glancing up, the nurse said quietly to the Americans,  “He thought he was dying.  He misunderstood you.  He thought you had asked him to give all his blood so the little girl could live.”

     “But why would he be willing to do that?” asked the Navy nurse.

     The Vietnamese nurse repeated the question to the little boy, who answered simply, “She’s my friend.”

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John 15:12-13  —  (Jesus said), “My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I Corinthians 15:3-4  —  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Romans 5:6-8  —  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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O my Savior Jesus Christ, who in your undeserved love towards me and all people so kindly suffered the painful death of the cross, do not allow me to be cold or lukewarm in my love towards you.

–Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England  (1478-1535)

896) Retarded?

 By Lutheran pastor and author Walter Wangerin, in Christianity Today,  page 66, August 10, 1984.  (Notice the date of this article.  Wangerin objects to the use of the ‘R’ word, and it is no longer used; but it was commonly used yet in 1984).

      Thanne’s sister’s name is Dorothy.  Thanne is my wife.  That makes Dorothy my sister-in-law.

     Four feet six bitty inches stands Dorothy; she’ll grow no more than that.  Silent she can be, all the day long; but her silence expresses a multitude of things moral, emotional, judgmental, and kind.  She cries easily, though she’s 32 years old; mourns noisily at the prospect of eating vegetables; weeps for her father when he lies in bed sick.  He hands and feet are miniature, her tongue thick, her eyes slanted.  Her mind lacks the ability to reason, to solve problems in the manner of the rest of the world.  So she may be classified, I suppose, abnormal.  It’s her chromosomes, you see; she possesses more than most of the race.  Dorothy has Down’s Syndrome.  She’s ‘retarded.’

     Now, that always seemed a curious thing to me:  that we should label one who lacks the reasoning capacity in terms of contempt, judging her undeveloped, subhuman, less than we are, piteous, retarded!  Yet those who lack more critical capacities– such as to discern right from the wrong and to do the right, such as to love– these people, severely retarded in other ways, we take for granted, labeling them nothing at all.  Why do we damn the irrational, while granting the unmoral and the unloving all the rights, choices, and protections of society and law?

     But Dorothy has her Ph. D. in loving and caring for her family.  I know.  I broke my nose against her iron ethics…

     I courted Thanne on the farm that reared her.  The setting was exquisite for the melting of hearts, since it possessed a screened back porch, which possessed a hanging swing of old wood.  A northern Illinois evening is cool.  A farmer’s supper is satisfying.  An invitation to the farmer’s daughter that she accompany me to the swing is accepted.  The swing faces west, and God himself smiled upon the project, spreading heaven with an orange quilt, needling the evening with nighthawks, sweetening the air with the breath of corn.  I am smiling.  My arm slides toward the farmer’s daughter.  My husky whisper begins a well-turned speech;  “Thanne–“

     –When suddenly the back door shocks the countryside with a bang!  Three heavy steps, and Dorothy stands in front of us, hands on her hips, effectively blocking the sunset.  Without a word she turns, presents us with her rear, then jams herself down between our knees, the farmer’s daughter and mine.  Boom, push, tussle, and boom!  Dorothy made a seat for herself and a division between us.  And so we sit the rest of the night.  There shall be no hanky-panky on her porch (her jaw is firm and her arms are folded).  And no talk but what is fit for company (her silent eyes do twinkle distantly).  God may have smiled, but Dorothy frowned.

     Now, we can analyze the irrationality of Dorothy’s acts; we could even get angry at her for not understanding the ways of the world.  But I haven’t the heart to do that, for her motives were unimpeachable, and her love of such sophisticated quality that few of the intelligent beings about me now– yea, even at Harvard University– have attained unto her degree.  

     And yet!  I learn that were Dorothy’s mother pregnant with her today, a doctor could use ultrasound scans to guide a needle through the womb and into the amniotic sac, withdrawing fluid to analyze the cells there; and finding those cells to possess one extra chromosome, that mother could freely choose to abort the fetus, seeing that this baby would be born lacking the reasoning capacity.

     For the baby’s sake?  Life is hard on such a one?  No.  Without a baby there is no ‘sake.’  It’s specious reasoning, even for those who have the capacity.  And there is such an infinite variety of life that one cannot determine whether a child may not find some form to fit her joyfully.

     For the parent’s sake?  I’m afraid so.  Life is hard on the parents.

     Oh, people!  Why must we so passionately seek to reduce sacrifice in our lives?  Why do we so fear and hate hard service unto others that we at every turn run from it, calling the right thing wrong and the good thing bad?  Do you not know that sacrifice is the very stuff of Christlike loving?  And selfishness the seed of sin?

     “But it’s my body.  I’ve the right to choose whether to carry a baby to term.”

     No!  Not if you are a Christian.  For coming unto Christ is no mere shaking hands with him; it’s giving yourself to him wholly, body and soul.  You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.  Another has authority of choice!  So glorify God with your body, which glory is loving, which loving must needs be sacrifice (even if that be one of nine months duration, followed by a sharing of the love/sacrifice with an adopting couple).

