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Independence Gained

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

1 After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.

17 David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18 (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said: 19 Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! 20 Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult. 21You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! For there, the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.22 From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty. 23Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. 24 O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. 25 How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. 26 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. 27 How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!


Today, let's take a moment to reflect on the passage from 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, where King David mourns the death of Saul and his son Jonathan. Despite the victory he had in battle with King Saul, David remained deeply saddened by their loss. In this passage, David expresses deep sorrow and laments the fall of mighty warriors and friends. He mourns the loss of Saul and Jonathan by acknowledging their courage, strength, and unity. He highlights the bittersweet reality of victory in battle, recognizing that even in triumph, there can be a significant loss.

As all claim as Christians, that we envision and even long for a world where war is no longer a choice. The light of Christ illuminates a path of peace, unity, and love. We pray for a world where conflicts are resolved through understanding, compassion, and empathy rather than through the horrors of war. This week, we celebrate our nation's independence. But like David, we should also reflect on the cost of freedom and seek to understand a world where peace prevails. Let us celebrate, YES, but do not forget the memory of those who have fallen.

The Sullivan brothers, hailing from Waterloo, Iowa, were five siblings who served together aboard the Navy’s light cruiser USS Juneau. Unfortunately, all of them lost their lives in action during the naval battle of Guadalcanal on November 13th, 1942. The Juneau sustained significant damage after being hit by a torpedo launched from the Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze and ultimately succumbed to another torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine.

The five men were the only sons of Tom and Alleta Sullivan. Can you imagine raising not one but five children into adulthood and losing them all in one fateful day? But even worse, they found out through rumor.

Security required that the Navy not reveal the loss of Juneau or the other ships so as not to provide information to the enemy. Letters from the Sullivan sons stopped arriving at home, and their parents grew worried, which prompted Alleta Sullivan to write to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in January 1943. President Franklin D. Roosevelt answered this letter personally on January 13, 1943, and acknowledged that the Sullivans were missing in action. Still, by then, the parents were already informed of their fate, having learned of their deaths on January 12. That morning, the boys' father, Tom, was preparing for work when three men in uniform – a lieutenant commander, a doctor and a chief petty officer – approached his door. "I have some news for you about your boys," the naval officer said. "Which one?" asked Tom. "I'm sorry," the officer replied. "All five." The "Fighting Sullivan Brothers" became national heroes. Pope Pius XII sent a silver religious medal and rosary with his message of regret. The Iowa Senate and House adopted a formal resolution of tribute to the Sullivan brothers.

Even though the war was won, for the Sullivan family and many like them, the price of freedom was grave, indeed. And even as recently as March 17, 2018, we were reminded once again of the significant loss as the wreckage of the USS Juneau was discovered off the coast of the Solomon Islands by the expedition crew of RV Petrel, owned at the time by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. 

In moments of celebration, such as our nation's independence, it's essential to remember those who mourn. As we rejoice in our freedoms, we must not forget those who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice for the greater good. The liberty we share is not free. There is a price, and there are casualties. Enjoy what was earned by the blood of others while advocating for a future where the weapons of war perish, and the love of Christ reigns supreme.

The parallel between the sacrifice of the soldier and those of the Christian church is not that much of a stretch.  Martyrs of all faiths die, not just the Christian church, believing there is no other way. We tell ourselves that God is on our side, and we fight each other in God’s name, but God is not a god of war. God is the God of peace. We fight when we believe there is no other way, yet we must trust those who lead. What happens when leaders only wish to build up their side at the cost of the other side? What happens when leaders forsake the spirit of the law for power or the almighty dollar? Saul was the anointed leader of Israel, but his fate was foretold by Samuel the day Israel asked for a king.

David understood what war really meant. He understood the price of freedom. Because he loved Saul, whom he believed to be the anointed of God, and he loved Johnathan, the son of Saul and his best friend. The best that we can do is learn from David's lament. Hold our leaders to the promise of peace and freedom found in God however we understand Him to be. Hold ourselves accountable by recognizing the need to take care of the other. I pray that through the spirit of God, we never have to feel what it means to pay such a price as David and the Sullivan family.

I spent years trying to get my father to tell me about his time in Vietnam, a time in which he rarely shared with anyone. His response to me was always that I would never comprehend it. However, a few years ago, I stumbled upon an article or passage somewhere, the exact details of which elude me now, but the sentiment remains vivid. A Gulf War veteran was quoted expressing the deep bond between soldiers, emphasizing that they would lay down their lives for each other; this understanding is not even second nature but primary nature. The connection they share is described as closer than family, and their unity is defined as uncomplicated, unlike the complexities of peacetime. This idea of uncomplicated trust resonates with the simple understanding and bond we find in Christ, gained through submission to God's will. The “peace of Christ” is more than a portion of our worship service; it is a gift of grace that is the primary nature of God. What if we cared for our fellow human beings as soldiers or as Christ cares?

Before we begin this week of celebrating, whether it is grilling, fireworks, vacationing, or all of the above, let us consider these reflections. The call for acceptance of Christ as our Savior and submission to the Holy Spirit holds great significance and great reward to all who come. We can see from David's anguish that the need for peace, unity, and love echoes the teachings of Christ and not that of war. The parallel drawn between the sacrifice of soldiers and the Christian faith serves as a poignant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ for the salvation of all humanity, no matter which side of the war they fight.

Let us heed the call to accept God’s gift of peace; through the Holy Spirit, we receive Grace beyond the weakness of our human bodies, Love beyond the idolatries of human nature, and Peace in the knowledge that only in the actions of Christ we are saved. Christ is our Savior, and we seek him, seek God’s will for our lives. It is only by the grace of God that we will work toward a world where peace prevails, and the love of Christ reigns supreme.

I know this week is supposed to be about the birthday of our nation, a celebration, and this sermon is more than a little depressing. All I ask is that when you bow your head over your celebratory meal, as you give thanks to God for your blessings, remember Johnathan, the five Sullivan brothers, and all the men and women who have sacrificed and continue to serve so we can enjoy such a momentous event. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.




References:

Original U.S. WWII Office of War Information 1943 Propaganda Poster - – International Military Antiques. https://www.ima-usa.com/products/original-u-s-wwii-office-of-war-information-1943-propaganda-poster-sullivan-brothers-they-did-their-part

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