Wednesday, November 11, 2015
A Soldier of Christ
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
I forget that St. Martin of Tours shares his feast day with Veterans Day. I forget that our church doesn't have propers for Veterans Day or for Armistice Day. But then I remember why Martin is the perfect way for us to remember those who have served in our armed forces.
Martin was a soldier in the Roman cavalry. Against his wishes, he was sent to a Christian school by his non-believing parents because it was thought to be an up and coming avenue for social elites. He became a catechumen and continued his study of the Christian faith after he had been drafted into the army. During his service as a soldier, legend has it that Martin came upon a beggar who had no coat on a cold day. Using his military sword, Martin cut his own cloak in half and gave part to the beggar. That night, he dreamt that Jesus himself was wearing the half of the cloak he had given away. According to his haigiographer, Severus, in the dream, Martin heard Jesus say to the angels in heaven, "Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe." The dream was all the confirmation Martin needed, and he continued in the faith until he was finally baptized at the age of 18. (Information courtesy of Wikipedia)
The legend of the cloak is why we hear from Matthew 25 today: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." But that isn't the legend I want to remember today--at least not primarily. There's another story about Martin that seems perfect for Veterans Day. It's the story of his conscientious objection.
One day, before a battle, Martin reported to his commanding officers that he could fight no more, saying, "I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight." Martin was jailed for cowardice, but, in refutation of the charge, he agreed to stand before the enemy unarmed. Apparently, his superiors were planning to take him up on his offer, but the enemy made terms for peace, and he was released from prison and military service. (Information courtesy of Wikipedia)
Eventually, after starting the oldest monastery in Europe and teaching others in the way of the true faith, Martin was made a bishop. During his episcopal ministry, Martin was firmly against pagan practices and heretical teachings, but he chose not to use violent means to punish the heterodox. Other bishops resented his passive approach, but Martin held true to his identity as a soldier of Christ and, thus, one who would not fight even in the name of the faith.
Those who fight to protect our freedoms do a hard job. They risk not only their lives for the sake of others, but they risk the conflict of conscious that people like me--ministers in comfy offices--have the luxury of avoiding. Being a soldier or an airman or a sailor or a marine means going places they don't want to go and doing things they don't want to do. I am grateful for their service. They fight so that I can choose not to fight. That is, to me, a gift.
Martin is a patron saint of soldiers--particularly those in the infantry. Why? Not because he defeated an enemy or fought off the invaders but because he had courage of a different kind. He brings humanity to war. He reminds us that those who fight in far away places have hearts and minds and souls as vulnerable as ours. We must be like Christ to them. We must give them a cup of water when they are thirsty and a piece of bread when they have nothing to eat. We must cut our cloak in half so that they can be warm. We must not only fund the work of the VA but also care for them ourselves. They are Christ's own, and we serve them because he first served us.