Amandus Derr, Interim Senior Pastor
Thursday in the Twenty-fourth Week after Pentecost
November 11, 2021
Wisdom 3:1-9; Isaiah 40: 27-31; Psalm 88: 1-5a; 13-14; 16b-18
In nomine Jesu!
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever. Those who trust in God will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with God in love, because grace and mercy are upon God’s holy ones, and the LORD watches over God’s elect. Wisdom 3:1-9
For nine of the last eleven days, I’ve had the high privilege each morning of praying with and listening to stories from a stalwart group of veterans and their spouses, and each day with them hang 22 dog tags on a large wooden tree standing right outside this nave. Why 22? Because each dog tag represents an American veteran, home from war, who because of what Pastor Duane Larson called “moral wounds” and I call “soul wounds,” commit suicide every day. After 11 days, 242 tags adorn that tree. If we did this every day all year, that number would be 4,015. That’s more than twice the number killed in action over the entirety of our combat action in Afghanistan from October 7, 2001, to August 30, 2021. One more number statistic: Since the beginning of the 21st Century, over 78,000 veterans have committed suicide. That’s 20,000 more than were killed in action in Vietnam. These are the fallen whose deaths we lament today. These are the heroes we honor. They have no monument – no black gabbro memorial wall; no bronze statues; no marble columns to mark their sacrifice. In the words of the writer of Wisdom: “…their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction;” Yet, as that writer also reminds us tonight, in asleep in the arms of the Lord, “they are at peace.”
It is right that we should remember these continuing daily casualties of conflicts our nation has been continually engaged in — until last August — all our lives. It is right that we remember them; they who have borne their “soul scars,” for as few as 71 days and as long as 71 years. It is right that we have done this and intend to continue to do this. Right, but not enough.
Because there are veterans all around us bearing and burying their inner pain within our families, among our neighbors, in our communities. Loving spouses; raising children; worshiping beside us. Entrepreneurs, leaders in business and government; some wealthy; far too many homeless, living under our bridges and camping on our streets. 22 more will die tomorrow. By this time next year, the roll call of their names will include over 4000 more.
Tonight we honor them, lament with them, listen to their comrades, pray for their wholeness, but let us resolve together to do something more, not as a formal liturgy, but as a personal mission: to seek out those who have served around and among us and listen to their stories; and as we began to recognize them, add them by name to our daily prayers. Our nation is not, at least not formally, fighting any wars now. Let us use this time of relative peace to listen to, pray and lament with those who have fought them. 282,500 veterans live here in Houston. They aren’t hard to find.
One of my favorite ancient prayers is prayed at Christmas. It begins, “Almighty God, you wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature.” In and through Christ, God did that for us. Let us this night commit ourselves to restore the dignity of others, especially those “who have served and defended our country and the values of freedom and justice we hold so dear.