Monday, October 1, 2007

A Sermon for a Young Man Being Deployed to Iraq

[LCpl Jared Sutton, USMC, a member of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta and thus a parishioner of mine, will be deployed soon to Iraq. On Sunday, September 30, we held a service of prayer and blessing for Jared. What follows is the sermon I delivered at that service.]

What Does the Lord Require of You?

(A sermon based on Micah 6:6-8)

Jared, you volunteered to serve in the United States Marine Corps. We who are your church family want you to know that we love you, that we support you, and that we appreciate you. We are grateful for your desire to serve our country. We are proud to know that we have helped, along with your family, to produce a young man of Christian commitment and outstanding character who will bring honor to his uniform and to our nation.

When you enlisted in the Marines, you took the following oath:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

Being a Marine is a large component of your identity now. You are responsible to live up the commitments you have made. You are responsible to do what the President and your commanding officers order and expect you to do. For the sake of your duty and for the sake of your safety and the safety of your fellows, that is at it must be. We know that you are and will continue to be a good Marine.

As a Marine, you are responsible to abide by the instructions found in other guiding documents such as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Geneva Conventions, and the Code of Conduct for Members of the Armed Forces of the United States. I am particularly struck by Article VI of the Code of Conduct which states,

I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

That’s a good article by which to live.

Jared, you are also a member of the family of God and of the Body of Christ. As a Marine, you have a tremendous obligation to your country and to your comrades in arms. Because you are a Christian, though, your first obligation is to the God who made you, who saved you, and who sustains you. That is the way that it is supposed to be for all of us who are Christians. In our work and in our lives we have many obligations and responsibilities but our main allegiance is to Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s love for us and our love for God condition and color everything that we think, say, and do in every area of our lives. In all things we are Christians. It is not that we are Christians first; it is that we are Christians only and that is the controlling reality in our lives.

Christians have an oath, too: “Jesus is Lord.” We also have a guiding document: the Bible. Our submission to Jesus as Lord defines who we are and what we do. The teachings in the Bible help us to flesh out our identity and to inform our lifestyle. While you are in Iraq you will encounter radical insurrectionists. I want to challenge to take your commitment to Jesus as Lord and your commitment to following the teachings of the Bible so strongly that you offer a radical insurrectionist witness yourself. All I am saying is this: let others—be they your fellow Marines, your commanding officers, Iraqi citizens, or insurrectionists—see Jesus in you!

The text that we read from the prophet Micah points you and all of us in the right direction. God has indeed told you what is good and what God requires of you.

First, “do justice.” That is, care about your relationship with God more than anything else and do everything that you can to live out that relationship in the world.

Second, “love mercy.” That is, try to see others as God sees them, which is finally defined as “Jesus died for them, too.” Show love and grace and forgiveness at every opportunity. You will be in situations where that will be difficult but that is always to be your goal.

Third, “walk humbly with your God.” Know the difference between confidence and arrogance. Understand that you are, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus as closely as you can. Let Jesus show you the way. Know that you need the Lord’s guidance and help in everything. Understand and accept that without God you can only fail but with God you can only succeed, no matter how easy or difficult your way may be.

Jared, in closing, I want to read a portion of our Christian marching orders. I pray that you and all of us will take them to heart as we live our lives and do our duty.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:3-11)

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