“Jesus said: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. They who keep my commandments are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by God, and I will love them and reveal myself to them…As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’”
For most of my life, I have been one of those people who appreciated Memorial Day because I was grateful for the day off and I really enjoy bar-b-qs. I am sad to say that it was only recently that I discovered how meaningful Memorial Day is, thanks to my friend and KUC member Carrie Hoza. She is the first friend I have had who has gone to war. Before meeting Carrie, thoughts of soldiers and wars were abstract for me. Of course my sense of empathy for others made me sad for the people who fought, were wounded or died in wars but getting to know Carrie and hearing her stories has touched my heart in a whole new way. She gave up the comforts of home here on the North Shore for the cramped quarters of a unit stationed in Iraq. Day after day, she held her own life and the lives of others in her hands as she navigated the dangers of this hot and hostile land in her fuel convoys. She does not see herself as brave or noble, but I cannot help but be in awe of her and the sacrifices she made.
When we talked about her time in Iraq, Carrie told me that “Feats of bravery during war happen because you come to see your fellow soldiers as your family. They are your brothers or sisters in arms. There’s an amazing bond that forms between you. You are literally willing to die for someone else.” Carrie knew that all of her guys were willing to lay down their lives for her because they did it on a daily basis. She says, “I tried to do that for them too. I was their platoon leader and had to give them the intel to help bring them home on the safest routes. Every day you put others before yourself,” she continued, “giving others your care package when they didn’t get one, giving someone the last piece of pie, giving them your spot in line to call home, giving up your spot to go home on leave so someone else could go instead.” The most intense act of sacrifice that Carrie saw was when her fellow soldiers would jump into burning vehicles to try to save others. She told me “People fight for their comrades in arms not because their President tells them to, but because they have become family, and you are
willing to lay down your life out of your love of humanity. You can’t sit and watch someone in danger and not do something.” When Carrie tells me these things, she does not see anything special in it. She does not see herself as heroic. She sees this as just what a soldier does. And now I see why it is so important to set aside that special time every year to remember the unsung heroes like Carrie, the amazing women and men who made such sacrifices for the good of others. These are truly inspiring people who have great selflessness and dedication and who should not be forgotten.
Soldiers deserve to be remembered for the great love they have lived through their courage and sacrifices. I do not think I could find that kind of courage. I wonder, what gives a person the strength to be so brave? And my heart reminds me of what Carrie would say, “It’s love.” The Bible says so too. In the gospel according to John 15:13 “No one has greater love than this – that one would lay down his life for his friends.” And in 1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for others.” There was a video on the news where someone had taped a man standing next to the Vietnam Memorial. His right hand was extended to the wall and he was gently caressing someone’s name that was etched into the wall. Over and over again, he repeated these words: “He died for me. He died for me.” Was it a brother? A father? A friend? A fellow soldier? We don’t know. But one thing is for certain—the man was visibly moved by the sacrifice of another. Love has that power to make us give up our comforts, our possessions, our very selves in sacrifice for the well-being of others, and in the face of such love, such sacrifice, we are overwhelmed and amazed by what love can do. Life teaches us that love is difficult and it can be costly. The Bible teaches us that love is not just a feeling, a warm tingling of the heart, it is also an action. We do not truly love unless we are willing to act upon our feelings. Claiming to love another is easy, but living love for them is difficult. Jesus showed us how important and powerful living love is and Jesus told us to follow his example. Whether they were Christian or not, the soldiers who gave their lives for the good of others were truly inspiring examples of what it means to be followers of Jesus. Jesus’ ultimate example was to show us through his death and resurrection that love is alive. Love takes sacrifice but even in the worst the world is capable of, love is what ultimately triumphs over everything else.
