In my computer I have a file that contains thoughts that I have collected or written over past years. Every now and then I will open it up to remember those things that touched me, moved me, and shaped me in my thoughts as a person and as a pastor.
Today I did that reflecting and came across something I wrote in 1997. It reminded me of an interview I saw this past week of a group of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who gathered to renew their friendships, support one another, and remember the service that had welded their lives together as they honored their comrades who had died in action. Here is what I wrote 18 years ago.
I have sensed it in those men and women who have been involved in war. Yes, war. There is a sense of community that comes when a common focus, a shared goal dominates the thinking of a group of individuals. It produces passion…especially when that goal demands people’s lives. Years later, long after ensuing generations have forgotten the victories achieved, those men and women will fondly remember, go miles to gather, converse in vivid detail about what they accomplished and what it cost. Through the pursuit of a world changing goal, they became a community that transcended years and distance. Deep within their souls, they had become one.
One vet who was interviewed reinforced this thought. He had seen dear friends lost in combat. He had lost his leg to an IED. He had gone through and had bouts with Post Traumatic Shock. The interviewer asked him, “Would you do it again? Would you go back?” “In a heartbeat” was his response. He went on to talk about the brotherhood, the partnership, the life they had shared together. They had purpose and direction and passion. Their survival depended on each other doing their part to achieve their goal. They were welded together by the service they rendered. They would go back in a heartbeat.
I asked myself if that type of interpersonal commitment exists within the church today. What I come up with is more accurately illustrated by John W. Drakeford in Humor in Preaching (17, 18):
During a cold winter, the minister of a Scottish Sabbatarian congregation had to travel some distance from his home to the church, where he was to conduct the worship service. Being a good ice skater he decided to skate to church on the river that flowed by his home and the church. Church members gathering outside the building were surprised to see their preacher arrive on skates.
The incident gave rise to debate as to whether the minister should have skated on the Sabbath. The elders met, heatedly discussed and debated whether getting to church or keeping the Sabbath should be the prime consideration. At last came the conclusive question to the minister, “Did you enjoy your skate up the river?” If the experience brought him pleasure, it was wrong; if it did not, it was permissible.
How different the passion of the Scottish elders from those of the war hardened vets. Could it be the reason so many churches are in decline, the reason that so many churches have internal squabbles, the reason people leave a congregation not to attend another one but to get away from them all is because there is no purpose that draws them together? What is our common goal? What is the dream, the vision that draws us together?
As Jesus departed this world he gave his disciples a big vision. He said:
As you go into all the world, make disciples of all nations.
The disciples heard his call. With the power of the Holy Spirit they began to fulfill the mission given them. In the process they had their struggles. But, overall, they developed a love for one another as partners in mission. Many gave their lives in that service. I know, if they were interviewed and asked today if they would return and make the same sacrifices they would say, “In a heartbeat.”
I concluded the note I had written in 1997 with this thought:
Oh that God would grant us such a goal that all things that threaten to separate us would be put aside so that we too might become one.
My prayer today is the same.