29 May “Do Not Let Your Hearts be Troubled” (Read)
“Don’t Let Your Hearts Be Troubled”
May 27, 2018
Rev. John Brink
Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the last Monday of the month of May. My mother and many others of her generation always called it Decoration Day, as families and veterans’ organizations laid flowers and flags on the graves of loved ones across the country – even around the world. The first Decoration Days were offered by freed slaves in the South. They were grateful, and this was one way to heal their troubled hearts after the Civil War. They began a ripple effect that continues today.
What was once a day of remembrance and honor to memorialize those who died in service to our country is now also a day of picnics, parties, and gigantic events like the Indy 500. That’s not awful, but I fear we will lose our connection to the deeper meaning of this day of remembrance.
Sociologists say that America has a secular “civil religion.” This religion has no association with any recognized faith denomination other than the fact that it has chosen to embrace Memorial Day as a sacred event. In fact, I see Memorial Day more broadly – as an occasion for more general expressions of remembering, as folks visit the graves of their loved ones whether they had a military connection or not.
Just a few numbers to take and hold in your hearts: From the Revolutionary War to today, nearly 45 million people have served in the U.S. military. Nearly 1.2 million of those women and men died in service. There are approximately 18 million living war veterans. From about 2003 to 2010, there were 86,000 service members deployed in Iraq, and 110,000 in Afghanistan. In these two encounters alone, we’ve lost over 6,800 people. This weekend, folks have placed 37,000 flags on Boston Common. These staggering numbers don’t include the countless innocent victims of all these wars. Which leads me to a simple question with no simple answer. How do we make our decisions about going to war? What would Jesus have us do?
Let me be clear: I believe we can abhor war while honoring those who have served at the direction of leaders of a voting public who sends them into war. In fact, one of the reasons I will tell two heartbreaking, difficult stories this morning is because I fear that we risk becoming numb to wars in which we claim no ownership. What will we do to make our voices heard?
In our scripture this morning (John 15:1-17) Jesus prepares the disciples and followers for the day when he will no longer walk among them but will be with them in the Holy Spirit. He lovingly commands them saying: do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus is not talking about cardiovascular disease.
He is talking about the loss of hope, a lack of faith, a prolonged panic attack, and even those recurring pangs of uncertainty. Jesus is concerned for those of us who are troubled by palpitations from money woes or a troubled marriage. We can all add our own heart-throbbing situations to this list. But there is far more to this message.
In this part of the gospel of John, also called the “Farewell Discourse,” Jesus directs the will of the disciples. It is a command to stand firm, even in the worst of times, even when their hearts abandon them. If the disciples then – and we today – believed Jesus was to be a Messiah strong man, we’re all entitled to be disappointed. The revolution Jesus brought was one of compassion. Birth and death, injury and despair are anchored in the pangs of pain, yet can lead to remarkable transformation, if we are open to the possibility and to the assurance of Jesus.
He said, “Those who believe in me will also do the works that I do and in fact will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.” (v12) This assurance of Jesus is poignantly true today in our world. Sometimes the person next to you is bearing a lot – but they don’t lead with pain and grief. Here is where Jesus calls us and sustains us in our troubled times. Some of
us with troubled hearts truly lead and inspire in the midst of our journeys. Sometimes all the rest of us can do is stand and wonder how they do it.
Andrew Kinard is a graduate of Harvard Business School, where my wife Betsy works. He received his MBA and a joint degree at Harvard Law School. Sounds daunting, right? But hear the other part of Andrew’s life, if you want to see how Jesus’ command to not let our hearts be troubled is lived out by Andrew. I had a chance to meet Andrew and had a wonderful conversation with him. We both served in the Marines at separate times. Here’s his story told recently to an interviewer.
It’s not uncommon for HBS students to attribute their interest in business to a turning point in their lives. But in Andrew’s case, that point was as precise as it was violent: a blast from a roadside bomb in Iraq that tore both his legs off at the hip.
Andrew said, “Before, as a graduate of the Naval Academy, I strongly considered a life as a career officer and possibly a law degree to go with it. How do you wake up from a coma and say, ‘my legs are gone, what do I do now?’ I knew I had the best job I’d ever have – leading Marines. But looking forward, where would I go next?”
Much of that immediate future was occupied by seventy-five surgeries and eighteen months of rehabilitation. While recovering at Walter Reed, however, a chance encounter opened new possibilities. Andrew says, “I was approached by a man who said he worked for the Department of Defense. We struck up a conversation; I mentioned I was interested in law school and he gave me his card. I didn’t think much of it at first, but when I showed the card to a friend, he got all excited. ‘General Counsel? That means he’s the boss at DOD!’ That man was Jim Haynes and I went to work for him for six months.”
Recognizing Andrew’s potential, Jim Haynes recommended Harvard Law School. “Growing up in the South, Harvard wasn’t part of my vocabulary,” Andrew says. But he took the plunge. Beyond his joint degree, Andrew says, “I don’t know exactly where I’m going yet. But I’ll continue with the Wounded Warrior Project, and I know that I want to serve in both the private and public sectors. Working with my fellow veterans has reinforced my desire for public service.”
