As I am sitting in my study at home writing this devotion, I look around at the stuff I have hanging on the walls. I have a shadow box of all my USMC rank, ribbons, medals and where I served in Vietnam. I have my diplomas from Pfeiffer College, Duke University and Trinity Theological Seminary. My certificate of Ordination as an Elder in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Plus, I have a Jesus sign that a former church member made for me. All of these things have a story.
Many of us use to say that USMC stood for Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children. In many ways we were. I was 19 years old fighting for something or against something. Neither of which was all that clear. I saw other boys die. I didn’t know why I was there, and to be honest, really wasn’t all that thrilled being there. I was scared to death all the time, especially in battles. I was very, very lucky being wounded after about a month and a half, sent to the hospital in Japan, back to Okinawa, and eventually back to the states. I know one guy in my platoon who was killed with 13 days left on his tour. It was all so unfair and so very unreal.
My diplomas amaze me because I am really not all that smart. I struggled all the way through school. In the latter part of college I caught the learning bug… (or at least part of it.) I wanted more and more school. If I could right now I would return to Duke to study every day. I remember Dr. George Scheryer, a religion professor at Pfeiffer, who captured me with his love of teaching theology. His courses in Christian Education were not all that interesting to me, but this one course he taught in Process Theology captivated me. I would sit there so lost in his lecture that I would forget to take notes. That is not a good thing on test day. One thing all my studies have taught me is that the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know.
My Ordination as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ did not set me aside to be better than others, higher up than others, or closer to God than others. It set me aside for responsibility to serve and care for others as if they were my family… to give my life in service of God to them. It has been a most humbling vocation to serve God through serving others. These folks allow you into their lives at the most vulnerable times and we embrace them, not so much as ourselves, as representatives of Jesus Christ. If we are not following Christ into that sacred time, thinking about them and not us, we need not be there. I still am humbled that God called ME to do this sacred work.
Finally, the Jesus sign was one Gus Ledford (Mill Grove in Midland) cut out for me. You see, we had taken the youth on a ski trip to Sugar Mountain back in the 70’s. In the Glenn (where we stayed) hanging over the fireplace was this big Jesus sign. I just fell in love with it. So my dear wife and the youth took it off the wall, taped newspaper together, and traced the Jesus sign. When we returned to Midland, my friend Gus, cut it out for me (knowing that I would cut off fingers if I tried). It has hung in every parsonage ever since. It is a special reminder of that church, that trip, Gus and his family. Gus was killed a couple of years after giving me this sign. He was coming home from work one morning and hit head on by a drunk driver. I will never forget him and his family.
I pray, O Lord, that I have in some small way that, as God has walked with me, I have known what I ought to have known, loved what I ought to have loved, praised what delights God most, valued what is precious in God’s sight, and hated what is offensive to God. In and through Jesus. Amen.