Job 2: 11-13
11-13 Three of Job’s friends heard of all the trouble that had fallen on him. Each traveled from his own country—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuhah, Zophar from Naamath—and went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him. When they first caught sight of him, they couldn’t believe what they saw—they hardly recognized him! They cried out in lament, ripped their robes, and dumped dirt on their heads as a sign of their grief. Then they sat with him on the ground. Seven days and nights they sat there without saying a word. They could see how rotten he felt, how deeply he was suffering.”
In re-reading Job 2:11-13, and in preparing for this week’s sermon on Job 19; I get frustrated with the friends for antagonizing him- and yet I was again impressed by Job’s friend’s willingness to sit with him for 7 days in silence. This week I was reflecting on that very idea of sacrifice and was reminded of the Four Chaplains. Having served in the Chaplain Corps in the Army Reserves it is a story embedded in my heart-a story that I believe truly captures the chaplain’s servant principles: Nurture the Living, Care for the Wounded, and Honor the Dead.
The Four Chaplains were on the U.S.A.T. Dorchester on a fateful day and night of Feb. 2, which all told, the ship was carrying 902 service men, merchant seamen and civilian workers. Early in the morning while the night was still dark, the world forever changed for those serving on the Dorchester. A German U-Boat fired and struck the American ship causing panic and chaos to ensue. People were dying, many were wounded, and the ship was sinking. However, during that chaos four Army chaplains brought hope to those with despair and light into the darkness. Those four chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed.
“Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live,” says Wyatt R. Fox, son of Reverend Fox.
One witness, Private William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead bodies and debris. “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” Bednar recalls. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”
After the life jackets were all dispersed and there were still more men left without, each of the four Chaplains gave their own life jackets to men for whom there seemed to be no hope-knowing that it meant the four would most certainly all die.
They four chaplains drown not long after giving up their life jackets but not before embracing each other and praying with and for each other.
For those of us reading this story this week so many decades later- we are still reminded of this amazing biblical example of faith, courage and selflessness.
Too often we get comfortable with our faith by only sitting in Church on Sunday morning.
We forget that there are six and a half other days during the week and that not all in our community feel equally welcomed in our spaces of worship.
Jesus asks most of us not to die but merely to get brave and go out into our communities and sit with those that are not like us. To break bread with those that are not like us. To sit and listen to those that are not like us. To give up the safety of our life jackets to those that are not like us.
That night when all was falling apart and people faced the cold uncertainty of death, the Catholic Chaplain didn’t see only dying Catholic soldiers nor did the Rabbi, the Dutch Reformed, nor the Methodist. When called to selfless devotion to the tenants of their faith; all were seen as children of God and were kindly and selflessly treated as such.
Jesus no longer needs us to be complacent in only talking about the church. There are almost 7,000 people in La Junta. Google identifies 16 churches in La Junta which averages about 437 people per church. 400 if everyone went to church! Let’s be real for a moment and generously say that that each church has 100 people in church on Sunday morning-that leaves 5000 people of La Junta not coming to a church every Sunday. Who is meeting the 5000 where they are at if they aren’t coming to a church? Who is serving them?
Now, more than ever, Jesus needs all of us to wander out from the safety of our church walls and into those sacred spaces of discomfort, pain, and hurt. Jesus has called us to truly live out the gospel. Now more than ever we are being called to bring the good news into the darkness.
Let us as a church proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, like the four Chaplains so many decades ago, and become a beacon of light in the swelling darkness.
May it be so.
Rev. Lou Ward
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