Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb. 12:1-3)
My older brother, James, is a Marine and a veteran, so last week I called to tell him I’d be preaching on the Sunday before Veterans Day and to see what he, a veteran, would like to hear a preacher say on such an occasion. So I called and said, “Hey, James. I’m preaching the Sunday before Veterans Day. What do you think I should say about that?” I waited, pencil in hand. “Well,” he said, “I guess nothing.” I said, “You are not helpful to me at all” and I hung up. I’m just kidding, we kept talking, but I took his point.
What I heard from him is the same sort of humility I hear from lots of veterans. They endure more than anyone should have to, and we seldom hear the extent of their sacrifices of time, family, body, soul. They do their job, without expectation of thanks or gratitude. This is one of the traits we admire most about so many veterans: humility.
In church we hope to learn this virtue also. We hope to be people who labor for God’s kingdom without recognition or accolades, but only for the glory of God. We call this being a servant.
Well, now I’m going to do the thing little brothers are known for doing—that is, the exact opposite of what he suggested I do. I’m going to hazard to say a word about veterans and God on this Sunday before Veterans Day.
On days like today I’m particularly aware that we Christians live in two different time zones: the secular/civil calendar, and the Christian calendar. Tomorrow the U.S. will celebrate veterans, and, at the same time, the Christian church will celebrate one veteran in particular: St. Martin of Tours.
You only thought you were done hearing about saints after All Saints Sunday last week. Consider this a bonus. St. Martin of Tours was a veteran of the Roman Army and he happens to be the patron saint of soldiers, so I think it’s fair for me to tell a story or two about St. Martin today.
Martin was the son of a Roman Army veteran, and like-father-like-son. When he was of age, Martin himself became part of the Roman Army. Far from getting sent to Siberia, Martin was made part of the ceremonial cavalry unit, became an officer, and graduated to garrison duty in what is present day France.
Martin grew up in the beginning of the 4th century, when Christianity was just interesting enough that when youth rebelled against their parents they joined the church. Wouldn’t it be great if church were that interesting again? Martin was a Christian before he ever joined the army, and he remained devoted to God throughout his service.
On one particularly cold winter night, when Martin was riding his horse out of the city gates, he saw a beggar clothed in tattered rags, hardly even enough the cover his body much less keep him warm. Martin was wearing his dress blues, his alpha uniform, the unit regalia—he was covered in gleaming armor, and sturdy helmet, sword on his hip, and a distinguishing white cloak lined with lamb’s wool. Upon seeing the beggar, Martin was moved with compassion. He took off his cloak, slashed it in two with his sword, gave half to the beggar and wrapped what remained around his shoulders.
You’ve heard stories like this one before: soldiers giving away their parka to keep an orphaned child warm, sharing their meal with a hungry villager, protecting the innocent at the risk of their own life. We know these stories and we rightly celebrate them.
Later that night, while he was dreaming, Martin had a vision of Jesus. Jesus was standing before a group of angels, holding the half of the cloak Martin had given the beggar. Jesus said to the angels, “See this is the mantle Martin…gave to me.” I can’t know this for sure, but I wonder if Martin didn’t have in mind the time Jesus said, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Of course, now you’re thinking, “I know where this is going. The preacher is going to tell us we should give away warm clothes to the homeless, tutor at Southwest Elementary school, volunteer with the Kairos prison ministry, help out at Table of Grace, and visit those who are homebound and in the hospital.” Well that’s not where I was going, but since we’re there anyway…
I do think you should do those things. I think you should go home and collect every article of winter clothes you can afford to give away to someone else in need (I’m guessing that’s at least 1). And I think you should plan on being here at the church this Saturday to help with Table of Grace. And when you do those things you should look for the Jesus in others.
Look for Jesus in the faces of those you serve, and also in your parents, children, spouses, friends. I’ve heard anyone can see God in the beauty of nature, but it takes a really mature faith to see God in the people you live with, or the people you share a pew with.
I want you to look for Jesus, but you can’t know how to look for Jesus if you haven’t first fixed your eyes on him!
At the time of this story, Martin was a young guy. Martin was still learning what it meant to be a Christian; he was doing what our confirmands are doing.
Where are our confirmands? Martin was where you are. He was learning about church history, the basics of the faith, he was learning about Jesus, sin, and salvation. Mostly, Martin was learning about stories of Jesus. Martin was learning to fix his eyes on Jesus in his studies, his prayers, and his life. That way, when a situation came up—like a beggar in the street—he’d know what to do.
So, church, what I’m asking you to do is no more that what our confirmands and St. Martin did: fix your eyes on Jesus.
When you fix your eyes on Jesus you are compelled to act: in compassion, in repentance, with assurance…
Easier said than done…Just as we’re coming down from the sugar high of Halloween, Christmas candy hits the aisles at Wal-Mart. There’s plenty of things to fix our eyes on this time of year other than Jesus: Christmas lists, basketball season, and a careful, maybe nervous, eye on a less than full bank account.
How do you fix your eyes on Jesus when there is so much else competing for your attention? Deuteronomy says we should fix the words of the LORD on our hearts, hands, foreheads, and the doorposts of our house and gates. Sounds excessive and unrealistic, but I think Apple has appropriated this bit of old-fashioned Hebrew wisdom better that the church. They’ve cornered the market such that you’re whole day can depend the efficiency of an iSomething and a little apple with a bite taken out of it is never far from sight.
Surely we can find a way to fix our eyes on Jesus. I think our life depends on it. To help you, we have some Scripture readings printed in the bulletin. I’d like you to fix you’re your eyes on Jesus by reading the Bible every day, and in the bulletin are some suggested readings for every day of this week. These passages include stories about Jesus and stories leading into next week’s sermon. As you read them, think about Who is the God I encounter? and How am I compelled to respond?
One more St. Martin story. Later in his life the devil appeared to him in a vision and pretended to be Jesus. Martin saw the trick immediately when he didn’t see on the devil any scars from the nails in his hands and feet, or his wound in his side. Martin knew that who Jesus was was so fully expressed in what Jesus did. Jesus, out of great love for us, died on a cross so that we might enjoy salvation.
In a few minutes, we’re going to remember what Jesus did for us. We’ll remember, with St. Martin, that on the cross Jesus showed us what love looks like, what forgiveness looks like. We’ll ask you to fix your eyes on Jesus and consider how you are compelled to respond to this awesome savior—with confession, with gratitude, with repentance?
I remember this last story of another soldier, a Roman centurion. When Jesus had died, the centurion on guard made this great proclamation that rings throughout history: “Truly this man was God’s Son.” May we respond to Jesus’ gift, proclaiming that this man, Jesus, was God’s Son, and live our lives accordingly. Thanks be to God. AMEN.