     For my parents-in-law, Dorothy has been a 32-year hardship, indeed.  But it hasn’t been empty, debilitating suffering.  It has been a Christian opportunity.

———-

“If you are going to say the R-Word, I hope you say “Respect.”

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I Corinthians 6:19-20  —  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Matthew 16:24  —  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Romans 12:1-2  —  Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God— this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

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O Lord, I do not pray for tasks equal to my strength; I ask for strength equal to my tasks.  

–Phillips Brooks  (1835-1893)

774) Memorial Day Meditation

By Charles Colson for Breakpoint; aired 5-28-10 (www.breakpoint.org)

     Memorial Day is when we honor the men and women of our Armed Services who have made ‘the supreme sacrifice,’ giving their lives for their country.  Especially these days, when Memorial Day seems nothing more than a time for cookouts and swim parties, we cannot be reminded often enough about how great a debt we owe our war dead.  They gave up their hopes and dreams, families and friends.  They submitted themselves to rigorous discipline– something I understand as a former Marine– 24-hour a day duty, and placed their lives in great peril.  Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  Their sacrifice should inspire in us a profound sense of gratitude– gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy, bought with a price.  And that gratitude should compel us to lives of service as well; serving Christ, our neighbor, and yes, our nation.

     I can’t help but recall the ending of the brilliant film Saving Private Ryan (1998).  James Ryan, now in his seventies, has returned with his family to the military cemetery in Normandy.  He visits the grave of Captain John Miller, the man who a half a century before, led the mission to retrieve– to save– Private Ryan.  At the end of the mission, Miller was fatally wounded.  As he lay dying, his final words to Private Ryan were, “James, earn this.  Live a good life.  Earn this.”  In other words, men have died for you, now live a life worthy of such a sacrifice.

     We then see Ryan kneeling at Captain Miller’s grave, marked by a cross.  Ryan, his voice trembling with emotion, says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge.  I tried to live my life the best that I could.  I hope that was enough.  I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”

     Red-eyed, Ryan turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I’ve led a good life… tell me I am a good man.”

     With great dignity, she says, “You are.”

     With that, James Ryan salutes the grave of Captain Miller.  You see, Private Ryan, out of gratitude for Captain Miller’s sacrifice, did all in his power to live a good life.

     And Memorial Day is a great time for each of us to look into the mirror… to examine our own lives. Columnist George Will called the film “a summons to gratitude.”  Are we living good lives in gratitude for all those who have sacrificed for us– including our men and women in the military, our families, our friends, and most of all Christ?  Are we, like Ryan, kneeling before the cross?  Spielberg, a master cinematographer, had to realize the power of this imagery.  Are we, out of gratitude, doing our duty for Christ in whatever field to which the Lord has called us?

     Examine your life.  And this Memorial Day, at the very least, thank those who have sacrificed for you and those you know who have served in our nation’s armed forces.  Maybe you’ll do what I do when you see someone in uniform… at the airport, at the store, wherever… walk up to them and thank them for their service.  

     And then go and remember Whom it is you serve.

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John 15:13  —  (Jesus said), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Joshua 24:14-15 — (Joshua said), “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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A prayer for soldiers and sailors from an old Army and Navy Service Book:

Blessed Lord Jesus, who knows the depths of loneliness and the dark
hours of the absence of human sympathy and friendliness: help me to pass
the weary hours of the night and the heavy hours of the day, as you did, and
know that you are with me, as your Father was with you.  Lift up my heart to
full communion with you; strengthen me for my duty; keep me constant to
my trust, and let me know that however dark or desolate the hour, I am not
alone, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are my comfort;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and
the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

129) Sacrifice

Rembrandt The Sacrifice of Abraham

Rembrandt, Abraham and Isaac, 1634

     One of the strange things about the Bible is that it contains so much about sacrificing.  Animals are being slaughtered all the way through the Old Testament and then burned as sacrifices to God; and oftentimes after the blood is drained out it is sprinkled on the people, or spread on the doorpost, or handled in some other odd way according to some unusual ritual.  If you have ever tried reading the Bible from cover to cover you know what I mean.  By the time you get half way through Leviticus you have read just about all you want to read about sacrifices.  The word sacrifice appears almost 200 times in the Bible.

     In Genesis 22 there is the strangest story of all, the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac.  This is the son who had been promised to Abraham and Sarah throughout their married life, and then was finally, miraculously born to them in their old age.  Then, just when this child of the promise was about to become a man, God told Abraham to offer him up as a burnt offering.  It was an outrageous command, contradicting God’s own Word and promise.  But obediently, Abraham prepared to sacrifice his own son.  He was stopped by an angel of God only at the last moment.

