God is faithful, by whom you were called
into the fellowship of His Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1.9
Sermon for the Memorial Service of VMF422
Jefferson Barracks, Missouri
September 24, 2004
I want to begin by telling you all that I am very honored to be asked to lead this memorial service for the veterans and families of VMF 422.* Here at Jefferson Barracks we cannot help but be reminded of the many service men and women who made such great sacrifices for our freedom. It is a good thing for us to pause and remember, and look to God who was their guide in life and death and gave them every success.
Those who have served in the United States Marine Corps are very familiar with the Marine motto: Semper Fidelis – "always faithful." We know that this is more than a motto. We know that it is a way of life. We are called to be faithful in all things: Faithful in our service to country, to family, and ultimately to God. If a hopeful marine recruit is not aware of this, he or she will be after their little indoctrination program at San Diego or Parris Island. There they will experience the intensity of training required for anyone who is called to be "always faithful." There they will also learn the history of those who shown their faithfulness in many different wars and battles that preceded them. As they continue in their service, they will be constantly reminded of their high calling. All of us have the privilege of living life in this way. It is a life that serves the higher ideals of honor, integrity, and love.
VMF422 entered into the history books during the course of our country’s struggle against the Imperial forces of Japan during World War II. This squadron was summoned for action, and in the course of their duties encountered an overwhelming enemy. Anyone who is familiar with the challenges of war knows that the enemies are not always human. Ask General George Washington about the winter at Valley Forge or the many soldiers and sailors who have been lost to disease or, as in this case, violent weather. One by one these pilots were forced into the sea. Some died. Others survived and were rescued. Like so many service men and women of that era, they rose to fulfill their duties, and they did so with faithfulness.
Each of you have continued to show this faithfulness to one another as time has gone by. You continue to live out the values of Semper Fidelis as you regularly remember those who gave their lives. You also continue to maintain important friendships, care, and concern for one another even though the old enemies are long gone.
But the enemies of this life never go away. Whether we face organized forces bent on conquering nation after nation as in the past, or modern terrorism bent on destroying all refuse to bow the knee to their particular religion, we are always facing enemies. Not only that, we face the enemies of our own personal life. It may be our goal to be Semper Fidelis; but is this always the way we live our lives? The worst enemies are those that lead us into temptation – to selfish, godless lives. We all grow older. We look back, and we don’t always like what we see. The storms of life have a way of sinking us to.
I know you have a saying among yourselves: "The runway is getting shorter." Life’s sacrifices are being called in one by one. In a few moments we’ll remember the names of those who could not be a part of this reunion. No matter how faithful anyone is, they will always end up on that list sooner or later.
That is why I want to tell you about another kind of faithfulness. Our faithfulness, whatever great value it might have, is only good if it rests on God’s faithfulness. In the New Testament, St. Paul wrote to the early Christians who understood that they were called to a new kind of faithfulness. "God is faithful (Fidelis Deus), by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." They understood that their faithfulness was founded on the faithfulness of God. Their confidence in the face of life’s storms was the confidence that God had overcome all enemies – especially the one whom Jesus called "The Evil One."
Some of the downed pilots of VMF422 were rescued by the amazing efforts of PBY pilot George Davidson. George put his plane down on rough seas and risked his own life to save as many of those pilots as he could. Those pilots know they own a debt to George that they could never repay. He wouldn’t have had to make those landings. He would have been well within his duties to turn back rather than risk his own life trying to accomplish what many would have probably said couldn’t be done.
Such a heroic rescue reminds me of something else. The Bible tells us of another "David’s-Son" Jesus Christ – the Son of King David of Israel. He was also called up to face even worse storms – the storms of sin, death and the devil. Nevertheless He showed His faithfulness to God the Father in that He laid down His life for us. Through His sufferings and death we have fellowship – that is, rescue from all that would drag us down in this life and destroy us forever. It is that faithfulness, the Fidelis Deus, that we can really count on. With God’s faithfulness, given to us through the sacrifice of His Son, we now can exercise our own faithfulness to Him and to one another. May God, who is faithful, bless and be with you all. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois
*For those who are not familiar with the story of VMF 422 you can find a summary of the account by Justin King at http://www.grunt.com/scuttlebutt/corps-stories/heroes/tale.asp
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