A Sermon for Veterans Day
2 Timothy 2:1-7 6 November 2022
We have gathered here on this Sunday morning to worship God our Father, and to offer praise and prayers in the name of Christ Jesus, his Son and our Lord. We are also here to honor those men and woman who have served in the military services of this Nation. We recognize their contribution to the wellbeing of our country and owe them a debt of gratitude. We give thanks to God for their commitment and service to the United States of America.
It seems most fitting on this occasion that we remember the contributions our country’s veterans have made to our nation by fighting its wars and keeping the peace. We began this tradition 104 years ago at the end of World War I. What was characterized as “the war to end all wars” ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. That day became known as “Armistice Day.” It became a national holiday in 1938 by Congressional action.
The first celebration using the term Veterans Day occurred in Birmingham, Alabama in 1947. The event was held on November 11th. Later, US Representative Edward Rees of Kansas proposed a bill to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming Veterans Day to be celebrated on November 11th. Since then, on November 11th we honor veterans of all military services. Throughout the Nation there are a multitude of ceremonies honoring veterans. Honoring our Nation’s veterans is rooted in our biblical faith and a part of our Christian heritage.
I looked at the Veterans Administration website for contemporary statistics relating to veterans. Currently (2022), there are 18.6 million living veterans. Of those, there are 14.5 million wartime veterans. Out of the approximately sixteen million who served in WWII, only 167,284 are alive today. Of the living veterans about a million are Korean War veterans, six million are Vietnam Era veterans, and eight million are Gulf War Era veterans. Of the veterans, a little over eight million are Army veterans, 3.2 million Air Force veterans, four million Navy veterans, and two million Marine veterans. Of the veterans, 1.3 million were officers and 17.3 million were enlisted. Veterans have made major contributions to the health and wellbeing of our Nation.
This week on 9 November, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous will honor an American soldier as “Righteous Among the Nations.” Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds was a prisoner of war in a German camp. As highest ranking American soldier in the camp, he was responsible for 1,292 American POWs. The Camp Commandant ordered him to identify the Jewish soldiers to separate them from other prisoners. Master Sergeant Edmonds refused and the Commandant placed a pistol against his head demanding that he identify the Jewish soldiers. Edmonds responded, “We are all Jews here.” His courage saved the lives of over 200 Jewish soldiers who eventually returned to the States. Roddie Edmonds lived a quiet life and his son, Pastor Chris Edmonds, discovered his father’s heroism after his death. All veterans have stories to tell. Most live quiet lives and we would be amazed at their stories.
If you take time to examine all the biblical references about soldiers, you will likely observe that nothing negative is ever said about being a Soldier. The same cannot be said about prophets, priests or politicians.
After the nation of Israel was delivered from Pharaoh and his army, the celebrating Hebrews sang a new song and proclaimed “the Lord is a warrior” (Exodus 15:3). Perhaps that makes the Lord a veteran. Those of us who attended Sunday school as children learned about the many soldier-leaders in the Bible. Men like Joshua, Caleb, Gideon, Jonathan, David, Joab, Eleazer, and others are renowned for both their faith and valor in serving both God and country.
The Apostle Paul drew upon soldier images to convey faith in Christ. In Ephesians, he draws a parallel between the battle uniform of a Roman Soldier and what we need to be faithful followers of Christ Jesus. He tells us to, “…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:10-12).” We are wise to put on the full armor of God in order to be prepared to fight the good fight of faith.
Paul also used the professionalism of a soldier as a metaphor to train and motivate young Timothy. The three soldier values Paul wanted Timothy to emulate were action, endurance and focus. He first tells Timothy to “fight the good fight (1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12), then he tells him to “endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer (2 Timothy 2:3-4).”
Contrary to some Hollywood depictions, soldiers are inherently peace lovers and not warmongers. In his Farewell Speech at West Point on 12 May 1962, General Douglas MacArthur observed: “The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” Indeed, a wise veteran prays for peace.
May God bless and reward our Nation’s veterans for their faithfulness, sacrifice and service to the Republic. As we reflect on the Apostle Paul’s instruction to the Christians in Ephesus, may we too put on the whole armor of God as we seek to live out our service and obedience to the Lord. And may we incorporate in our personal devotion to the Lord those soldierly characteristics that Paul pointed out to young Timothy.
(Sermon given by CH (COL) Michael W. Malone at Veterans Memorial Chapel on the occasion of the celebration of Veterans Day 2022.)
2022 Statistics from the Veterans Administration Website:
Number of veterans in the United States: 18,592,457
Wartime Veterans: 14,474,011
WWII Veterans: 167,284 (16 million served in WWII)
Korean Conflict: 918,280
Vietnam Era: 5,849,629
Gulf War Era: 8,030,085
Army Veterans: 8,173,292
Air Force: 3,217,011
Officer Veterans: 1,283,158