“The Final Victory”

This was to be the devotional for Saturday, November 9th (25th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh). However, circumstances have forced us to suspend the operation of the Kitchen for the time being. It may be that we will resume operations in a few months but other factors suggest otherwise.

The Scriptures for this Sunday were Haggai 1: 15- 2: 9; 2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 5, 13 – 17; and Luke 20: 27 – 38. I focused primarily on the passages from 2 Thessalonians and Haggai but some of what was in Luke was in this piece as well.

Monday is an important day, at least for me. No, it’s not my birthday (that was back in September) and it’s not my anniversary (that’s in July). It has nothing to do with Grannie Annie or this Kitchen (that was last week). But it has all to do with who we are as a country and as a people and as a society. And yet, for all that Monday represents, we, in our wonderful manner, have reduced it to a blip on the calendar.

It has to be an important day because it is a national holiday though I doubt that many people could tell you why it is such a day. Today is Veteran’s Day and it is the day that we set aside so that we can completely and fully honor all those individuals who have served this country in war and peace throughout the years. Still, when we consider how many veterans of this country are treated when they come home, perhaps it would be better if we didn’t celebrate it all.

I sometimes think that we focus on celebrating such things in hopes that it will bring us the ultimate, the final victory. We have changed the name of this holiday from an indication that we had stopped fighting to one that suggests honoring all those who have fallen. And yet, when our veterans come home, we do little to honor them.

Now, do not think that I am opposed to honoring those who have served this country. If anything, we haven’t done enough to honor them. But I think that we, as a society, really don’t care about those who serve. We are more interested in who won the war, not how much it cost or what toll it takes on families, both here and in the countries where we fought. And what is worse, most people have probably forgotten how this day came about and what it meant.

The original name for November 11th was Armistice Day, for it was on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 at 11 in the morning that the shooting and killing in what we have come to call World War I ended. The war itself would not end for several months, until the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty.

The importance of this that I have my grandfather’s diary from that time in his life. It was a recording of the military action of the 34th Regiment of the 7th Division of the United States Army while fighting in France during 1918. In this diary, on 9 November 1918, he wrote

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.

Two days later, 11 November 1918, he wrote

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.

That’s all he wrote. Nothing he wrote in this diary ever gave me a hint of his feelings about war, death or destruction. But there is a note at the beginning of the diary that, in the event of his death on the battlefield, that the finder of the diary find a way to get it to his wife, my grandmother. I think that for all that was not in the diary there was an understanding that death was always a possibility. For the record, my grandfather died some 37 years later, in peacetime and at home, among family and friends. Of course not everyone was so lucky as the words on so many marble head stones in the many national cemeteries throughout this country show us.

We have to realize that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the shooting stopped. This was not the end to the “War to end all wars” but merely a cessation of combat activities.

There was a distinct possibility that combat action might resume, as the notes in my Grandfather’s diary suggest, if the various parties did not sign the agreement.

Over the years, we have forgotten the war did not officially end until the signing of the Versailles treaty in April, 1919. And while I am not a historian, I would hazard a guess that many historians will tell you that the unofficial beginning of World War II began at that moment.

As I have watched the various shows about World War I that appear on the various cable channels, I have been continually amazed about what we don’t know about what happened then. The one thing that has always struck me was the vindictiveness of the French and English in setting the terms for the treaty of Versailles. If there was ever a clear cut cause for World War II, it can be found in that single document.

The conditions imposed by that treaty would set the stage for the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. I sometimes wonder if we are not doing the same thing with our various wars today. And yet, we keep on sending people off to war, in hopes of achieving that final, elusive victory.

We as a society want a finality to things; we don’t want things to drag on. But we are unwilling to work for the finality; we are unwilling, and perhaps unable, to find a way to remove the causes that bring about war and violence.

Paul’s warning to the people of Thessalonica is very clear. Be wary of the false preachers, the ones who proclaim these are the End Times, the time of Christ’s final victory. Paul is very clear in his words that while Christ’s time reaches into the the past and is clearly in the present, it also reaches into the future. If we think that these are the End Times, Paul would tell you that you had better think again.

Some might say that the reading from the Gospel about the widow and the seven brothers might not apply to these thoughts today. But I think they just might. Jesus rebukes the authorities for the blindness in seeking a solution to a hypothetical situation through the laws of society. (It may not be all that hypothetical; I have a cousin who married two of three sisters but that’s another story for another time).

Can we see beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law? Or do we get so caught up in staying within the constraints of the law, we fail to see what might happen?

In the passage for Haggai, we read about the people rebuilding the Temple after its destruction. It is not a time for vindictiveness but a time for rebuilding, a time to begin again.

As long as we are more concerned with who won the war, we are never going to be in a position to rebuild and restart. Jesus did not come to enforce the law but to go beyond the law, to restore the connection between the people and God.

I think that, on this day, when we honor those who have served this country, as we plant flags on the white marble headstones, we can do one of two things. We can remain locked up in the legalistic and limited view of the world that says the answer to war is more war. If this is what we think, then we need to get more land because there will be more dead to bury.

Or we can think about the love of God for all of his people and work to make sure that love is expressed in every language in every nation by every person today, tomorrow and for the days to come. That will be the final victory.

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