This young man has certainly managed his challenges in his young life – many of which no one ever sees – yet his heart is neither troubled nor deflated. Andrew had 75 surgeries over his time of recovery and never slowed down in his recovery and journey to a new life.
The disciples were entitled to be bewildered at being left on their own, to fend for themselves, to rely on their own resources and abilities as Jesus departed. Would we have done any better? They, like us, want to be assured that someone greater, stronger, and smarter is not only present, but in charge. But what Jesus says in this scripture is, “that someone is you.” When we are assured that we are loved unconditionally, that we are accompanied by the Holy Spirit, we can make our way through almost anything.
Jesus told the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled. Sometimes we’re asked to speculate, what would you do if you only had one day to live? We would probably want to find those folks we love and tell them important things about our love for them – things we might have told them many times before, but now, with one day to live, we feel it’s important to say them again. But what if you didn’t have a chance? How might you live your life? How might your life reflect your commitment to others?
In 1970, a young man, Rickey Scott, from Columbia City, Indiana, dropped out of ROTC Program at Ripon College in Wisconsin. Rickey was a Conscientious Objector, fully alive in his faith. He was drafted after college. He made his religious and faith commitment clear to all the appropriate people. He became a corpsman in the Army, and was sent to Vietnam for field duty, arriving at a basecamp called Ripcord at around noon on July 7, 1970. He was unarmed by choice, and a “fish out of water,” as his company commander said. That commander is my lifelong and best friend, Jeff Wilcox. Jeff, a West Point graduate in 1968, told Rickey to stay at his side and to keep down. Rickey had no way to defend himself. He had no sense of danger, and he was committed to caring for the wounded on this his first day, his first field assignment.
Ripcord was under siege for four and a half months, virtually 24 hours a day. The last 23 days were non-stop battle. Two hundred and fifty US servicemen were killed at Ripcord, the last documented battle of Vietnam.
Can you imagine how frightening this was? Some of you do know from your own wartime experience. In the midst of this dreadful attack, a man was wounded in the open. His commanding officer, my best friend Jeff Wilcox, told Rickey to not go……Rickey Scott immediately went to the man’s aid. Rickey was mortally wounded moving to aid another man, who was already dead – but that is not how Rickey assessed the situation.
He moved ahead with confidence and commitment, unafraid or maybe unaware of the dangers around him and his fellow soldiers. He died less than 24 hours after he landed at Ripcord. While the system put him at risk, Rickey Scott was not troubled about his faith in Jesus Christ and how he would be cared for with Jesus as His companion. His heart was not troubled by the challenges and threats to his existence. He was at ease with Jesus, and free to make his way. He did so, honorably and swiftly, with no regard for himself. Rickey embodied what Jesus talks about later in John 15, verse 13, when he says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I am honored to share with you this life message of Rickey Scott on Memorial Day. I never met Rickey, but he is a living image of faith and trust in my life. My friend Jeff is continually inspired by the journey of Rickey Scott, some 48 years after his death. Rickey is one of 58,420 US military to die in Vietnam. Even in tragedy we are connected. We can create a ripple effect of remembering, turning our pain into power for a new phase of life.
Going back to v 12, hear these words of Jesus again: Those who believe in me will also do the works that I do and in fact will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.” (v12)
Jesus is calling us, his disciples and followers, to be the ripple effect of his love in the world, both far and near, in those places we inhabit and those we care about and nurture. If we can set our hearts free, we can be the sustaining energy that creates a ripple effect of God’s love well past Duxbury to Boston, and many other places where we bring the energy of faith to others in an authentic Christ-like way.
I recently came across a letter made available by Ken Burns, the documentary film maker. The writer of the letter was Sullivan Ballou, a member of the Rhode Island Militia in the Civil War. I was dumbfounded by the poetry of this letter, written to his wife Sarah as Ballou considers that his company will be moving in a few days, into battle. He is confident about his mission, strong at heart, secure in God’s love, but sad at the thought of leaving his family behind. At the end of the letter, Ballou writes:
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night – amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours – always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.
Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861. As far as we can tell, his heart was not troubled.
How many solders on the eve of battle have had a rush of thoughts like those Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife Sarah? How many have believed in their cause and been willing to give of themselves on behalf of their family and country? How many have laid down their lives so that others can have the opportunities that they have had? How many, soldiers or other servants, have died so that others may live with freedom? This willingness to give of one’s self is what Jesus love is about.
We all know that in this world there are positive and negative forces at work. The truth is, those same forces are also at work within us on a daily basis. But we are baptized as disciples of Jesus to be the positive force God intends for creation. We are commissioned by Jesus to carry on, to continue to work through the empowerment of the cross.
So, on this Memorial Day weekend, we hold some beautiful positives and some painful negatives together. In Sullivan Ballou’s heartfelt letter to his wife Sarah, he tells her that while he is gone from her now, they will be together again in God’s Eternal Home. He echoes the words of Jesus that God holds a place for us. God’s promise to love us, to make room for us, to know us, and be known by us never ends. Therefore, our hearts need never be troubled.