"Lest we forget"
7 Pentecost (Independence Day)
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Nehemiah 4:14-18a Sermon
July 3, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
360 "My Country 'Tis Of Thee"
340 "From Ocean Unto Ocean, Our Land Shall Own Thee Lord"
358 "God Bless Our Native Land"
339 "Before The Lord We Bow"
346 "O Beautiful For Spacious Skies"
356 "Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory"
REMEMBERING THE SOLDIER
TEXT: “And I looked, and arose, and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes." When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail; and the leaders stood behind all the house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were laden in such a way that each with one hand labored on the work and with the other held his weapon. And each of the builders had his sword girded at his side while he built.”
When I was in Australia, I was invited to give an address at a community Anzac Day celebration in Maryborough. Anzac Day is a celebration which is similar to our Memorial Day here in the United States; and I suppose it would be fitting for me to give you a brief explanation of the historical significance of the day.
The word “Anzac” is an acronym, which stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps. When World War I broke out in 1914, Australia had been a commonwealth for only 14 years, and they were eager to establish a reputation among the other nations of the world. So in 1915 the combined Australia/New Zealand forces went to Gallipoli to capture the peninsula in order to open the Black Sea for the allied navies.
At dawn on the 25th of April in 1915, the Anzacs landed on the shores of Gallipoli. Unfortunately they missed their landing target by several miles, so they went ashore in an unprotected area. They were met by the Turkish military, and consequently over 8,000 Anzacs died.
Even though Anzac Day is actually a day representing a failed military campaign, it has become the day when Australians and New Zealanders commemorate all of the fallen soldiers in all of the military actions they have ever fought.
So Anzac Day does resemble our Memorial Day in many ways. However more specifically, this day is dedicated to the soldiers who gave their lives for their country.
The topic of my address on that day did not center on the evils and atrocities of war. I think that everyone is well enough acquainted with that, so I didn’t think it prudent at that time to rehash the subject. Instead, I centered on the dedication of the soldiers. The day is intended to be a day of honor for these people, and I did my best to do just that.
My pay for the whole thing was a free lunch with various dignitaries and military personnel. I received numerous compliments on my address; however one in particular stands out. An older gentleman, all decked out in his military uniform came up to me and said, “That’s the best Anzac Day speech I’ve ever heard—and I had to hear it from a yank.”
In Australia, patriotism isn’t the big thing that it is here. People don’t fly the flag at their homes on national holidays. In fact, Anzac Day is really the only patriotic holiday that people really get into. Oh sure, there’s Australia Day and the Queen’s Birthday, but they don’t have huge celebrations connected with them.
Today, we are involved in a war. Soldiers are in Iraq. Soldiers are dying at the hands of Iraqui insurgents. People in the United States are sharply divided regarding the war. But if you drive down the street, you will see many cars with these magnetic ribbon decals which say, “Support our troops,” or “Pray for our troops.” Whether or not you agree with the war itself, certainly our troops need our support and prayers.
Soldiers have been a major part of our country’s history. On July the 4th, which is our Independence Day, the United States was able to proclaim their independence from Great Britain. Soldiers fought and died for this freedom, and the freedoms we have all come to know and love. This freedom came with a price, which was paid by the lives of all the soldiers who died in this effort.
The text I have chosen for this day comes from a section of history recorded for us by the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah.
Allow me to give you some history surrounding our text for today. In 605 B.C. the Babylonian army basically did a hostile take-over of the Israelites in Judah. They took the people into captivity over a period of about 20 years, taking them to Babylon. Then in 586 B.C. the Babylonian armies completely destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This captivity lasted about 70 years.
When Babylon fell, many of the Israelites wanted to go back home again. Not all returned though; some had established pretty deep roots in Babylon. But many were patriotic souls, and wanted to live in their homeland or the homeland of their ancestors.
Of course their precious Jerusalem had been flattened and needed to be rebuilt. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther were around at this time, and they were all concerned about the spiritual welfare of the Israelites. But Nehemiah was sort of the “general contractor” in all of this.
Our text for today talks about rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem. The Israelites were facing stiff opposition from various enemy armies. Many attempts were made to thwart this rebuilding program.
In chapter 4 verse 14, Nehemiah speaks these words to the people: “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
Conflict and brave soldiers are part of the history of God’s people as well. Half were designated as soldiers, and half were designated as construction workers. But even the workers themselves had to be armed. Verses 17 and 18 read: “Those who carried the materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked.”
