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Veterans Day 2010

Nov. 11, 2010

Thank you for the invitation to speak in today's Veteran's Day ceremony. It's an honor for me to pay tribute, in even a small way, to the service and sacrifice of our women and men in uniform.

The scripture verse that comes to mind at moments like this is from John's gospel, chapter 15, verse 13, where Jesus says, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his or her life for his or her friends."

The Whitworthians honored in this [Whitworth veterans] memorial – Tom Hajji, Harry Olson, Forrest Ewens and Frank Tiffany – showed such a love. In fact, they showed a much greater love in that they laid down their lives not only for their friends but for countless others they didn't even know, for future generations, for every one of us here today. Many other Whitworthians, including a number of people here today, serve now or served in the military, in peacetime and in war, always prepared to be sent into harm's way to defend our country.

Although I have never served in the armed forces, I am privileged to have been raised by several people who did. My father and grandfather served in the Army Air Corps (later the Air Force) and in the Marines in WWII, and my stepfather served in the Army during the Vietnam War. Because of their stories, I have gained an even more profound respect for those who serve in our military.

The debt of gratitude we owe to members of the military, particularly to those who have fallen in the line of duty, can sometimes feel overwhelming, particularly for those of us with no military service.

I challenge us not to give in to that feeling. That would dishonor their service and sacrifice. Instead, we should look to the verse that appears just before the verse I read earlier. John 15:12 reads, "This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you." So what does it look like to love one another – particularly our veterans and active-duty military personnel – just the way Jesus loved us? What does it mean to lay down our lives for our friends?

First, we must remember their service. There are much more than names on this memorial. These are young men, each with a dream, whose lives were cut short before they had a chance to pursue those dreams and the world had a chance to see the mark they would leave on it.

These are young men who were sons and brothers, husbands and friends, whose deaths created painful voids in the lives of their family members and friends. Time certainly helps to heal the wounds, but their loss is felt even over generations.

These young men represent countless others who have served, and continue to serve, in the military. In the rush of our own lives, we can easily forget that the freedoms we enjoy were purchased with the blood, sweat and tears of military veterans and are being protected today by service members around the world. I challenge you to seek out the veterans in your families, places of employment or even here at Whitworth, and thank them for their service. And likewise I challenge all of us to pay attention to what's going on now in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places where our troops are in harm's way. Grieve for those who are killed or injured in combat; pray for their families. It's the least we can do.

Second, honor the freedoms that our service members have served, and died, to protect. I hope you all voted last Tuesday and that you always take advantage of the right we have to participate in our democratic government. When we think about the cost, in lost lives, to establish and protect that right, we should never take it for granted. Nor should we complain about our government when we haven't exercised our right to participate in the process of shaping that government.

Exercise your right to free speech with courage and responsibility. We dishonor our veterans and fallen soldiers when we fail to speak up against injustice and oppression. Likewise, we dishonor them when we invoke our freedom of speech to defend frivolous, nasty and destructive rhetoric. I'm told by our political science faculty that campaigns have been even uglier historically than the ones we just passed through in the last election cycle, but I still doubt that baseless negative campaign advertising is what the authors of the First Amendment thought they were safeguarding and what most service members believe they are defending. We can and should aim for a higher level of civic discourse. We should demand it.

Finally, exercise your freedom of religion by following Christ in such a radical way that you show his love and hospitality to the Samaritan, to the gentile, to the prostitute, to the leper, and to the centurion – to all of the outsiders in our midst who are too often excluded from our places of worship and from our understanding of the protections of the First Amendment.

So, Jesus tells us: "This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down his or her life for his or her friends." We have a chance, every day, to love one another as Jesus first loved us, even to the point of laying down our lives – or simply dedicating our lives – to and for our friends and for all of those Christ calls us to befriend.

On this day – on the 11th day of the 11th month, during the 11th hour – on this Veteran's Day, loving as Christ loved us, giving our lives over to love others, is how we honor the women and men in uniform who have served and died in military service.

May we be faithful to this call. Amen.