     And all this talk of sacrifice is not only in the Old Testament, but continues throughout the New Testament as well.  In fact, the central event of the New Testament is the death of Jesus on the cross, as a sacrifice, given for the forgiveness of our sins.  What is going on here?  Why is all this sacrificing necessary?  We are by now used to the image of the cross on which Jesus died.  Even though it was an instrument of public execution, not unlike a hangman’s noose, we have turned that cross into a piece of jewelry.  Thus, we have tamed its force and made it appear acceptable and respectable.  But all this talk of sacrifice in the Bible still seems very strange to us.

     But should this really be so strange?  Our worship rituals are no longer filled with animals being killed, and blood sprinkled on those worshiping, and burning flesh on altars, but we still do know all about sacrifice, don’t we?  Our lives begin with, are bound up in, and end with countless sacrifices.  We would not be here if not for the sacrifices of many others, and most of you can think of people who are right now, or in the past, or in the future, will depend on you and on the sacrifices you are willing to make for them.

     It starts at the very beginning.  As a parent, you bring that first little baby home from the hospital, and you find out right away what you have sacrificed.  Should we start with a full night’s rest?  Add to that being on duty 24 hours a day, always responsible for the well-being of a helpless new life.  And this will go on for years.  You have, quite completely, sacrificed your freedom.  And babies cost money, so you have made a huge financial commitment and sacrifice.  Babies get sick, and you worry; you have sacrificed the ease of only having to worry about yourself.  I could go on.  And it never ends.  You feel a burden and a care for that child for the rest of your life.  I remember visiting an 80-year old man in the hospital.  He had a stroke, and would now have to go to a nursing home.  There by his hospital bed, holding his hand, crying with him and comforting him, was his 101 year-old mother who had come to see him.  She wasn’t living in a nursing home, but had the strength to live with her 77 year-old daughter; and she was still worried about her kids.  Having a baby means a life-long burden and sacrifice.

     Fast-forward to the end of life.  When you were a baby, you needed lots of care, and your parents sacrificed much for you.  And if you live long enough, you will also need lots of care, and someone, perhaps your children or other loved ones, will have to make sacrifices for you; taking you to the doctor, helping you with your finances, helping you move into an apartment, sitting by you in the hospital, and so on.  That 101 year-old mother I referred to a moment ago, still worried about her son, was herself being cared for by her 77-year-old daughter who was making some significant sacrifices for her.

     From beginning to end and all the while in between, life is filled with sacrifices for others and for ourselves.  In school, if you want to make the team or make the honor roll, you will have to make sacrifices to work harder.  If you want to get ahead on the job, you will have to make some sacrifices.  If you want to lose weight or get in shape, you have to make sacrifices. And then there those ultimate sacrifices, and, if you enjoy the prosperity and freedom that we have living in this nation, you have to have a deep gratitude for the many lives that have been sacrificed over the years to win and protect that freedom.

     So why should we be surprised that the Bible is so full of talk of sacrifice?  Our lives with each other are filled with sacrifices for each other.  Should it surprise us that our lives before God should also have an element of sacrifice?  And who are we to define what that relationship should look like or consist of?  The blood sacrifices of the Old Testament do sound strange to us, but even back then, all of those animal sacrifices were only a symbol of something far greater going on.  In the New Testament the animal sacrifices were abandoned, but that ‘something greater’ was still there, and was taken care of in another way.

     That ‘something greater’ that is behind all this is that things are not right between us and God.  Our sinful disobedience has darkened and saddened the good world that God created, and God demands that things be made right again.  And righting a wrong, or healing a wound, or restoring a broken relationship always takes a sacrifice.  Someone must be willing to apologize, someone must be willing to make amends, and someone must be willing to forgive.  The burden should be on us because we are the ones who have broken the relationship, but the story of the Bible is that God has taken the burden upon himself, most perfectly and completely by coming to earth in person in Jesus of Nazareth.  His death on the cross was the sacrifice that paid the price that healed the relationship with God.  Our little minds will never comprehend exactly how this all works, but we can understand what it means to make a sacrifice, and that is what Jesus did for us.

     It is a strange story in Genesis 22 where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac.  What kind of God is this that would demand such a sacrifice?  Why would God tell somebody to sacrifice the child whose life, God Himself said, was to be the hope of the world?  None of those questions are answered in the story.  But the story does not end with the sacrifice of Isaac, the boy, the son.  Rather, the story ends with God providing the sacrifice.  God has as angel stop Abraham as the knife is ready to descend into Isaac’s body, and then the angel shows Abraham a ram caught in a thicket.  God provides the sacrifice, there for Abraham, and later on the cross for the sins of the whole world.

     Our daily sacrifices are made for each other, but only Christ’s sacrifice on the cross restores our relationship with God.  Even the great thinker and writer C. S. Lewis could not comprehend it all, but he pointed out that what the Bible says is that we are not asked to fully understand it, but simply to believe it.  Just believe in that Jesus and the sacrifice he made for you, accept it, and receive it as the free gift that it is, and it is yours, and it will save you, now and forever.

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Isaiah 53:4-6  — Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
   yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
   the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
   and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

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Have mercy on me, Lord;
    heal me, for I have sinned against you.  –Psalm 41:4