Here are my thoughts for tomorrow, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.
For those who are not aware, I am the son of a career Air Force officer and the grandson of a career Army officer. I do not know much about my grandfather, as he died when I was five years old. What I know about him comes from “tales” told to me by my parents and the diary that he wrote while in combat in France during World War I.
His entry for the month of November reads
At the beginning of November, 1918, the 2nd Army was preparing for a major attack on the section of the Hindenburg Line in the Metz area. The attacks were scheduled for November 10th and 11th. At the beginning of the month, the 14th Brigade had been withdrawn from the front line and replaced with the 13th Brigade. While ostensibly a move to give the 14th Brigade time for additional training, it appears that this move also facilitated moving the 14th to its intended position of the planned series of attacks. The 34th Regiment found itself scattered throughout the section.
During the period 9 – 11 November, the Division executed local attacks and gained temporary occupation of a hill west of Preny (9 November), Hill 323 (1 km southeast of Rembercourt) on 10 November, and established a line from 310.2 to 287.1 in the Bois de Grand-Fontaine, captured the quarry near 278.7 west of Rembercourt, and the small woods .25 km south of Mon Plaisir Fme. on November 11th.
November 9, 1918
On way to front again. We are to attack tomorrow. Men have been hiking all day & night, then to go in an attack will sure be hell.
November 10, 1918
Attack held up by very strong machine gun fire and a cannon barrage by “Fritz”.
NOVEMBER 11, 1918. –ARMISTICE DAY–
November 11, 1918
A great day. The armistice was signed today. We were to resume our attack at 2 p.m. in case it was not signed. Slept in a German dugout last night.
From the second diary – Was in German dugout at points 242.4 & 365 (on the Thiaucourt 1 to 50,000 maps) on the day Armistice was signed. 34th Infantry Regiment captured 1 German officer, 32 enlisted personnel, and 3 machine guns during tour; advance the outpost line .75 kilometers to include Hills 311.2, 310.2, and 312.
Nothing in what my grandfather wrote tells me anything about his feelings on war. Any mention of death or destruction in the diary is rather simple. I think that this was because he used his diary as a drafting board. As the Adjutant for the 34th Infantry Regiment, one of his duties was to prepare the daily reports. Those daily reports, recorded in the unit history, are almost the same things I read in the diary. Still, it was what he wrote on the front page of the diary that tells me he saw war for what it was and what it could be.
If I should fall, will the finder of this take it on him or herself to see that gets to my wife, Mrs. Walter L. Mitchell, 4150 A Detonty Street, St. Louis, MO., USA? By doing so, they were conferring a favor upon Walter L. Mitchell, Captain, 34th US Infantry, American Expeditionary Forces, France.
We can have a great big discussion about the nature of war and whether war is inevitable or the best solution to a bad problem. The United States entered both World War I and World War II because of necessity, not of desire. If the world had been a little more attuned to the nature of the world, it might have avoided both wars.
In the 50’s and 60’s, we fought wars in Asia not out of human necessity but rather out of political expediency. As we look at the Viet Nam War today, we see a war that we entered because we supported a colonial power at a time when nationalism was on the rise. How ironic it is that we fought a war of independence to free ourselves from a colonial power, yet some two hundred years later, we supported colonial powers and did little to alleviate the suffering of third world countries dominated by colonialism. Again, what would have happened if the United States had been true to its own roots of opposing colonialism?
And now, on this 88th anniversary of the first Armistice Day, we have turned war into a reason, not a reaction. We have turned in what was the announcement of peace into a celebration of economic progress. The day that was originally known as Armistice Day, in commemoration of the cessation of hostilities, is now nothing more than a day for sales and shopping. It should be a day to honor those who gave their lives, yet very few people know what this day is about. And, even though our politicians and leaders give great lip service to the service of veterans, the treatment of veterans after they return home leaves much to be desired.
We have turned war into a reason; we say that we must fight in order to ensure our security. Yet, not too many people think we are safer or more secure today as compared to a few years ago. We see terrorists around every corner; we have bought into the argument that we must give up our rights and freedoms so that we can control terrorism.
Yet terrorism grows in the presence of fear. Terrorism grows in the slums of the worlds, where those without the basic necessities of life are taught to hate those who have them. And we do nothing to remove that cycle of violence and hate. Our security is not found through the barrel of a gun; it is found through economic progress for all, not just a select few.
The Old Testament reading for today (1) is about economic security. Ruth is a widow at a time when widows were the lowest persons in society. Her survival in the world was dependent on others and others were not always willing to take on that burden. Naomi counsels Ruth to be with Boaz because Boaz is a member of Naomi’s family and marriage to Boaz will grant Ruth economic security. This is what happens; of course, as we read in the conclusion of the story for today (2), a son is born and is named Obed. Obed is the father of Jesse and Jesse is the father of David. The lineage that will lead to the birth of Jesus is now established.
Jesus also speaks out against economic hardship in the reading from the Gospel for today (3). Jesus speaks out against those whose wealth and power comes at the expense of those who have little power or wealth. He also points out that many of the rich give only in terms of what is expected of them, not what they could possible do. The widow in the story from Mark gives everything, signifying a trust in the Lord. Those that only give what is required of them through the law trust more in earthly power.
We live in a time when we think more in terms of earthly power, placing our trust on that which we can put into the bank or which we can hold in our hands. Our policies and our plans seem to be based more on keeping what we have rather than sharing with others. How can we expect to gain security of any kind in this world with that approach?
Over the past few weeks, the writer of Hebrews has pointed out that the earthly priests who performed sacrifices in the temple were tainted by sin. Much of what they had to do each day was remove that taint so that they could make offerings for the other people. Our reliance on other means for security in this world is similar; our drives and passions for earthly gains at the expense of others can only block what needs to be done in the world, not assist.
But, as the writer of Hebrews points out today (4), since Christ Himself took the place of the earthly priests through His sacrifice on the Cross, we are freed from the penalty of sin. No longer do sin and its resultant cost of our life control us; no longer are we dictated by what the earth requires of us in order to gain security in this world. Through Christ, we have gained the power over sin and death; through Christ, we are in a position to reach out and welcome others into His Kingdom.
As we pause this weekend to think about those whose sacrifices on the battlefields ensured our freedom, let us also pause and reflect on the role of Christ in our lives. If we are so tied up in the realm of the world, have we allowed Christ to come into our lives? And if we have allowed Christ to come into our hearts and our souls, have we allowed the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us so that true security, true peace is found in this world?
(1) Ruth 3: 1 – 5; 4: 13 -17
(2) Ruth 4: 17
(3) Mark 12: 38 – 44
(4)Hebrews 9: 24 – 28