Living Selflessly for Love

Sermon

July 2, 2017

Intro – Wally Goodman, here on Patriot’s Day.  Humbled to be here. 

Prayer – Pray for the military and their families on active duty, those who have gone to war and their families, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and their loved ones, and those – both military and civilians - who fight for liberty and freedom.

Illustration – The Last Six Seconds

On Nov 13, 2010, Lt General John Kelly, USMC, gave a speech to the Semper Fi Society of St. Louis, MO.  During his speech, General Kelly spoke about the dedication and valor of our young men and women who step forward each and every day to protect us.  He closed the speech with the moving account of the last six seconds in the lives of two young Marines who died with rifles blazing to protect their brother Marines.
 

I wish I had time to tell the whole story.  Hopefully, you will get the gist of it with an abbreviated version.  And so here it goes...

When LtGen Kelly was the Commander of all U.S. and Iraqi forces in 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 "The Walking Dead," and 2/8 were switching out in Ramadi, Iraq.  1/9 was in the closing days of their deployment and going home very soon, 2/8 was just starting its seven-month combat tour.  Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale (22) and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter (20), one from each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained 50 Marines in a makeshift barracks.  The same broken down building was also home to 100 Iraqi police, in the fight against the terrorists in Ramadi, a city basically owned by Al Qaeda, the terrorist group.

Cpl Yale was a dirt poor, mixed-race kid from Virginia with a wife and daughter, and a mother and sister who lived with him and whom he supported as well.  He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000.

LCpl Haerter, on the other hand, was a middle class white kid from Long Island.  They were from two completely different worlds.  Had they not joined the Marines they would never have met each other, or been forced to see the good in each other, behind the exterior color of their skin, economic status, or accent.  But they were Marines, and combat Marines, no less:  forged in the same crucible of Marine training, and because of this bond they were brothers.

They were given an order by their Sergeant, to man the post, and allow no unauthorized entry.  They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, Al Anbar, Iraq.  What was supposed to be a day of turnover turned into a day to remember, because a few minutes later a large blue truck turned down the 60-70 yards alley way, and sped its way through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls.  The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both instantly. 

Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed.  A mosque 100 yards away collapsed.  The truck's engine came to rest two hundred yards away, knocking most of a house down before it stopped.  The Marine explosive experts reckoned the blast was made of 2,000 pounds of explosives.  Two Marines died, and because these two young infantrymen didn't have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers-in-arms.
 

LtGen Kelly traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police, all of whom told the same story.  The blue truck turned down into the alley and immediately sped up as it made its way through the serpentine.  They all said, "We knew immediately what was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing."  The Iraqi police then related that some of them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion.  Many were injured, and some seriously, but they all survived.  One of the Iraqi policemen elaborated and with tears welling up said, "You’d think they'd run like any normal man would to save his life." 

 

What he didn't know until then, and what he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal.  Choking past the emotion he said, "Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and done what they did."  "No sane man."  "They saved us all."
 

What LtGen Kelly didn't know at the time, and only learned a couple of days later after he wrote a summary and submitted both Yale and Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of the Marine security cameras - damaged initially in the blast - recorded some of the suicide attack.  It happened exactly as the Iraqis had described it.  It took exactly six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated.

If I had time for it, we could hear the last six seconds of their young lives from LtGen Kelly’s standpoint; but it was very fast, and not too much time to think.  They had about enough time to remember their order, do what Marines do, present their weapons, take aim, and fire upon the vehicle.  By the way, during this time, the Iraqi’s soldiers (after some firing their AK-47 rifles) all scattered, like normal and rational men would.  The Marines, however, continued to pour rounds into the truck until its driver was dead or unable to operate the vehicle, preventing the truck and it’s IED from reaching their brothers and sisters in arms, who were unaware of the situation. 

From Lt Gen Kelly’s point of view:  “The recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two Marines.  In all of the instantaneous violence Yale and Haerter never hesitated.  By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back.  They never even started to step aside.  They never even shifted their weight.  With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons.  The truck explodes.  The camera goes blank.  Two young men go to their God.  Six seconds.  Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty into eternity.  That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight - for you.”

There’s nothing that says that the two were Christians, yet they did what Jesus talked about on John 15:13, which we will get to in a minute. 

So, other than a tale to tell in a Sermon on Patriot’s Day, what does that story have to do with the Bible, the story of Jesus, and how we are supposed to live every day of our lives?

