Sometimes when we experience great stressors in life, great times of trial, we get a blessing, an opportunity to see God and to feel his angels lifting us up as we walk. Sometimes we find God in the least likely of places amidst the most trying of times. And as we continue to celebrate our country’s Independence Day, I think it important to remember the great sacrifices of all of our armed forces that help maintain our sense of freedom and who fight for the liberties of other peoples in the world. I have many people in my family who were soldiers and have known quite a few more veterans in my life time. And one thing always stands out to me. Many of them found their faith and felt the power of God right there on those battlefields as they struggled against foes that were just as frightened, tired and determined as they were.
I am in awe of how God uses those moments to reach out and touch the hearts of those men and women. And how they can hear and feel God’s presence even though bullets fly, bombs explode and friends die. They find God, and the faith they pull from those experiences carries them through many of their struggles for the rest of their lives. God reveals himself in funny ways sometimes. There are times when we struggle to see God in the peacefulness of the day, or forget to look for him. But in the times that test us to the extreme there he is bringing humanity and love back into life.
This morning I would like to share with you the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Pope Benedict XV called for both sides to set aside their battle, their war in WWI in the hopes that there could be a glimmer of peace, a time to feel the hope of God on Christmas day. But it was denied by the governments of both sides of the war. The soldiers felt as if they were not going to get to observe Christmas that year. They believed that they might not get to observe the peace, love, hope and joy of Christmas ever again. In the midst of the greatest turmoil someone could face, the turmoil of war and battle; hope, joy, love and peace is a gift from God. It is a gift that can bring a person through the battles they may face with courage.
In 1914, their governments may not have sanctioned a cease fire on December 25th but the soldiers in the trenches dropped their guns and joined together in a rare moment of peace, joy and solace as they sang Christmas hymns and joined together in celebrating the one thing they held in common Christ. They found God amidst their greatest time of struggle many would go on to continue their battle the very next morning and many did not make through the war. But God brought them that sliver of hope that reminder of their humanity and gave them the peace they yearned for and needed in those moments.
Jesus sent out his disciples into the crowds, to the cities and the small towns to give that same type of hope, peace and solace to all those people who were suffering. All those people who needed to hear from God, who needed to know that God did not condemn them in their suffering. They needed to hear that the they were not hopeless sinners doomed to suffer the wrath of God for generations to come, but rather to hear of the hope of God even in the midst of their greatest life struggles. They needed to feel that God was journeying in their lives even when it became hard to maintain faith.
In the Hebrew faith to that point in history, they believed and were taught by their religious community that if they suffered whether it was from illness and disease, loss of family or loved ones, or from famine or unemployment that it happened because they had done something wrong or their ancestors had angered God and that there was nothing to be done. In effect, they would also be shunned by society because they were obviously a sinful family. They received judgment and not comfort from their community.
Jesus sent the disciples to go forth to bring healing and miracles into the lives of the marginalized of society so they might experience that same type of peace, hope and joy that the soldiers in the trenches in WWI did on Christmas day. When Jesus sends forth his disciples it is to bring humanity and comfort to a people who needed to know that their God was not punishing them senselessly but rather that God walked with them through their struggles and was offering them a hand of fellowship to give them the strength of faith that they needed to bring them through to the other side.
Now many of us have not experienced the extreme stressors of life at war, many of us may never experience persecution from our religious institutions. But we all experience those times when our lives seem to just be unraveling, falling apart and our vision of the Holy in our lives seems to grow dimmer with each day. We all begin to question our faith when we suffer from searing lose or from the affects of illness and disease. But we are sent those angels, those moments of comfort and reminders that God has not left us even though we can’t always feel him or see him. He sends us those reminders of his presence through our communities, our loved ones and through those little moments that seem almost supernatural because of their peacefulness. Every so often we get to have those days that are meant to offer some healing, some wholeness in the middle of those times of great trial that give us the will to journey on and to keep fighting.
So as we go forth into the week, to continue our celebration of Independence Day, let us honor God’s presence in all those instances of great struggle, all the battles that we all face in life and let us share with others our God moments, those moments of peace and hope that have brought us through the storms of life. Because our experiences of God’s hand in our lives might be God’s way of touching the life of someone else who is in need. Remember the actions of Jesus from this morning, “He (Jesus) called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits”. Today we too are being sent forth to be those angels of kindness, the bearers of hope for other peoples to give them the strength to continue on in their journeys with the knowledge that God is walking with them offering them continued peace and wholeness no matter what life has to throw at them. We are being offered peace and wholeness this day and we too have been given the authority, the power to offer that peace and wholeness to someone else in need. We can be those living reminders of God’s presence in all the experiences of this world.
 Mark 6: 10-11, NRSV.
(Sermon based on Ezekiel 2: 1-5 and Mark 6: 1-13).