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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011
2 Samuel 23:8-12, 17b-39
Revelation 19:11-16

2 Samuel 23:8-12, 17b-39
David's Mighty Warriors
8 These are the names of David's mighty warriors:
  Josheb-Basshebeth,[a] a Tahkemonite,[b] was chief of the Three; he raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed[c] in one encounter.
9 Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim[d] for battle. Then the Israelites retreated, 10 but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead.
11 Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel's troops fled from them. 12 But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory.

Such were the exploits of the three mighty warriors.
18 Abishai the brother of Joab son of Zeruiah was chief of the Three.[e] He raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed, and so he became as famous as the Three. 19 Was he not held in greater honor than the Three? He became their commander, even though he was not included among them.
20 Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab's two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. 21 And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian's hand and killed him with his own spear. 22 Such were the exploits of Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he too was as famous as the three mighty warriors. 23 He was held in greater honor than any of the Thirty, but he was not included among the Three. And David put him in charge of his bodyguard.
24 Among the Thirty were:
  Asahel the brother of Joab,
  Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem,
25 Shammah the Harodite,
  Elika the Harodite,
26 Helez the Paltite,
  Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa,
27 Abiezer from Anathoth,
  Sibbekai[f] the Hushathite,
28 Zalmon the Ahohite,
  Maharai the Netophathite,
29 Heled[g] son of Baanah the Netophathite,
  Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah in Benjamin,
30 Benaiah the Pirathonite,
  Hiddai[h] from the ravines of Gaash,
31 Abi-Albon the Arbathite,
  Azmaveth the Barhumite,
32 Eliahba the Shaalbonite,
  the sons of Jashen,
  Jonathan 33 son of[i] Shammah the Hararite,
  Ahiam son of Sharar[j] the Hararite,
34 Eliphelet son of Ahasbai the Maakathite,
  Eliam son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,
35 Hezro the Carmelite,
  Paarai the Arbite,
36 Igal son of Nathan from Zobah,
  the son of Hagri,[k]
37 Zelek the Ammonite,
  Naharai the Beerothite, the armor-bearer of Joab son of Zeruiah,
38 Ira the Ithrite,
  Gareb the Ithrite
39 and Uriah the Hittite.
  There were thirty-seven in all.

Revelation 19:11-16
The Heavenly Warrior Defeats the Beast

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter."[a] He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

Here's what's happening in your neck of the woods: Well, we're off to a great weather start this holiday weekend, folks. Looks like it's going to be up near 90 today and tomorrow with a just few thin clouds and maybe a slight chance of an afternoon thundershower tomorrow, but mostly it's just going to be a fantastic Sunday and Monday. If you've got a boat - or better, if you have a friend who's got a boat - get out there in the water and play. The pools are opening, so paint your nose white, get on your best plaid shorts, penny loafers and dark socks. Show those calves and have yourself a ball.

On the other hand, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, it's going to be sunny and very hot today, tomorrow, and pretty much throughout the next century. Highs today will be around 110, with a heat index that makes it feel like 113. Tomorrow though, a break, as even though the temperature will still hover around 110, the shade of a few passing clouds will make it feel like it's only 109.

That's the actual forecast for Kandahar. Add 50 pounds of body armor and equipment and then see what the "feels-like" temperature is. I don't know how those men and women do it, day in and day out, a million miles from home where the main forecast is "high alert" 24 hours a day. I know what you're thinking: It's just like a preacher to throw hot water on a really cool weekend. That's not what I'm trying to do. I think most of those men and women in Kandahar (and God and the Defence Department) only know where else would want you to barbecue a little happier and belly-flop a little slappier, and raise a tall one a little taller on their behalf, until they come home and can do it for themselves.


In the Old Testament, the word, "Warrior" shows up about 100 times, give-or-take, depending on your translation. In the early days, it was glorious to be a warrior. They sang songs about warriors. Samson and the Philistines, David and Goliath. David's Three Mighty Warriors about whom you may not have heard: Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed 800 men with just his spear; Eleazar who killed so many Philistines his hand froze to his sword; Shammah, defender of the lentil field. These were Israel's Seal Team Six.

The word, "Warrior" shows up about 100 times in the Old Testament. You know how many times it shows up in the New Testament? Zero. The closest you come is in the nearly sci-fi battle scenes of the Book of Revelation. Really. James Cameron's got nothing on John of Patmos. Revelation 19:11 says, "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war." In the New Testament, the people don't wage war; Christ does. And instead of spears and swords his weapons are faithfulness, truth, and justice.

Eternity's a long time. When you're talking about God's time, a few thousand years aren't even a half an eye-blink. We're the People of the Weekend Forecast. It's not our fault; that's just the way we're built. If we get lucky and make it until the weatherman calls out our birthday, that's still short-range in the grand forecast. We're short-range people. We say we have long-range communications, long-range missiles, long-range plans, but stare up at a desert-clear night sky and you know in your gut, our longest-range anything is barely a puddle-jump. We're made our spears and swords a thousand times more accurate, a million times more tactically effective. But ultimately, we know they're just short-term solutions.

Depending on which side of the Civil War you were on (or may still be on), Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was either a brilliant warrior or a war criminal. Even at the height of his effectiveness as a soldier, he wrote in a letter in 1865,

"I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation."#

And as infamous as the swath he burned through the South, he is remembered more for his concluding words to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy in 1869:

"I've been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It's entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don't know the horrible aspects of war. I've been through two wars and I know. I've seen cities and homes in ashes. I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!"

We're short-term people who know our answers don't come close to solving long-term problems. We're still using Old Testament tools; we've just made them sharper and smarter. We know they are anything but heavenly. But in the short-term, the best we can do is suppress our urge to use them as long as we possibly can, and when we must use them, do so as carefully and as briefly as possible.

This Memorial Day, we celebrate. We celebrate our freedom. And we exercise our freedom in whatever celebration of leisure we can find. We celebrate, but because we can celebrate we also remember. We remember the men and women whose dedication and courage has fought to uphold faithfulness, truth, and justice. We celebrate for those who can't. We remember those who have sacrificed their lives and we also remember those who are making sacrifices right now.

We know our short-term ways are old. We long for the day when we can speak the word "Warrior" zero times. And until that day, we sing the song of the warrior poet, King David, of the Thirty-third psalm,

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
  no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
  despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him,
  on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death....
20 We wait in hope for the LORD;
  he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
  for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
  even as we put our hope in you.

Let us remember that which is old.
Let us celebrate that which is here today.
Let us dream of that which is new and eternal.

- James