 

4th of July - Civilian’s Patriot Day

It’s Patriot’s day, the 4th of July is just two days away – that day when the Continental Congress, in 1776, made up of representatives of the 13 colonies, adopted a document called the Declaration of Independence, declaring that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” and that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  From that came these United States of America, and though we have seen some hard times as a nation – both within and without - it still bears freedom for all.  Patrick Henry, nearly a year before the 56 men signed that Declaration of Independence, said “Give me liberty or give me death.” 

But there’s death again in the sermon.  Odd, I remember Jesus saying something about death – what was ultimately His death – in John’s Gospel.  Let’s turn to that now.

The Gospel of John – the Fourth Gospel is the latest Gospel, around 90 – 100 A.D., and different than the three synoptic – or covering similar areas - Gospels.  And while the synoptic Gospels cover some of life of Jesus, the Gospel of John covers Christ or Christology, the incarnate Word of God.  The spiritual Gospel is written to prove that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, as John 20:31 says, but the point is the relationship between Jesus and God, and the Triune God with us.  If you haven’t read the Gospel of John in one sitting, do so sometime – it will be a blessing to you!  It is in John’s Gospel, in The Ministry of Jesus to the Disciples in the Upper Room that we get the Farewell Discourse, a message that the Disciples will not truly get until Jesus is gone.

John 15 – Farewell discourse and fruits of the vine

After the footwashing in the Upper Room, Jesus tells them of the True Vine.  In John 15, the last of the “I am” saying comes as Jesus tells the disciples “I am the True vine and my Father is the gardener.”[1]  In referring to it as such, Jesus is both telling a story that the Disciples know (because Israel was an agrarian society, much like Pearsall) but that draws from other religions of the time (such as Judaism, which the Disciples were).  Jesus is telling them that to bear fruit as branches, they have to “abide” or “remain” in Him.  If so, they are fruitful, and God is glorified.  Jesus loves them, and wants His love to be in them.  If the disciples keep Jesus’ commandments, His love is within them, and His joy is within them.

John 15:12-17

Now we get to the Scripture for today, John 15:12-17.

John 15:12-17 (NIV)

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Exegesis

Verse 12 – Like Jesus says in John 13:34,[2] Jesus states this command – it seems like - over and over again.  Almost as if it were a broken record.  Why? Did you know that the Jews recited the call to love God[3] (Deut 6:4-5) each day in their prayers.  That and the call to love one’s neighbor[4] were in the Jewish beliefs, and Jesus said they were the two commandments, out of which everything else came.[5]  This is why, because this is the standard of love that believers should have and should be amongst believers, because Jesus loved us!

Verse 13 – This is the crucial one for this sermon, because it is the most a person can do for love; giving one life for others is selfless love.  It was then (as it was Hellenist philosophy – Aristotle, Plato), and is now, but for Christians it is even more so because Jesus did it, and martyrs for the past 2,000 years have done it for Christ!  Also, “Friends” in Greek is derived from love.  (φιλοσ philo v. φιλεω phileo).  In John’s view, friends is much deeper than we Americans think of it.  So, then, think of friends as “those who are loved.”

Verse 14 – “Friends” is what Abraham, Moses, and the people of Israel were to God.  Jesus referred to Lazarus as his friend and now His disciples are His friends – but there is a catch; they have to do what He commands, and that is love one another.

Verse 15 - The Disciple were Jesus‘ friends, because He made known to them what he had heard from the Father.  But we are Jesus’ friends, too.  We have a partial revelation of the Father’s Words in the Bible and the Story of Jesus. 

Verse 16 – We were chosen before time came to be, and when we believe in Jesus, as John 3:16 says,[6] then we are chosen by Him, but chosen so that we could be in relationship with the Triune God and, in the end, like Jesus (i.e., bearing fruit) so that others will receive a blessing from us (that is part of what it means to bear fruit).  Bearing “fruit” in this context means to love:  God, Jesus, and one another.

Verse 17 – And again the command to love rounds it out.  If you haven’t gotten it by now, selfless love has to be part of your life!

The Word of the Lord...Thanks be to God.

What does “love” look like in a non-military setting?  Mother Theresa comes to my mind.

Illustration - Mother Teresa – Love in a little bundle

This luminous messenger of God’s love was born on 26 August 1910 in Skopje, a city situated at the crossroads of Balkan history. The youngest of the children born to Nikola and Drane Bojaxhiu, she was baptized Gonxha Agnes, received her First Communion at the age of five and a half and was confirmed in November 1916. From the day of her First Holy Communion, a love for souls was within her.

