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Blood and Honour

L. R. TarsitanoóSaint Andrew's Church, Savannah

The First Sunday in Lent, March 12, 2000

"We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of  God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1). 

One of the most frustrating developments of the second half of the twentieth century was  the invention of the political "un-war." Politicians and diplomats in Washington would  hatch some geopolitical scheme, and then move our service men and women around the  world like pawns in a game of chess. 

But these werenít chessmen, and they werenít going to games. These were flesh and blood  men and women, who were the sons and daughters, the fathers and mothers, the husbands  and wives, of other flesh and blood human beings. And they were going to war, without  being offered the dignity of a declaration of war, to take part in what were described to the  press and to the American people as "police actions," "pacifications," and "peace keeping." 

Usually these "un-wars" ended without any clear-cut resolution. The politicians and other  powers-that-be just grew tired of them and announced that they were "over." Some of these  "un-wars" continue today, here and there among the pest-holes of the world. They, too,  will "just end" someday, most likely with neither an apology, nor with any sort of achieved  purpose that can reasonably be called a "victory." 

But in the only sense that matters, these "un-wars" can never end, should never end, at  least not in our memories. There must remain with us always the haunting image of tired,  dirty men hitting an otherwise meaningless hill, again and again, because their country told  them to take it. We must never forget their courage or their loyalty, the blood they shed, the  agony they endured for our sake. We must never ignore their horror when the politicians,  in the name of "un-war," made them give back to the enemy a hill for which they had paid  the ultimate price. 

Most of all, we must resist the whole idea of the "un-war." The honor of those who fought  and died cannot be reduced to a trivial matter, something to be mentioned in passing in the  occasional patriotic speech. Their honor must move us to greater honor in our own lives.  Their honor must strengthen our will to live a better life in a better country. And if we do  not live better lives for their sake, for the sake of the blood that they shed, then we  condemn their sacrifices to futility, and we announce to the world that they have died in  vain. 

Those words, "in vain," are among the most appalling and frightening in the Bible. When  the Prophets or the Apostles write of "vanity," they do not mean only "the empty pride" of  modern English. They mean "emptiness" itself. They mean to speak of "meaningless  words," of "the destitution of the spirit," and of efforts and struggles that "bear no fruit."  They mean to warn us of the most terrible thing of allčof blood shed to no purpose,  because its shedding did not change the lives of those for whom it was shed. 

If, however, it is evil and sickening to make vain the blood that has been shed by our  soldiers, how can we begin to express the utter, heartless wickedness of making vain the  Precious Blood that the Son of God has shed for the redemption of the world? That he has  shed for each and every one of us? 

This is the question that lies behind St. Paulís words in this morningís Epistle: "We then,  as workers together [with Christ], beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in  vain." The "grace" of God is not some vague, misty power that may or may not inspire us  to "good thoughts." The grace of God, in its most concentrated form, is the Blood of his  Son soaking into the ground of an otherwise meaningless hill that he has taken on our  behalf by dying there on the cross. 

Jesus Christ, the eternal Son made man for the sake of our salvation, has planted his  standard on the hill of Calvary. And if we do not rally to that standard, if we do not  respond to his dying for our sake by living for his sake, we say that he died "in vain." We  declare his conquest of sin and death only an "un-war," to be ignored or forgotten as soon  as we grow bored with it. We give back to the enemyč to sin, Satan, and deathč the  whole earth that Jesus Christ has taken in obedience to his Fatherís commands. 

Moreover, before we go any further, we must ask ourselves, "What will God the Father  think, and what will he do, if we treat the death of his Son Jesus Christ as nothing but a  vanity?" We can begin to find an answer by remembering our own anger at the lack of  respect that has been shown for our soldiers who fought and died in the "un-wars" of this  earth. We can imagine (or some of us can remember) what it means to lose a child or a  husband or a buddy, and to have someone say, "So what?" We can contemplate the eternal  wrath of an eternal Father, who had to watch as his only-begotten Son died for the sins of  the world, when even one person says, "Big deal. Whatís it to me?" 

Christianity isnít just a belief. The devils in hell believe in God, they believe in Christ, and  they will remain in hell forever (James 2:19). Christianity is a life, and it is a life based  entirely around the admission that it is a "big deal" that the Son of God has died for our  sins. That it is a "big deal" that the real blood of a real man, who was also God incarnate,  ran down the cross in rivers from his wounds to cleanse the earth that it touched and to  claim it for his Father in heaven, so that he could give it as a gift to the redeemed, likewise  cleansed and claimed by the very same sacrificial blood. 

We can talk all day about how much we love God, or about how much he loves us, and not  really mean very much by it, or let our words really influence our behavior. But love,  human or divine, does not get any more specific and concrete than a crown of thorns on the  head, iron nails driven through the hands and feet, and a soldierís lance driven into the side  of Godís Son Jesus Christ. 

Many who call themselves "Christians" today are like the politicians who gave us the "un- wars." They do not like the hard, real words like "blood," "honor," and "war." They prefer  to talk of "programs" and "building self-esteem." In some places, they have even removed  the crosses from their churches, considering them "depressing" or "old-fashioned." 

But the Cross, the blood and the honor of Jesus Christ, and his war against the wickedness  of this world must always remain at the center of a real Christianity. Our faith isnít in  ourselves, or in the good opinion that we hold of ourselves. Our faith is in the blood shed  on the Cross, and in the call of our blood-stained Lord to heroism, to self-sacrifice, and to  honor in our own lives, to be lived for his glory and not for our own. 

Every time we do right, even though we are tempted to do otherwise; every time we put  God and our neighbors ahead of ourselves; every time we repent our sins and confess that  our behavior was unworthy of the Blood of Christ; we say in the only way possible that  Jesus Christ did not die in vain. As honorable Americans, we would consider ourselves  wretched, indeed, if we failed to honor the blood that has been shed for us in earthly wars.  As honorable Christians, or even as those who only hope to become honorable Christians,  we must consider ourselves equally wretched until our every thought, word, and deed  proclaims the glory of Jesus Christís death and sacrifice. 

My hope for us, in this newly begun season of Lent, is that we will renew our commitment  to the honor of Christ; and that we will give over the days between now and Easter to  reckoning the cost of that glorious day, and the cost of the glorious promise of eternal life  that it represents for us all, never forgetting that our eternal life begins with the death of the  Son of God and the shedding of his blood.