As we observe Veterans Day this weekend, I hope you will join me in being particularly grateful for those of us who serve or have served in the United States Armed Forces. Thank you for your service.
As I reflect on this day of remembrance and the nature of our service, I am aware of what has changed over the years and how much has remained relatively constant.
Veterans Day has its roots in Armistice Day, which was first observed 99 years ago on November 11, 1918 marking the end of the “Great War” [World War I]. In 1954, our observance of Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day to honor the service of all American men and women.
Despite the evolving changes to the day itself, and the changes in the technology of waging war, the nature of our service hasn’t changed dramatically. If you have the opportunity to listen in on veterans sharing their “war stories” across generations, you will be struck more by the commonality of their stories than by the differences among them: the strength of the bond among those who served together even amid the diversity of their origin; the ability to recognize the absurd in their circumstance even under fire; the absolute dependence upon one another despite rank, race or creed; and, related to this dependence, the accountability to which they hold each other when they are in harms way.
Yet when the bonds forged under fire and shared trauma are severed by death, demobilization, and discharge, and we lose the structure of the community in which we served we can founder as we try to re-integrate into a society that, despite its good intentions, has other preoccupations and doesn’t really get us.
But this story isn’t just about our veterans. It is also about another kind of armistice day. In the final chapter of our Old Testament reading, Joshua is in essence demobilizing the troops following our “conquest” and allotment of the land of Canaan. He is giving us a recap of our history as a people; reminding us that we have been blessed throughout our history and lives; and appealing to us to respond in kind with reverence and faithfulness.
The reason for this earnest appeal is because Joshua knows his people all too well. Through the shared travails of the wilderness and our battles with the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites he has seen how we have struggled in our faithfulness to the Lord, even as the Lord sustains us at every turn. Joshua can only imagine how his people may stray without a common challenge to focus us. Like a good drill instructor, he lays down a challenge that just may focus us on building a new community, “You cannot serve the Lord.”
Any veteran will appreciate the challenge handed down by a drill instructor that you can’t do something. It inspires you to rise to the challenge, to work as a team, and to prove your drill instructor wrong. But whereas the drill instructor may be challenging you to overcome some obstacle or obstruction by any means whatever, either fair or foul; Joshua is presenting a different challenge. Joshua’s challenge is constrained; it is one that is not on our terms but on God’s terms. Reintegrating on God’s terms may be harder and more challenging than we imagined. Nonetheless, we commit, “No, we will serve the Lord!” But we also know the rest of the story; how we stumble and fall short, how we succumb to infighting and even betrayal, how we become entrenched and stubborn on matters of consequence, giving in to self-interest rather than common good. This is our story as the people of God. Yet from time to time we are offered another glimpse of the challenge and promise before us; we get another glimpse into the kingdom of heaven.
When we rally to come to church, even though we may not feel like it; through Word and prayer, thanksgiving and praise, we get another glimpse of the kingdom of heaven and the possibility before us to grow in wisdom and to help the foolish grow in wisdom as well. When we participate in the common life of our community we are reminded of our neighbors who may need our assistance and support.
May our neighbors always remind us of the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst; the master drill instructor who daily challenges us to grow in wisdom and even tend to the foolish rather than leave them behind. Every veteran knows that we endeavor never to leave anyone behind.
 Joshua 24:19
 Ibid., v. 21