At the age of eighteen, moved by a desire to become a missionary, Gonxha left her home in September 1928 to join the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Sisters of Loreto, in Ireland. There she received the name Sister Mary Teresa. In December, she departed for India, arriving in Calcutta on 6 January 1929. After making her First Profession of Vows in May 1931, Sister Teresa was assigned to the Loreto Entally community in Calcutta, India and taught at St. Mary’s School for girls for 20 years, eventually becoming the principal. On 24 May 1937, Sister Teresa made her Final Profession of Vows, becoming, as she said, the “spouse of Jesus” for “all eternity.” From that time on she was called Mother Theresa.

On 10 September 1946 during the train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, Mother Teresa received her “inspiration,” her “call within a call.” On that day, in a way she would never explain, Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls took hold of her heart and the desire to satiate His thirst became the driving force of her life. Over the course of the next weeks and months, by means of interior locutions and visions, Jesus revealed to her the desire of His heart.  He revealed His pain at the neglect of the poor, His sorrow at their ignorance of Him and His longing for their love. He asked Mother Teresa to establish a religious community, Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor. On August 17, 1948, she dressed for the first time in a white, blue-bordered sari and passed through the gates of her beloved Loreto convent to enter the world of the poor.

She founded at least nine organizations – some Christian and some secular organizations - to care for the downtrodden and poor throughout out the world.  In 1997, for example, Mother Teresa’s Sisters numbered nearly 4,000 members and were established in 610 foundations in 123 countries of the world. The whole of Mother Teresa’s life and labor bore witness to the joy of loving, the greatness and dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with love, and the surpassing worth of friendship with God.

That’s living selflessly in love, don’t you think?

But what does love look like, a little closer to home?

Illustration – Joshua Meadows, Capt. USMC

I knew a Marine who served with me who was an exceptional Marine, even when he was a Private First Class.  I know because he served under my command at Wpns Co., 1st Battalion 23rd Marines in Austin.  He was from Bastrop, Texas.  He was going to school at the time, a Texas Tech Red Raider, and after I left the company, he went to Officer Candidate School in the summer, graduated from Tech in 2002, and was commissioned as a Marine Officer.  Then 2ndLt Meadows went to flight school for 2 yrs at Pensacola, Florida, and flew UH-1N Huey’s in the fleet.

 

He had a distinguished military career, even in the relatively short time he was in the Marine Corps.  I’d like to say I followed him, but that is not true.  In fact, I found out about his exploits the hard way – I got a call that his funeral would be in Midland after he was killed-in-action in Afghanistan in 2009.  That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when he – from my eyes – was so special.  But I had no idea he would be the man and leader he was when he went to meet his maker.  Everyone who knew Capt. Meadows, by all reports, considered him a friend. He was a devout Christian and always had a sincere smile on his face. His friends described him as the kind of person everyone should strive to be. Meadows will always be remembered as a true hero who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for what he believed in.

Here is part of his story...

It was when he was assigned to 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Camp Pendleton, Calif.   They were operating in the Farah province of Afghanistan in 2009.  He was on a humanitarian mission up in the mountains of Afghanistan in September.  On September 5, Capt Meadows was going into a town to aid the townspeople with about 3 or 4 American Military personell and some Afghan fighters.  They were in vehicles and entered the town when they were ambushed by the Taliban.  Seems like they had been set up, for while they thought they were providing aid to villagers, there was only armed Taliban there to greet them.  There only option was to radio in to higher headquarters and get some aircraft to drop bombs and try to stem the tide that had the Taliban at the advantage.   Capt Meadows was a helicopter pilot normally, but was on a ground tour with this unit, so he was just the guy for the job.  Only problem was, they were in the mountains, and the radio had to be on the roof to get through to the above unit.  Not missing a beat, Capt Meadows went up and outside the building, even though the Taliban were shooting hand-held rockets, guns, and anything they could get their hands on.  His bravery and courage was in keeping with the Marines’ tradition, but also his love for the people he was with showed.  Capt Meadows radioed on their location, the situation, and called for fire as the Taliban did everything they could to stop him.  Because of his heroism, the unit he was with lived.  He, however, succumbed to his wounds and died in the village at age 30.  He lived selflessly out of love and paid the ultimate sacrifice. 

