Summary: Funeral message for Gary Pervall, Air Force veteran who died of the effects of Agent Orange.

Being surrounded is threatening. Even when what surrounds

you is not dangerous, you still feel threatened. How do you

feel if you are closed in? Suffocated if there is too much of

anything surrounding us. I know of people, for example, who

don’t like to be in a small room; they get anxious when there

are too many people around. They cannot ride the Metro,

because it’s crowded. They cannot go to sports events,

because there are too many bodies. And at least a few of

them tell me they don’t like to come to church, because this

place is full, and ask about the good old days when you

could get in and sit by yourself and not be bothered with

other people! Surrounded feels threatening. Even when it’s

not really a dangerous situation.

A soldier knows what it is to be surrounded. If a soldier is

surrounded, normally it is that the enemy has put him in a

place from which there is no escape. A battalion of soldiers,

finding themselves surrounded by the enemy, has little

choice. Either they fight to the death, or they surrender and

face imprisonment. It is threatening to be surrounded,

because generally it is the enemy who surrounds you.

But what if the surrounding were to come not from the

enemy, but from your friends? What if you were to be

surrounded not so much by those who are out to destroy

you, but by those who are on your side, by those you

counted on as friends and comrades? Remember – it

always feels threatening to be surrounded; even when what

surrounds you is not dangerous.

Gary Pervall the soldier was surrounded. Flying missions in

Vietnam, of course he was surrounded by danger. The

enemy was one he could not always see, and whose tactics

were unconventional. Every day was a threat. Gary lived

day and night with the awareness that Vietcong partisans

were out there, maybe nearby, maybe surrounding him, out

to do him harm. That was a threatening experience.

But Gary did his job and did it well. He did what his country

asked and performed the missions assigned. As a helicopter

crew chief, he and his men flew mission after mission, using

Agent Orange to defoliate the jungle and expose the enemy.

They surrounded the enemy with this chemical, so that he

might feel threatened and surrender. What they did not

know, at the time, was that they too were surrounded.

Something was set in motion that was going to become,

unknown to anyone, a serious threat to health. Surrounded

by an unseen enemy on the ground and a poorly understood

enemy in the air. Being surrounded is always a threatening


And, indeed, Gary was surrounded by something more than

a toxic chemical. Gary was surrounded by the political

atmosphere of the time. Many of you will remember those

days – how Vietnam veterans came back home to face the

scorn of their fellow citizens. How some of those who

opposed the war – and I do not dispute that moral vision –

but how some of those who opposed the war poured out

their disgust on those who had simply done their duty. The

nation’s agony over the politics of Vietnam soon surrounded

its veterans and threatened them, surrounded them with a

toxic atmosphere – not a toxic chemical, but a toxic mood, a

poisonous spirit. It must have been hard to come home and

face a nation which not only had no gratitude, but also had

little but ridicule for those who had borne the burden of

battle. Gary came back surrounded. Surrounded by a

health challenge that he did not even know about, and

surrounded by something less than welcome from some of

his countrymen. Surely there was something better than

this! Surely there was something more, something better, on

the horizon for Gary.

We are here this morning to bear witness that God has

surrounded Gary with something better. The threats of the

past have become the possibilities of the future. God has

surrounded Gary with something better.

The author of the Book of Hebrews goes through the long

and tortured history of God’s people, reciting their agonies ,

and then telling us that they did not receive what was

promised, but that God had provided “something better”.

“Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not

receive what was promised, since God had provided something


What has God provided? How has Gary Pervall been

surrounded by something better?


First, today, exactly six months after the terrorists’ attacks on

the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we can say God

has surrounded Gary by a better political and emotional

climate. Today we as a people are more invested in

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