Summary: Our values determine our course of action.
What makes a man willing to lay down his life for another? Consider these three examples:
Richard Antrim, a native of Peru, Indiana, was a naval officer and POW in the Dutch East Indies during the Second World War. In April 1942 he attempted to intervene in the harsh punishment of a fellow naval officer. When the officer lost consciousness Antrim stepped in and offered to take the remainder of the punishment. His Japanese captors were stunned. The beating stopped and Antrim was spared.
David Bleak, a native of Idaho Falls, Idaho was an Army medic with the 40th Infantry Division in Korea. In June 1952 he volunteer to go with a reconnaissance patrol. During the patrol he both administered medical aid to the wounded and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy at several points including, while wounded, as he evacuated a wounded comrade.
Thomas Norris, a native of Jacksonville, Florida was a Navy SEAL officer attached to the US Military Assistance Command Headquarters in Vietnam. In April 1972 Lt Norris lead a 5 man patrol deep into enemy controlled territory in Quang Tri Province to rescue two downed pilots. He was able to locate and rescue one of the pilots but not the second. Two days later, the second pilot was found, and Norris, dressed in disguise as a fisherman, took a sampan, and with 1 Vietnamese aide, traveled all night to locate and rescue the second pilot. All returned safely to base but not before coming under heavy fire as the reach their FOB (Forward Operating Base).
What makes a man willing to do this? There are some here this morning that understand this because they were in situations like these. And we are here this morning to honor them and thank them.
There are also others that we honor today because we have been tragically reminded of the danger they face on a daily basis as they respond to a call or a fire not knowing what they will find. They do it daily in places that are familiar and not far away. And to them we also say “thank you.”
As our main text says “The greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends.” Those here today who have fought in battle on ridges and trenches or fought a fire alongside a fellow firefighter or fought someone who refused to be arrested by fellow officer understand the deeper issues and the deeper bond of this verse. Love of fellow human beings, love of country, love of family, or love of democracy, or all of these motives are motives that make men, and women, take risks on the battlefield and in the streets and roads of our country.
Today is a day of memory. It is a day for memories. Memories that make us laugh, make us cry, or make us remember individuals that we respected and who made a difference in our lives. My late father was a Korean War veteran, a member of the 2nd “Indian Head” Infantry Division. He saw much. He spoke of it little.
One of his favorite stories that he liked to tell concerned his first encounter with a Tamale, Puerto Rican style. There was a member of his unit of Puerto Rican descent who received some hot tamales and dad took a bite of one. It was bite that he never forgot. He began looking for some relief and was told; “don’t drink water, that will make it worse.” Eventually, he recovered but never forgot.
One of things that I believe we need to reflect on this Sunday and this Memorial Day Sunday, 2002 are the values that we live by. We have spoken of love already, but there are other values, especially as it relates to what we celebrate and remember this week. The cover of our bulletin speaks of three such values. It directly speaks of sacrifice and selflessness, and indirectly it speaks to the value of service.
Probably the most important of these three values we remember on this holiday is sacrifice – The greatest sacrifice we remember on this Memorial Day weekend is that of a life. The three men whose stories I shared at the beginning of this sermon all have something in common; they were all Medal of Honor winners. They were willing to sacrifice their very lives to saving others.
What does it mean to sacrifice? One of the interesting definitions of sacrifice is “to accept the loss or destruction of for an end, cause, or ideal.” Over the centuries of human existence people have been willing to accept loss or destruction for all sorts of causes and ideals. Some of these causes and ideals have been noble and some of them have not.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to sacrifice. For some, that means death. I am reminded of the story of four young men who over 40 years ago went to the jungles of South America to reach a people called the Aucas for God. All four were murdered soon after their arrival. However, that hostile group was not given upon, because others went and over the next several decades the power and love of God did its great work in this people group and soon Christ was proclaim freely and openly throughout their region.