This week, 96 years ago, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the conflict known as WWI ended when the Armistice went into effect – an event we now celebrate as “Veterans Day”.
I probably would not be writing this today if it weren’t for that Armistice.
My Grandfather was a soldier in France, a corporal, in the fall of 1918. Although he’d been in the military for some time (at first ill for several months with what may have been the infamous “Spanish Flu”, then in an artillery unit), his first taste of face to face combat with the enemy was set for a couple of days after that symbolic day that ended the war. He and a team of soldiers were to attack a German fortification (which he termed a “castle”) with the goal of diverting attention from the main attack elsewhere. In military terms, “divert” means “get shot at,” which is why he and his fellows called these teams “Suicide Squads.” The survival rate was typically under 5% – if they were doing their jobs right (and my grandfather never did anything “halfway” in his entire life).
He and his fellow soldiers in that squad survived only because the diplomats agreed to end the war at that symbolic time, and did not drag out negotiations for a couple of more days. If they’d delayed for only a day or two, I might never have existed.
When Grandpa told me his story half a century later, one of the few times he ever talked of the war to me, tears came to eyes (the only time I ever saw him cry) as he added “My generation failed. We really believed we were fighting the ‘War to End All Wars’, so that future generations would never have to go to war again.”
A central principle of the ARK Church is to be inclusive. Inclusion means we work to build relationships with those around us – that we work to grow the Community of Christ, and to grow the “ties that bind”, to bring life, rather than building walls of misunderstanding, judgment, and hate, rather than allowing the “thief” to come and kill, steal or destroy.
I saw this the first time I visited ARK Church a little over a year ago: you welcomed me, every single one of you. Every time I’ve been there since, it has been the same – no one is excluded, no one is judged, everyone is accepted for who they are, everyone is welcomed to integrate themselves deeper into the community (if they wish, but are not pressured to do so). Everyone receives the Radical Welcome that we who are members of ARK feel called to give to all whom we encounter.
Largely because of that welcome, I welcomed the opportunity to become the settled minister for this congregation. The mission of ARK Church is my own, too – which, in a way, is a continuation of the mission that my granddad and many of his generation thought they had failed to accomplish –to bring peace to the world. And yet, their mission lives on in us, their descendants.
The Bible teaches us to spread Christ’s message of love and acceptance in every way we can, to bring life. ARK Church is doing that, too: continuing the mission that Christ commissioned his disciples to continue after he was gone.
Our presence as an active participant in the life of this congregation is a pledge in a way, a statement about what is important to us as individuals, and as a community, about who we are, and what our lives will stand for – a statement with lasting consequences – which, like the decision of exactly when to end hostilities in 1918, will have an impact for generations to come.
All of us have a place here at ARK Church – opportunities to participate; opportunities to give of ourselves, in many ways; and opportunities to share the Love of God (that is in us) with all whom we encounter. To see that spirit of Radical Welcome as such a strong force in the life of this church convinces me that it will persist, and grow, for many years to come.
May we all remember our Sons, Daughters, Brothers, Sisters, Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents, Comrades in Arms and Friends who served in the cause of a Good greater than themselves; and most especially for those who sacrificed all that they had and all that they were to keep the promise and the hope of that Greater Good alive for the rest of us.