Judah was surrounded by enemies on all sides. The Samaritans were to the north, the Ammonites were across the Jordan to the east, the Arabs were to the south, and Ashdod (a city of the Philistines) was to the west. The enemies reckoned that Judah was a sitting duck. An attack on a city with unfinished walls would be just too easy.
However Nehemiah had a two-pronged defense. He first of all committed the matter to the Lord in prayer. And secondly, he set up a very strong military defense.
Now this does not mean that Nehemiah lacked trust in the Lord. Rather, he used all of the means he had at his disposal.
And so, the people were placed at their battle stations, ready to repel the expected attack. To give them a clear understanding of what they were doing, Nehemiah rallied the troops by reminding them that they had a great and awesome God on their side, so they had nothing to fear. In addition to this, the lives of their families were at stake, so they needed to be ready to fight with all their might.
The enemies liked to talk big about taking over a defenseless city, but they weren’t prepared to pit themselves against armed forces occupying fortified positions. So Nehemiah’s prayers were answered—the attack never occurred. The enemies’ courage failed them.
Even though all seemed well and the work could resume as planned, yet the enemy could have something else up their sleeve. And so, all of the security measures remained in place and intact, just in case something unexpected happened.
God blessed his people through soldiers. This was quite obvious in Nehemiah’s day, as well as in other places in the Biblical history of God’s people. One reason God preserved Judah was because that was the tribe which held the lineage to Jesus’ birth. As small and as seemingly insignificant as they were, God continued to preserve them and bless them in many ways.
As we look at our own United States history, we can see how God has blessed us through soldiers as well. Our Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights all came about because of the actions of soldiers at some point in history. We enjoy the right to establish a congregation and put our sign out in front without fear of government interference because soldiers thought this was a right worth fighting for. We have the right to go where we please, when we please without fear. We have the right to say what we want using whatever form of media we want, without fear of being imprisoned for our thoughts and words.
Outside of the western civilized world, many people don’t enjoy those same freedoms we do. Iraq, under the rule of Saddam Hussein is a good example. Many people were tortured in prisons. There were political prisoners of all descriptions who dared to speak out against the government. Saddam Hussein used to cruise around looking for wedding parties. He would take the new bride by force and rape her. So people used to marry in secret to avoid this happening.
Even though we listen to the news and hear about the car bombings and the attacks of the insurgents, and how these people hate the Americans, yet there are many Iraquis who are very grateful for the American soldiers and the allied forces. They are grateful because they can live without the fear of Saddam Hussein. Of course we pray that this whole situation will soon see a peaceful resolution. People are continually asking the question, “Is it worth it?” That’s one you’ll have to answer on your own.
I think we can appreciate a soldier if we look at our own lives. We are in the middle of a type of spiritual warfare with the devil. We look at God’s law and try to live as God wants his people to live, but the devil just keeps attacking us. He finds our weakest moment and takes advantage of it. Unfortunately that happens more often than we’d like.
We’re guilty of being thankless at times, taking the very things we hold dear for granted. We’re so used to freedom, that we forget that there was a price that had to be paid for it.
Jesus says in John 8, 31-32: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
Jesus paid a price to secure our freedom from sin, death, and the devil. He lived, suffered, died, and rose again so that might happen. God didn’t want to see us living under the devil’s reign of terror. And so, because of his great love for us, Jesus came to this earth so our freedom and our future hope of heaven would be secured.
As a faithful disciple of Christ, we continue in his word, for there is where we find this freedom. God’s word tells us about Jesus, and what he has done. Through the word, God gives us the faith to believe in and accept Jesus as our Saviour. Through the word, we are free to live as a disciple of Christ, and not a slave of the devil.
As the Israelites went about their work under threat from their enemies, it’s much the same for us. As we live our lives as Christians, the devil threatens us from every direction. But as the Israelites were armed to defeat the enemy, we are also armed to defeat the devil. As Dr. Martin Luther states in his hymn, “One little word shall fell him.”
This Independence Day, we can be thankful for two freedoms we have: the freedom of being a Christian, and the freedom we enjoy living in this land of ours.
Remember that our freedom in both areas came with a price. Jesus died to secure our freedom from the devil, something for which we are continually thankful.
Today, let us especially remember the soldiers of the United States and the allied countries who resolutely battled to preserve our civil freedom that we so deeply cherish.
Somebody wrote the following little piece (and I don’t know who it was), but it bears repeating—even though it might be dated a bit.
"It was the soldier, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves underneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag."
This morning, I’d like to close with a poem by A. Lawrence Vaincourt entitled, “Just A Common Soldier.”
He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.
And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?
A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.
It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?
He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.