Deacon Terry Gatwood: What’s Worth Remembering?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1C, Sunday, May 29, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you’d prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 18.20-39; Psalm 96.1-13; Galatians 1.1-12; Luke 7.1-10.

This weekend many of you have or will enjoy time with family and friends outside, taking in the beautiful scenery God has given to us, grilling out and remembering those who can’t be with us anymore. It’s a weird sort of holiday, as it’s typically filled with joy, but set against the backdrop of those who have given there lives in service to others.

I come from a family with scattered military traditions. It was always in my mind that I would serve someday if I had the physical ability to do so. After September 11, 2001, I weighed 300 pounds. I knew that the time was right that I should enter a time of national service, but my own laziness in caring for my physical body stood in the way. It took me four years to lose the 120 pounds I needed to, but I stayed committed to what I believed in to do it.

I enlisted in the United States Navy on the same day in 2005 that we buried a young Marine in Obetz. He was a member of 3rd Batallion, 25th Marines, Lima Company, based at Rickenbacker. He was a good kid, and dedicated to joining the Marine Corps from the time he was a boy. I remember him talking about it in high school, and at Rainbow Lanes Bowling Alley in South Columbus when I’d see him working there. And he did as he said he would. He believed in standing up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves, and, if necessary, sacrificing his life for what he believed in and for others.

I knew another guy in that same unit who was killed in combat. He was a young corpsman from Georgia, with a four year old son and daughter on the way, whose job it was to attend to the medical needs of combat casualties, and even give first aid to wounded enemy combatants as rounds continued to fly overhead. He sacrificed his life for those whom he loved, at home and in the theater of combat with him.

I’ve known so many young people with whom I’ve served, and others who served from my hometown and area, who sacrificed their lives for others. Because they threw themselves out there to ensure their friends could survive the day, they died. And they didn’t do these things fool heartedly, but with the full knowledge that this could be the moment of their final breath. The last time they got to feel the hot sun on their faces, or smell the scents around them. It was the last time they were going to see their friends, whom they loved, and they stood up to sacrifice for them anyway.

I also am reminded today of spending a week on Iwo Jima in 2007. I was the chaplain’s assistant for Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, and we were embarked on the USS Harper’s Ferry underway for the annual Battle of Iwo Jima memorial service. Iwo Jima is nothing more than a little porkchop shaped volcanic island in the middle of the sea, far away from anything else resembling civilization. The battle there was terrible. 26,000 Americans were wounded, with 6,800 of them ultimately dying from their wounds.  Upwards of 18,375 Japanese soldiers perished during this same battle. It was a terrible scene in its time, now replaced by controlled tourism by the Japanese government. The evidence of what happened that day is still apparent, but it is now a place where peace is honored and cherished.

I met a man that day called James Ward. James was part of the invasion of Iwo Jima. He was very old by the time I met him, and sadly, I have learned that he has now passed. When I first saw him he was standing on the black sand beaches looking towards Mount Suribachi. I recognized the look on his face as the look of the man remembering a painful past. I walked down the hill to greet him, and he asked me to help him storm the beach just one last time. So, with his cane in one hand, and his other hand on my shoulder we walked up the sandy hillside towards the flat part of the island in the same place he had run with full rucksack unaided 62 years ago. He told me some things on the slow walk up the hill that day that I can’t but think about during times of the year such as this: “We will sacrifice for who or what we love. All will have to make sacrifices in their lives, so make sure it’s the right sacrifice for the right thing.” He wasn’t ashamed of what happened during that battle, but he had grown wise in his thinking about it.

Thinking about his wise words I cannot help but think about the cross of Jesus Christ. There was a sacrifice made there, to be sure, and it was once done for those whom Jesus loved, for the right thing.

In the Gospel of Saint Luke we read about Jewish elders in Capernaum coming to ask Jesus to come and heal the Gentile servant of a Roman centurion. They believed that this centurion was worthy of this since he was a kind man to them, and even built them a synagogue. As Jesus comes along towards the home of the Roman man friends of the centurion met him. These friends told Jesus, “he doesn’t believe he is worthy of even having you, Jesus, under his roof; I didn’t come to you myself because I am not worthy of even speaking with you. But, if you only speak the word that she will be healed, healed she will be. I am a man under authority, and I have other soldiers under me. When I tell one to come or go, he comes or goes. If I tell someone to do something, they do it.”