In wars we see the worst in people, but we also see the best of people. When we think of wars, we often thing of the atrocities committed, but we must also look for the stories of love and sacrifice amidst the horrors. We can find just such a story aboard the SS Dorchester on a winter day in 1943. World War II was in full swing, and the ship was headed across the icy North Atlantic where German U-boats lurked. At 12:00 on the morning of February 3, a German torpedo hit the ship and it started to sink. 903 men and four chaplains rushed to the lifeboats. A young GI crept up to one of the chaplains. “I’ve lost my life jacket,” he said. “Take this,” the chaplain said, handing the soldier his jacket. Before the ship
sank, each chaplain gave his life jacket to another man. The heroic chaplains lifted their voices in prayer as the Dorchester went down and the men who they helped to save lived to tell the story of the chaplain’s extraordinary sacrifice.
There are countless stories of heroic acts of courage, love and sacrifice. So many people’s stories have been lost with them. It is in their honor that we take this day to remember everyone who has lived and died so that others may live.
A group of historians compiled this startling information: Since 3600 B.C., there have been 14,351 wars in which 3.64 billion people have been killed. No wonder Jesus’ most important message was to love each other. Again and again he tried to teach people that the main thing that mattered in life was love, love for God, love for self and love for others. What a different world it would be if we could all somehow follow that greatest of commandments. It seems that all too often it is too hard to choose love. It is not the loving that is hard; it is the sacrifice that the love entails that trips us up. Year after year we will celebrate Memorial Day, and we will remind each other of the kind of love and sacrifice that is possible. Every Sunday is a kind of Memorial Day to remember the power of love in our lives. Each week when we gather as a community of faith, we may offer each other support and encouragement to keep following the way of love. We will try and we will fail and we will keep trying. And we will teach our children to love, and we will live into the hope that maybe the next generation will put an end to war and will live in peace because we can see in the choices of our children a possibility for a better future.
Dave Simmons in his book Dad, the Family Coach shares this story about his daughter. He writes, “I took Helen (eight years old) and Brandon (five years old) to the Mall to do a little shopping. As we drove up, we spotted a big sign that said, “Petting Zoo.” The kids asked, “Daddy, can we go? Please. Please. Can we go?” I said “Sure,” gave them both a quarter and left them at the gate. The petting zoo consists of a portable fence erected in the mall with about six inches of sawdust and a hundred little furry baby animals of all kinds. Kids pay their money and stay in the enclosure enraptured with the squirmy little critters while their parents shop. I went off in search of a saw. A few minutes later, I turned around and saw Helen was walking along behind me. I was shocked to see her and I asked her what was wrong. She looked up at me with those giant brown eyes and said sadly, “Well, Daddy, it cost fifty cents. So, I gave Brandon my quarter.” Then she repeated the family motto. The family motto is “Love is Action!” She had given Brandon her quarter, and no one loves cuddly furry creatures more than Helen. She had watched our family do and say “Love is Action!” for years around the house. Now she had incorporated it into her life.
I took Helen to the petting zoo. We stood by the fence and watched Brandon go crazy petting and feeding the animals. Helen stood with her hands and chin resting on the fence and just watched Brandon. I had fifty cents burning a hole in my pocket; I never offered it to Helen, and she never asked for it. Because she knew Love always pays a price. Love always costs something. Love gives; it
doesn’t grab. Helen gave her quarter to Brandon, and the gift was made sweeter by the sacrifice it entailed.” In this story, the father does not do what we expect and give his daughter the money, but he does do what will help his child to learn a very important lesson that all of us would benefit from learning.
This weekend all over America, people of all ages, backgrounds and faiths are joining together to remember the sacrifices that others have made. Remembering the lives and sacrifices of others is how we come to know who we truly are and who we are destined to be. It can be a source of strength and inspiration for us to think of the people who tried to live out love even in the worst of situations. And as Christians we turn to the inspiration of Jesus who was truly the greatest teacher of love, who came back from the grave to show us that beyond betrayal, beyond torture, beyond pain and death, love endures. Love triumphs. It is sad but true that it is often in the darkest hours that we come to the realization of what is truly important in life. Most often when faced with tragedy or life’s end, we do not think of money or possessions, we think of the people we have loved and who have loved us. So let love be alive in us this day and every day. Let it guide us in all that we do and say. On Memorial day we celebrate the power of remembering. Every act of love is worth remembering. Live so that you will be remembered for the love you gave and the sacrifices you made.