It is my honor to be with you today as we have gathered to remember, and celebrate the gift that the veterans of our nation – the men and women who have served the cause of liberty are to us as a nation. Men and women dedicated to service – a service that didn’t end when their terms of enlistment were over. Christians recognize that service flows from what Jesus has done for us. Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve. Jesus came to suffer and die, that those who believe may have hope and life in Him. This example of service is lived out as we seek to serve our neighbor. The veterans of our armed forces exemplify this virtue of service as they continue to serve in the vocations and places in which they live.
Have you ever noticed the Latin words printed on the official seal of the US – E Pluribus Unum? Take a look at a one dollar bill, and you will find printed on the back the great seal of the United States. This phrase; E Pluribus Unum grasped in the beak of the American eagle. This phrase means “From many, one.”
From many – one. This motto was chosen by the founders of our great nation, not as some sort of communist manifesto, to express the idea all citizens are the subjects of an all-encompassing government. Many people made one under the authority of government. Rather – when this phrase was included on the official seal of our nation in 1782 it reflected one of the founding principles of our nation. The American people, already at the very beginning of our nation came from a large diversity of backgrounds. Because of this, unity as a nation would not come from human affiliations – by family, by tribe, or creed, or by the color of our skin, or our place of origin, or the language we spoke. This was the European way. American unity would not reside in group affiliation, or identity, but in the love of liberty. The idea that all men – that is all people, (As an aside……….) are equal under the law. Yes – our nation bears the sin of racial slavery and other inequalities in her history. Reality always falls short of the ideal – even so, the remarkable thing about founding a nation on principles of liberty and justice for all, is that these virtues have a way of bringing about the needed corrections – as this country did many times as for example in ending slavery at the time of our Civil War.
I come from a family that is no stranger to service in our nation’s military. My great grandpa LaPlant – at the age of 16, too young to enlist legally BTW – hitchhiked from Grand Rapids, MN to New York City so he could enlist in the Army. He served in Europe during WWI.
My grandpa Eischens was drafted into the Navy, and was stationed at Pearl Harbor shortly after the attack of December 7th, 1941. My Dad served in the US Navy – on the USS St. Paul even, and was involved in the US support of the removal of French troops from Vietnam. His enlistment ended just before the US escalated the conflict there. My brother served in the Army Iraq in 2003 – at the same time as I was sent to Afghanistan. My mom told me that shortly after learning both LaPlant sons would be sent to fight in the war on terror, Dad fell to his knees in the driveway after coming home from work – weeping with worry that both his sons would be called on to give their lives in the cause of freedom. The Lord preserved both of us, and we both did made it home alive.
If you spend much time watching cable news, or reading news on social media it would appear that our nation is no longer united. That we are no longer E Pluribus Unum. In some ways this is true, however, in all the most important ways it is not. Sure, we see how many are divided over how best to run our government, but when you enter our neighborhoods, and schools you find a far different picture then the one of division being peddled to us by the elites of the media. You find neighbor serving neighbor. You find families going about the business of living their lives, and enjoying the liberty guaranteed to them by the constitution. You find – dare I say it – Democrats, and Republicans, and independents and everyone else living, working, and even praying together. A diverse people united as a community. Often times united by service.
In 2001 the US Army, in an effort to boost enlistments began offering a nice bonus attractive enough to entice a poor, recent college grad, me, who was trying to help his wife finish her college education to enlist. As I already mentioned, I come from a family familiar with service in the armed forces, so it seemed like a good way to earn some extra money to pay off my college debt, and serve my country at the same time. I enlisted, and at the beginning of September, 2001 I found myself at Ft. Sill, OK. reporting for Army basic training.
