This year I was asked to give the benediction at the Memorial Day remembrance in my town. I’ve been asked before, but has always declined the invitation. I’m a strong proponent of the separate of church and state, and find blurring the lines between civil and revealed religion disagreeable. This year, however, I was motivated to accept the invitation – only to find that I was not only giving the benediction but also the invocation. This led me to a bit of panic.
An invocation, in Christian theology, is a prayer calling for God to both be present in and bless a time of worship. In a Christian gathering this is quite appropriate as it is meant to center our hearts and minds on the reality of Christ’s Kingdom and focus our desire on living in it’s presence in the present.
In a civil remembrance service, this is much more difficult to do appropriately. First, I cannot not assume all those gathered would want to be focused on the reality of Christ’s Kingdom – and I’ve not been invited to preach, but to help people focus 1. Second, and worse, would be to perpetuate the false notion that God is on our side, and not anyone else’s. As Jesus is the ruler of all nations, and I’m an ambassador of his Kingdom, even inadvertently suggesting that America and The Kingdom of Heaven are bound together makes me extremely uncomfortable2. If you think that’s not an issue in this country, please think again.
Still, as a semi-public figure in this town, I want to do right by this invitation and to my savior. Below is the second draft of my attempt.
As we gather this morning, I am struck by a statement sometimes uttered when referring to armed conflict, “War is just an extension of diplomacy.”
The names which mark the monument around which we gather this morning expose this lie for what it is.
The veterans who who have returned from war changed – and too often broken – expose this lie for what it is.
The veterans who lost friends in battle expose this lie for what it is.
The families who live in the wake of their loved-ones honorable sacrifice expose this lie for what it is.
War is not “just an extension of diplomacy.” As the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman so eloquently stated, “You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know… I tell you, war is Hell!”
God, as we remember those who have served this country, and especially those who have given their lives for it, in hopes of establishing a just peace, may their great hearts inspire us to live well. May their many sacrifices humble the pride of both weak and powerful. And may the words of Sherman, “… war is hell,” remind us that war is neither game nor glory, but suffering and loss. And in light of that memory, may we work for peace. Amen.