WORD FROM THE PASTOR: Veterans Day Thoughts
I recently ran across a bit of World War II “trivia” that, to me, spoke volumes about the American military and about America in general. The little fact I encountered was this:
The American army was the first to use the reserve parachute for its airborne troops. (A reserve parachute is a second parachute that is deployed if the main parachute fails to open).
In fact, throughout World War II, the US was the only country in the European Theater of
Operations to equip paratroopers with a reserve chute.
The statement that makes is this: the US values the life of each individual soldier, and always takes a great deal of care to give each soldier a maximum chance of survival.
This valuing of individual life can also be seen in the US military’s “leave no one behind” principle–that everyone, living or dead, is to be brought back from the battlefield.
This American perspective–that a high priority should be placed on individual life–emerged in a conversation shortly after World War II between General Eisenhower and his Soviet counterpart, Field Marshall Zhukov. The two discussed how their armies dealt with German minefields that impeded their advance. Eisenhower said that the American army would stop advancing and wait for engineers to clear the minefields. Zhukov said that the Russians would simply send their troops through the minefields, figuring that the losses would be no more numerous than if the Germans had defended the area with troops. That exchange reveals a fundamental difference between the attitude of democracy and of dictatorship.
And it does, in the end, come down to a matter of democracy. American values life because America is a democracy. I once had a professor who interpreted this somewhat cynically. “The American military has always tried to limit losses,” he said, “because every casualty represents a vote, and the politicians don’t want to lose those votes.” I would like to interpret it in a more positive vein–that because the American people can vote, because every voice counts in a democratic society, America naturally prizes individual lives.
To me, this is ultimately a reflection of Gospel values. Our faith accents the value of the individual in God’s eyes. Jesus the Good Shepherd “calls His own sheep by name” (John 10:3). The sheep are not just one big anonymous flock–to Christ our Shepherd they have names and faces. Paul speaks of “the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). That’s me–not just “the world”, not just “humanity”, not just “everybody”, but me.
This emphasis on God’s love for the individual is especially pronounced in our Lutheran tradition. Luther held up the importance of the phrase for me. Jesus was born for me, Jesus died for me. For Luther, saying “Jesus died and rose again” wasn’t real faith...unless I believe it happened for me. God does not see humanity as a big lump–He sees us as individuals.
One of the most powerful statements about salvation I ever heard was this: “Even if you were the only sinner in the world...even if everyone else were totally righteous, and you were the only one in need of forgiveness...Jesus still would have come into this world to die just for you!”
That stuck in my mind and my heart, and I’ve been repeating it often ever since! You see, God has a “leave no one behind” policy, too. He wants every single one of us in heaven (I Timothy 2:4). And that’s why Christ died for each one of us.
Democracy is not commanded by the Bible. The Christian church can flourish under almost any style of government. But I certainly believe that democracy is the one form of government that most reflects Christian values–because democracy, like God, cherishes the individual.
Hence, the reserve parachute.
This month we give thanks for all those who have served in the US military to keep our nation free–like every year, we will honor them in a special ceremony in our services Nov. 13 and 14. And we also give thanks to the One who loves you and me, who knows us by name, our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ.
God loves you and so do I!