Jesus listened carefully to this line of reasoning and remarks, turning around all the way and looking into the eyes of the crowd of people who were following him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” At that moment the servant was found in good health.

This is but a part of the good news that Paul writes about in his opening of the letter to the Galatians. Jesus Christ is who he said he is, did the things that have been reported to you by eyewitnesses and by Paul, and has opened to us the ability to live in the ultimate reality in the world that is imagined in the text. This is a world of faith and trust, of pure and holy love, a world where we are no longer slaves to sin and death, but rather are now made alive in Jesus Christ to live a new life. It is a life where we now have access to the grace of God that leads us towards repentance and salvation in faith. And this is all made possible, all of it, by a sacrifice.

Many of the people I’ve spoken about this morning gave their lives as sacrifices for their friends. And Jesus gives himself as a sacrifice for his. But that’s where the comparison ends. As noble and worthy of remembering as the sacrifices of our fallen military members may be, they gave themselves for a temporary cause. And many others have had to, and will again have to, repeat these kinds of sacrifices on battlefields until Christ comes. But the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not merely a sacrifice to help others; Christ’s sacrifice is the one sacrifice that had to be done for all people, and only once. The sacrifice of Jesus is the sacrificing of Jesus on an altar shaped like a cross, where he bled and died for you, and for me, to save us from slavery to sin, to make us holy by his blood, and to bring us into his Kingdom for eternity right now, in this place where we live in Central Ohio.  Here are two doxological statements for you to remember: “Jesus is Lord,” and, “Jesus saves.” This is the gospel in five words.

And so we must consider more the letter of Paul. In verse 6 he is absolutely astonished that some are turning from the gospel that they first came to, and now they are turning to some other gospel—which is really no gospel at all!

I’m sure that many of you have been sitting in your homes on the couch resting, or sipping an ice cold drink out on your porch when you’ve been visited by the guys in black slacks, white shirts, and black ties. Typically they’ll be on bikes with backpacks and want to talk to you about another “testament about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Or maybe it was the well dressed man and woman inviting you to their Kingdom Hall for a “free lecture” on some interesting topic concerning Jesus or heaven or whatever else they’re discussing that day. Obviously I’m speaking of Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They preach about Jesus, but in the end they preach a faith that cannot save. For in the LDS faith Jesus is merely one of a pantheon of gods, and for the JW’s Jesus is a created being, originally existing as Archangel Michael. They do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but opt for a “spiritual resurrection” in a non-material state. Both emphasize works based salvation. The denial of God’s self-revelation of God as Trinity, eternal co-existence, means that what they preach is a gospel that has no power to save. It is empty and dead, even if it has attractive bits attached to it.

Jesus is our sacrifice. Jesus is THE sacrifice. Jesus, the one who was dead, but now is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us, is absolutely and entirely God. And the Holy Spirit continues his ministry on the earth even to this very moment that we share together in this room. The Holy Spirit reminds us while reading the Scriptures together here and alone at home, through the preaching and teaching of the Church, and through holy conversation with each other, rooted and grounded in the foundational truth that Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, does what he claims he would do, and we are his people whom he has called together. And when one person of the Trinity is doing his work, all three are doing the work.

James Ward is one of those men whom Christ called. And so is Andrew Colvin, the priest I was serving under that day on Iwo Jima. We held a memorial Eucharist atop Mount Suribachi, where James, myself, a handful of other vets and active duty members, and several Japanese veterans of the battle participated in the sacrament at the Lord’s Table together. Enemies no longer; brothers forever, united by the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, of which there is no substitute. When we begun praying the great thanksgiving together, voices united in different languages and accents blending together in common worship, I began to weep. The Gospel is what it claims to be, and does what it claims to do. It is the words of life to us, and it takes men who were slaves to evil and sin and makes them into entirely new creatures in Christ. All of this because of the one great sacrifice made by Christ of himself for all of humanity forever. And this causes me to tremble and want to shout!

96:1 O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
96:2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
96:3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
96:4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
96:5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
96:6 Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
96:7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
96:8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
96:9 Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
96:10 Say among the nations, “The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
96:11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
96:12 let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
96:13 before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
1:4 who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
1:5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.