Then September 11th, 2001 came. That morning we were scheduled to see a weapons demonstration. As we were getting ready to board buses to the firing range, I remember vividly the drill sergeant pacing back and forth in front of us, angry – talking about how those …… well, its best not to repeat what drill sergeants say when angry – how someone blew up the world trade center. How we, as a nation were attacked by those who despise liberty and justice for all. Later that day – once we had finished eating our supper, we were led into the assembly hall, and were shown the news feed video of a passenger airplane flying into buildings – of glass and steel and concrete collapsing into a cloud of dust and smoke. Of firefighters bravely working to save lives. Of E Pluribus Unum in action. Let me tell you – an attack on your nation really focuses you – mind, body and soul when you are training to fight for your country.
I completed my training at Ft. Lee Virginia, at the US Army Quarter master school, and went home here to Minnesota to serve in the Army reserves with the 407 CA battalion. I settled into the routine of work, and monthly drill with my Army reserve unit until about one year later, when my unit got called up for deployment to Afghanistan.
Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
In late June of 2003 I found myself on a C17 globemaster III, along with 60 of my closest friends (those of you who have served know what I mean.) With one layover in Germany, I was on my way, along with the 407 CA BN to Bagram air base in Afghanistan.
Imagine for a moment how you would have felt if you had just left behind a young wife, a home, and extended family to go to a place that was affectionately called the “armpit of the world.” What would be going through your mind? How would you be feeling?
Courage is not the lack of fear – but the conviction to face fear, and do your duty – do what needs to be done to complete the mission.
I was afraid, but fear was not the strongest emotion I felt. Deep down, I felt lonely.
When we landed at Bagram in Afghanistan it was about 1 in the morning. In a war zone there are no lights shining at airports. No runway lights, no lights on the plane, no lights shining from the terminal – nothing that would give away the position of the aircraft to the enemy. We landed in pitch darkness. We de-planed in pitch darkness, and in a single file line we were led into the dark, not knowing where we were going, or how long the walk would be, from the plane to the terminal. Because we couldn’t see anything.
Sandwiched between two other soldiers – two other people that I knew very well, trained with, lived with, ate with, prayed with, Just spent close to 20 hours on a military cargo jet with – I never felt more lonely. I found myself half a world away from those who I most deeply cared about – my wife, my family –not just on the opposite side of the globe, I was in a war zone too. In my loneliness, I felt as though God had abandoned me.
It was at this moment that I looked up. Have you ever had the chance to look up at the stars on a dark summer night while out in the wilderness far from the invasion of artificial light? The sky was brilliantly lit. Each star – each shining light became for me, at that moment, a reminder of God’s promises. Remember Abraham? Each star a shining proclamation of what God had promised him, of why Abraham had left his home behind.
When I looked up, when I considered the heavens above, and who put each star in its place, a profound sense of peace entered my soul. God had not abandoned me. The heavens declared to me in that moment His glory.
People are profoundly lonely these days. From the hospital rooms, to the nursing homes that I visit right into the halls of Lutheran High, people are longing for community. Our nation is crying out for a return to the founding principle of E Pluribus Unum. That, no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like you are an American. Blessed to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
In light of the divisions we see all around us today, what a golden opportunity we have. That we, who by the blood of Jesus are called into fellowship with the creator of the stars of night, are called to confess this hope we have in Jesus. The church – the body of Christ is the community that is needed. It is the true E Pluribus Unum, for by faith in Jesus, we are all knit together into the one body of Jesus.
At a time of great need in my life, God, by his very creation, sent comfort down from heaven. So too, as you look to the heavens are you reminded of the promise of God to never leave you, nor forsake you.
After serving for 10 months at a logistics station in Uzbekistan, I came home. Welcomed back into the warm embrace of family. Actually – I left Afghanistan in February – with 80 – 90 degree days to come to Minnesota with -20 temps. I needed the warm embrace of my family!
God has given each of us a purpose – a vocation in life that is focused not on yourself, but on others. As we remember and celebrate the service of our nation’s veterans this day, let us be renewed, first by the Word of God in faith to Jesus our Savior, and second renewed in service. That as Jesus loves us, forgives us, so may we serve our neighbor.