Memorial Day service focuses attention on remembering
Editor's note: These are excerpts from a speech the Rev. Rick Lamb gave on Sunday during Memorial Day ceremonies sponsored by the Tonganoxie Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
Well, it's been quite a year for our country. We invaded Iraq, continued the clean up in Afghanistan, and continue to find our way to fight terrorism in all of its complex forms.
We've had successes and failures ... both on the battlefield and off. We've found Saddam Hussein, but not Osama bin Laden. We won the war in Iraq, but constant battles still take place, and while American men and women continue to serve bravely, far too many have died at the hands of desperate individuals and splinter groups that don't like their fate.
Last year, as we met here, I talked about the tenants of the Just War Theory; the idea that some wars are just, if the right set of circumstances are present. Each of us has to decide, of course, whether we believe the qualifications for a just war have been met. "Hindsight is always 20/20," they say, and it's easier to decide now than it was a year ago.
Today, I want to talk about an important characteristic of a nation, like ours, that has determined that it's right to fight for the causes of freedom and democracy in other lands. I want to talk about a characteristic that has been understood far more widespread in years past than it is today; but a concept that is absolutely essential if we are going to continue to do what we are doing. The concept I refer to is the belief in embracing the moral high ground.
Just by the fact that we were talking about a Just War Theory presupposes that some wars are just; and the people who conduct those wars are just. The word "just" means "to be righteous," or "to be in the right."
Just War Theory, by its very name, holds that some wars, however horrible, are the right thing to do.
God created all men and women with certain "unalienable rights," our Declaration of Independence says, "and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." So, on some occasions, perhaps it is right to conduct war to ensure that people have access to those unalienable rights.
But I believe the presupposition is that those who conduct such a war be right within themselves. In other words, those who feel led into a "just war," must, themselves, have attained at least a minimal level or righteousness.
If you go back in history and read the statements by many of those involved in World War I and World War II, you will hear them couch their speeches in terms of good vs. evil. Even they knew that we were not totally good, and the enemy was not totally bad, but by and large most people believed that we were on the side good, and the enemy was on the side of evil. And in order to fight such a war, the individuals involved had to have a measure of goodness within themselves.
In Bob Dole's speech Saturday at the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., he said:
"What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war, rather it is a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and inspires Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living. ... From Washington, who fathered America with his sword and ennobled it with his character, from Jefferson whose pen gave eloquent voice to our noblest aspirations, from Lincoln who preserved the union and struck the chains from our countrymen and from Franklin Roosevelt who presided over a global coalition to rescue humanity from those who had put the soul itself in bondage.
"Each of these presidents was a soldier of freedom, in the defining event of the 20th century their cause became our cause. On distant fields and fathomless oceans, the skies over half the planet and in ten thousand communities on the home front we did far more than avenge Pearl Harbor. The citizen soldiers who answered liberty's call fought not for territory, but justice. Not for plunder, but to liberate enslaved peoples around the world."
I'm not suggesting that every man and woman who fought in previous wars was altogether righteous, but I am suggesting that more people thought it to be important that our people, individually and collectively, have a certain level of righteousness if we were to justifiably be involved in war. The Bible tells us to consider such things. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 2: "You who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law (of God), through your breaking the Law, do you not dishonor God?" (21-23)
Those who attempt to correct a wrong must make sure they, themselves, are not wrong.
Those who engage in a just war should, themselves, seek to be just in their actions and behavior.
There must be a moral high ground that is sought and kept if we want what is good and right to win out.
Now, we have many examples of people who have embraced the moral high ground. Pat Tillman, the ex-football star, has been celebrated in the press for his sacrifice of millions of dollars for the sake of fighting for what he believed. Sadly, hundreds of others, who have fallen on grenades, used their own bodies to shield their companions from enemy fire, sadly, many of those who made equal sacrifices have not received as much attention in the press.
But then, we also know, don't we, of those few who have tarnished our nation, tarnished their branch of service, by their ungodly acts. Lawful interrogation of prisoners has been changed, by a few, into abuse of human beings who are made in the image of God.
It seems to me that while we, as a nation, have tried to continue to embrace the moral high ground, it seems to me that individually we have let it slide for a long time. Individually, we don't concern ourselves with being completely moral, completely honorable in our relationships with God and with other people, completely committed to being more moral tomorrow than we are today.
Maybe it's just "pie-in-the-sky" dreaming; or maybe it's just the hope of a middle-aged pastor, but I still look for the day when a wholesale commitment to the moral high ground will transform our nation, and ultimately our world.
I still believe in the ancient words of the Psalmist, who said, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."
If America wants God's help; and if America wants to see the moral high ground embraced by people all over the world, then America needs -- en masse -- to embrace the moral high ground. If we want the world to be "right," to be "just," then we must be "right" and "just."
So, what do we do?
I have three suggestions:
That each individual person seek, with all their heart, to plant the seeds of righteousness in their own heart daily. Righteousness, in many ways, is a harvest. You reap what you sow. If you plant seeds of degradation and selfishness, then you will reap depravity and pettiness. If, however, you plant the seeds of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance, and faith, then you will reap a life characterized by those things.
It's important each of us realize the seeds we plant in our own hearts today, are the seeds we will harvest tomorrow. I believe that we should seek to create a climate where goodness and righteousness are praised, and where evil and unrighteousness are shunned and not celebrated.
This seems only obvious, and this is the way it seems things were in my childhood. In earlier times, not everything was right with the world, but at least we did not celebrate unrighteousness and evil. At least, we were able to call good good, and evil evil. Nowadays, in the names of diversity and pluralism, we allow almost everything.
I'm not suggesting we walk around like the world's policeman; that we're not. Nor am I suggesting that you walk around with a scowl on your face because of the world's depravity. I'm just suggesting that when a thing is right, you call it right; and when a thing is bad, you call it bad.
Finally, I suggest that we do what the members of the VFW do annually: remember. We meet here each year and we exchange the old, tattered flag for a new one. And we remember.
We remember those who died in service of their country. We remember those who paid the ultimate price. A few probably died looking for glory. They wanted a reputation that would follow after them. A few, perhaps, died for the wrong reasons. But I believe that the majority believed in a cause far bigger than their own little kingdoms. I believe the majority believed in the causes of freedom and democracy. And they died valiantly fighting for those causes.
Our cause is great; our God is supreme; our faith intact. But we must take time to remember -- remember we are but a few in a long line of people who seek to align themselves with what is good and right and true, remember God has given to all men and women certain inalienable rights, remember to promote what is right, we have to be right.
And we have to remember what the Bible promises: that in the end, good wins over evil. In the end, God will have His way. In the meantime, why not get on board His train? Embrace righteousness now.