National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran Ministers
We have heard it said, and we acknowledge this truth, time does not dim or heal the memories of war from years gone by. These memories remain fresh and always with us. The events of 35, 30, 26 years ago remain fresh as today's winds, and blow throughout our souls even as we sit here. Time, perhaps, does allow us to redeem our memories.
Let us worship together.
0 Lord, open my lips.
And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
The Lord's unfailing love and mercy never cease, fresh as the morning and sure as the sunrise. (Lam. 3:22-23]
Refrain: Create in me a clean heart, 0 God,and renew a right spirit within me.
READING: Psalm 137:1-4
WHAT WE FOUND
What we found. We arrived in a strange and far off country, and we found a land of stifling heat and humidity, of lush and varied greenness of infinite variety, of noisiness and smelliness beyond our experience, of confusion and bustle, and sudden danger. And we found a land where the language is not so much spoken as we learned our own, but a land where the language is sung in many tones and inflections.
So we came to sing our own song, as we had been taught in our upbringing and our training experiences. We came to sing the "Battle Cry of freedom," built in our corporate national identity in verse after verse of the American experience and dream, sustained by chorus after chorus of "God Bless America." And we arrived ready to enter into that rite of freedom called "war" in this strange, entrancing, beautiful land, knowing that our heritage proclaimed the song of freedom is purchased with offerings of blood.
And how did we find that we sang our song? How did we celebrate our liturgy?
And that's what we found, and that's how we sang our song in that foreign land.
READING: II Samuel 18:31-19:1
WHAT WE LOST
What we lost. There have been many statements about what our nation lost in Viet Nam. We lost our innocence; or we lost our dignity; or we lost our humanity; or we lost our pride. Some say we lost the war. But these are broad strokes, and the reality of the greatest loss is much more personal, more intimate. There are three passages, two others in addition to the one read, that speak of loss in an intimate fashion.
There are the words of Esau. Returning from hunting, from the field, Esau found that his younger brother who stayed at home had conspired with their mother to steal the blessing of nationhood by deceiving Isaac, their blind father. Esau, discovering what had happened, that the blessing of the nation had been stolen from him, cried aloud to his father, "Have you no blessing for me?" He cried in agony as one who knew he had lost a nation, and his cry became the cry of the returning veteran when a less than grateful nation did not welcome the warrior home. Have you no blessing for me?
Then there are these haunting words of David, hearing that his son has been killed. "Absalom, Oh Absalom, my son, my son. Would that I had been killed rather then you." Searing words that speak of the deep wound suffered by a parent who has received unspeakable news. Words that are singularly appropriate in this place, built to honor the memory of a son, and of all the sons and daughters lost in Viet Nam. What parent would not willingly take the burden of death and suffering from their child? How many died so that others, perhaps we who are here, might live? And we are wounded by their loss, to the point where survival becomes almost a punishment, perhaps a burden, certainly a challenge.
And finally there is the cry of Jesus upon the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Even Jesus who offered words of comfort and salvation to those around the cross finally faced the darkness of death, and peering into the black, spoke such human words of despair and ultimate loss. He peered into the abyss and cried out in agony, for faith did not seem to bridge that chasm. As people of faith gathered here we are well aware of the challenge to our beliefs that are raised by the abyss of war, and we are painfully aware of the struggles of those who face that chasm, and even more painfully aware of our own struggles.
So we define our loss in the words of Esau - "Have you no blessing for me?" in the words of David - "My son! Would that it had been me!" in the words of Jesus - "My God, why have you abandoned me?"
READING: Sirach 1:14-20
WHAT WE GAINED
We all recognize that there is no loss that does not contain the possibility, even the promise of gain. These words of the preacher are written to commend to the faithful, even the faithful who suffer loss, the hope that what will be gained is wisdom. Considering the losses of war, wisdom seems scant comfort! In the scripture wisdom gets great press; it is so highly desirable and seems such a noble and lofty goal as to be universally desired. Perhaps it is so treated because the preacher knows that the value of wisdom might be questioned if we truly knew the price of wisdom. The wisdom we gained came at a great price.
We did gain much wisdom, and we have knowledge of the frustration of war, of the transitory nature and security of life. We have great knowledge of the nonsense of conflict and engagement. And we have terrible knowledge of evil, and knowledge of the nature which resides in us. If this were all the wisdom we might well question whether the loss was worth so little?
But we also gained, at great cost, a knowledge, growing deeper year by year, of the value of life. We have knowledge of great courage, and among our small group we have knowledge of fortitude in the face of troubles. We also have wisdom about the grace of God, and the spirit of life, and even perhaps some wisdom about the reality of love beyond measure. And this wisdom we would not trade, for it gives us the ability to sing a song of great faith.
Our song is not about a baptism of blood, but about the wonder of awe-inspiring sacrifice. Our song tells not simply of hasty meals consumed, but of the deep comfort of simple pleasures shared in peace and companionship. Our song celebrates not the terrible stories of war, but rejoices in hands extended over the years to hold one another, help one another, and heal one another, as we have found just how much we value our lives and our life together.
READING: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the peoople, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
WHAT WE DO NOW
These are the words written to people living in a strange land, living in exile, advice about how to survive in exile. These are not words celebrating the past, for the exiles know their past was dubious; and these are not words for the future, for their future is uncertain. These are words for one day of life, advice from the Creator of all that is about how to live one day.
And they are words written to us, for we returned to live as exiles in our own country. Returned home not welcome, and we remain not welcome; exiles we were, and exiles we are, carrying with us the wisdom we have gained, burdened by the awareness of what we have lost. What do we do now?
To that haunting cry of Esau that we have made our own "Have you no blessing for me," comes the word "seek your blessing in planting," so we try and plant our seeds of witness, of truth, in the hard soil of people's hearts, and perhaps it grows.
To the tormented cry of David, "My son, my son," the cry of one shattered by his inability to protect his child, just as we are unable to protect those around us, we hear the word of wisdom, "build your family," so we try to widen our circle, to open our community, so that we may cry together, and perhaps laugh as well.
To the cry of Christ, My God, why have you abandoned me," we are enjoined to use our wisdom, our courage, all that we have gained to pray, to pray for the city, the nation, for our future is intertwined with it.
So let us do our duty and be witnesses. Let us do our duty and build our community. Let us do our duty, and let us pray.
Satisfy us with your love in the morning,
and we will live this day in joy and praise.
God of all mercies, we, praise you that you have brought us to this new day, brightening our lives with the dawn of promise and hope in Jesus Christ. Especially we thank you for
Merciful God, strengthen us in prayer that we may lift up the brokenness of this world for your healing, and share in the saving love of Jesus Christ. Especially we pray for
[INDIVIDUAL PRAYERS MAY BE OFFERED; THE CALL LORD, HEAR OUR PRAYER, WILL ELICIT THE RESPONSE AND SHOW US THE WAY OF COMPASSION.]
THE LORD'S PRAYER
CHARGE AND BENEDICTION
Upon this day, we have gathered thankfully for God has given to us the gift of memory that we might keep alive those we love.
Go in peace.