Of soldiers and saints.
Tomorrow we observe the feast of St. Martin, coincident with national observance of Veterans’ Day. Chalk it up to holy coincidence, since St. Martin was, among other things, a soldier. In his honor, and in honor of all veterans, begin this morning by joining in a prayer of honor and thanksgiving for Veterans (below).
St. Martin’s Church in Providence, Rhode Island was the place I served right after seminary, under the leadership of the Rev. Dan Burke, one of the kindest and wisest priests I have known. Dan was gentle with me when gaps in my preparation for ministry were on display, which was more often than I care to admit. During my time at St. Martin’s, I came to know a fair amount about this saint from the 4th century. Martin of Tours was a soldier who was traveling one day in a snowstorm, on the highway, when he came upon a beggar. Martin raised his sword and cut his own cape in two and gave half of his cloak to the shivering beggar. Martin apparently did not ask if the beggar was worthy. Martin did not worry that he was enabling the beggar. He did not fret that the beggar was scamming him. He just gave him a coat. I don’t know if I could do that (even though I realize in our recent move that I have enough coats to equip a marching band!) but maybe that’s why Martin gets a feast day. The story continues. That night, Christ appeared to Martin in a dream, commending him for his offering. Legend has it that Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clothed me.”
The gospel for the Feast of St. Martin is the parable of judgment in Matthew 25 (We’ll read it in church on November 26) which declares that we meet Christ in the poor, the hungry, the prisoner. When we minister to them, we minister to Christ. When we ignore them, we ignore Christ. A parable to keep us on our ethical toes. From this passage, we get the baptismal injunction to meet Christ in all persons, even if occasionally Christ comes very well disguised. In honor of Martin today, when you’re out on the highway, out in the world, in whatever turbulence (meteorological or otherwise) be ready to meet Christ in those whose lives are marked by need. They surround us.
One more thing about Martin. His symbol is the goose. Why the goose, you ask. Well after the soldier/beggar encounter, Martin became a monk, such a fine one in fact that he was elected bishop. Like many folks who hear God’s call to the episcopacy, Martin ran in the opposite direction, not wanting the job. He hid in a barn. The honking of the geese gave him away. He went on to have a powerful ministry, so effective that we honor it more than 16 centuries later.
Honor his day in reflection on what God is calling you to do, and especially how God might be calling you to address the needs of a broken world. Who knows, you might meet Jesus in some new way when you do. Wouldn’t that be something?
– Jay Sidebotham
O judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. -A prayer for heroic service from the Book of Common Prayer
Truly I tell you, as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. –Matthew 25
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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