This morning as we continue our long weekends for Memorial Day, I think it is important for us to remember why we celebrate Memorial Day. It was established as a way to bring the two sides of the civil war, the confederates and the union soldiers, together to pay respect to all those who lost their lives in the battles. The civil war remains the most devastating war in American history. After WWI, it was extended to remember all those soldiers who sacrificed their lives for our country and ever since all soldiers who have experienced the sacrifices of service in their country’s name have been honored. I think, though, that as Christians we need to also lift up those individuals who risked everything to care for those who were in need in the midst of battle no matter what side they were on. Those soldiers who could place aside the political ideology to see their enemy for a human being and risked everything to bring some of God’s comfort and care to their lives as Solomon lifted up the foreigners in his prayer to God. So I share with you the story of Richard Kirkland.
Richard Kirkland was a sergeant in the Second South Carolina Volunteers of the confederate army. The papers of the Southern Historical Society write of the Kirkland’s care for others, “It was the day after the sanguinary battle of Fredericksburg, Kershaw’s brigade occupied the road at the foot of Marye’s hill and the ground about Marye’s house. One hundred and fifty yards in front of the road, lay Syke’s division of regulars, U.S.A., between whom and our troops a murderous skirmish occupied the whole day. The ground between the lines was bridged with the wounded’ dead and dying Federals. All that day those wounded men rent the air with their groans and their agonizing cries of “Water! water!” Kirkland came up to his commanding officer with a request he said: “General! I can’t stand this. All night and all day I have heard those poor people crying for water, and I can stand it no longer. I come to ask permission to go and give them water.” The General regarded him for a moment and said: “Kirkland, don’t you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?” “Yes, sir,” he said, “I know that; but if you will let me, I am willing to try it.” After a pause, the General said, “Kirkland, I ought not to allow you to run a risk, but the sentiment which actuates you is so noble that I will not refuse your request, trusting that God may protect you. You may go.”
He said, “Thank you, sir,” and ran rapidly down stairs. With profound anxiety he was watched as he stepped over the wall on his errand of mercy — Christ-like mercy. Unharmed he reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, tenderly raised the drooping head, rested it gently upon his own noble breast, and poured the precious life- giving fluid down the fever scorched throat. This done, he laid him tenderly down, placed his knapsack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his overcoat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer. By this time his purpose was well understood on both sides, and all danger was over. From all parts of the field arose fresh cries of “Water, water; for God’s sake, water!” More piteous still the mute appeal of some who could only feebly lift a hand to say, here, too, is life and suffering. For an hour and a half did this ministering angel pursue his labor of mercy, nor did he cease to go and return until he relieved all the wounded on that part of the field. He returned to his post wholly unhurt”.
I read this story in preparation for Memorial Day and it reminded me of how we are called to first care for our fellow brothers and sisters. We are to see the humanity in the faces of each other first even in some of the most trying times as Kirkland was able to do. Solomon in his prayer raised up those foreigners who come seeking God in their lives offering them that sense of compassion. Christ acted out his compassion for the slave of a centurion. A centurion who came to Jesus who was not Jewish and whose job it was to persecute against the Jewish population on behalf of Herod and yet Christ overcame that to have compassion for the household of this centurion, Christ had compassion for all those who suffered Jew, Gentile, faithful or not.
So when we celebrate Memorial Day we are called to remember the soldiers that have passed, those who actively serve now, and their families and to hold them in our prayers, to have compassion for their struggles and to reach out in care. We are called to be like Solomon and to be like Christ and to reach out to those in need of feeling the compassion of a caring hand upon their lives no matter what the political environment looks like around us. Let’s have the courage of Sergeant Kirkland to look at what we can do for someone else instead of at what is most comfortable for us. We need to work to live each day into the message of Christ which requires us to look beyond the constraints of humanity to see each person as a creation of God and thus in need of love and compassion. To war is human, to love is the inspiration of the Holy. So today I leave you with the words of Solomon from our scriptures, “Likewise when a foreigner who is not your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name … then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all the foreigner calls to you”. We are called to look upon each other when we are in need with compassion each as children of God as Solomon did in his prayer. So as we go into this Memorial Weekend remember all those who are shaped by the sacrifices of war, both at home and abroad, and find a way to show honor through our prayers, and the compassion, love, and work that we do with the faith placed upon our hearts.
 1 Kings 8: 41-42, NRSV.
(Based on 1 Kings 8: 22-23, 41-43 and Luke 7: 1-10)