I met his widow Angela Meadows at his funeral in Midland.  There isn’t much to say when you’re speechless.  You see, Angela Meadows was eight months pregnant with their first baby (Olivia) at the funeral in September.  For those who like a good end to the story – as much as can be after that happened to your husband - Angela is remarried and has a second child with her new husband.  God is taking care of her like the Bible said he would.[7]

 

PTSD and the Care of Military Members with PTSD

As a member of the Marine Corps, I am familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) and I believe everyone who goes to war comes back with a piece of it.  As a combat Marine, I have seen it firsthand.  For some, it is more than they can handle, and everyone knows a story of suicide or other troubles with PTSD.  I bring PTSD up for two reasons.  One is – there is a price for war, and it extends to those who take part in it, and live the rest of their lives dealing with it.  The other is more applicable to this sermon, because there are people who take military members with PTSD and treat them, walk with them, be beside them, and love them.  That is living selflessly for love!

There are people who spend their lives taking care of other people.  The medical community (Doctors, nurses, ST’s PT’s, OT’s, nursing assistants), teachers, chaplains, coaches, to name a few.  The give their lives – selflessly – hopefully out of love for others.   I had a stroke 9 ½ years ago that left me in a hospital bed, unable to walk, barely able to talk, and a brain that was in a fog for fifteen months.  I tell you all that to tell you that it was God and the care providers that put me back together again, by living selflessly and giving me their gifts!

And that is where you come in....

Bring it to the Congregation

Because each one of us has a walk with God.  Different people, different lives, different families, different gifts, and different jobs.  We all don’t have to be martyrs or people who die to be a blessing to those around us.  We all have gifts that we can give to the Lord – some of which came from Him (the spiritual gifts or “fruit” as the farewell discourse says) – selflessly with love and see what the Lord does with them.  Maybe you are a martyr, and maybe you’re a next door neighbor in Pearsall that lights up the neighborhood with selfless love – and the family next door needs that in their lives!

What does that mean for you?  Well, it depends on the factors in your life, but here’s a shot at it:

It means you care for others more than yourself.  That applies to you as a Christian, wife, husband, mother, father, brother, sister...and on down the line...

It means you love the world, and every part of it.  Not because it’s worthy in-and-of itself, but because God made it and it deserves to be stewarded.  But specifically, the people of this world are God’s – even when they don’t know it.  Selflessly Love them!

It means coaching the kids at the optimist baseball, football, or basketball team because without coaches, the kids would have no teams.

It means buying a downtrodden lady at the grocery store her groceries because she doesn’t have enough money, or buying the man behind you just as a gift and telling him to have a good day.

It means stopping on the road to help out a stranger with a car that won’t start.

It means loaning a tractor to a neighbor that has his broken and in need of repair.

It means the fruit that is love, and is in you, and acting on a daily basis to bring Christ’s light into the world. 

Conclusion

I started this sermon with a story about two people who met their maker.  Tough stuff for us here in the pews at Pearsall Baptist Chruch.  But they lived selfless for those whom they loved.  Then I turned to the Bible and talked about Jesus, who went to the cross for our sins and died.  But that is not the end of the story.  Jesus rose again and is victorious!  He brings freedom and companionship.  But most of all he brings love – selfless love that is for everyone who walks in His Way. 

Wouldn’t Pearsall look a little different if we all were living selfless love?  Or Texas?  Or America?  Or the world?  Maybe we wouldn’t have disagreements...maybe we wouldn’t have bitterness...maybe we wouldn’t have political fighting...maybe we wouldn’t have the poor and downtrodden...maybe we wouldn’t have war... 

A pipe dream?  Maybe...but that is the Kingdom of God that we are supposed to usher into this world.  Maybe Christians could do the Kingdom of God and make a difference – at least for a few – by living selflessly for love.  That is what Cpl Yale and LCpl Haerter did, and I will bet the 150 Americans and Iraqi police are grateful.  That is what Mother Theresa did, and millions have benefitted.  That is what Capt Meadows did, and his unit, and his family back home, and people who hear the story are blessed. 

And that is what you can do...in your space...in your time till God takes you home.

Let us pray...

Prayer

 

[1] John 15:1 (NIV).

[2] John 13:34 (NIV).  34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

 

[3] Deut 6:4-5 (NIV).  4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  Footnotes:  (a) Deuteronomy 6:4 Or The Lord our God is one Lord; or The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; or The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

 

[4]  Leviticus 19:18 (NIV).  18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

 

[5] Mark 12:29-31 (NIV).  29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”  Footnotes:  (a) Mark 12:29 Or The Lord our God is one Lord; (b) Mark 12:30 Deut. 6:4,5; (c) Mark 12:31 Lev. 19:18

[6] John 3:16 (NIV).   16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

[7] 1 Tim 5:3-16; James 1:27 (NSRV).

Living Selflessy - John 15:12-17 - David Little preached at First Baptist Church of Pearsall, Texas on July 2, 2017

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