A Prayer for Heroic Service
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.-P. 839, The Book of Common Prayer
The Collect for the Feast of St. Martin (November 11)
Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Veterans’ Day/The Feast of St. Martin
Calendar convergence alert: Today is not only the observance of Veterans’ Day. In the church calendar, today we observe the feast of St. Martin of Tours, soldier and saint from the 4th century. We give thanks for veterans on this day. I invite you to use the prayer for heroic service printed in the column on the left as a way to honor them.
I also invite you to consider the witness of Martin. I was introduced to his story in my first church, which bore his name. Legend has it that one winter day as he was riding on his horse, making military rounds, he came across a beggar, freezing in the snow. Martin took his sword, sliced his own cloak in half and gave it to the beggar. In a dream that night, Christ appeared to Martin. Christ was wearing that cloak, thanking him for it, demonstrating the truth that Christ is present in all persons, even when Christ comes well disguised.
The symbol for Martin is a goose. Why, you reasonably ask? After his military service, Martin became a priest in the south of France. He was apparently good at it. So good, in fact, that the people of that region elected him bishop. Martin, clearly a person of wisdom, heard the news of his election and ran in the opposite direction. He hid in a barn. As people were searching for him, the geese in the barn began honking, giving away his hiding place. Next thing you know, Martin is wearing a miter.
The story of Martin has become important to me, for a few reasons. Maybe you’ll find it helpful too. His call began with service. He met Jesus in a simple act of grace, service without expectation of reward. As I travel around the church and ask folks what helped them grow spiritually, what may have jump started their own spiritual journey, I often hear that it had something to do with a simple act of service.
If we are ever wondering how to move forward in faith, if an encounter with Christ seems remote, perhaps starting with service is the way to go. Lord knows there are no shortage of opportunities. I have found in my own life, when church work and priesthood seems overly weighted with meetings and administration, when ego invades sermon preparation, when reasons I pursued ordained ministry seem obscured in the past, an intentional act of service, often offered with a degree of anonymity, can help get me back on track.
There’s a wonderful aspect of surprise in all of this, reflected in the reading from Matthew’s gospel often associated with the feast of St. Martin. (See excerpt above.) Those who stand before the king are commended for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner. Much to their surprise, they are told that they met the King in those expressions of love.
Martin’s story also says something to me about call, with that rather goofy symbol of the goose. Couldn’t a soldier saint have merited a more noble symbol? The goose says that a frequent sign of the authenticity of a call is the sense that God must have the wrong number. Throughout the Bible, call story after call story repeats this theme: You can’t mean me. There’s a dose of healthy humility in there. There is also a sense that by God’s grace, we can all be useful in God’s work in the world. What’s the saying? God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies those God calls.
Spend some time today (especially if you have the day off) giving thanks for veterans who have ventured much for the liberties we enjoy. In a season when liberties seem increasingly in jeopardy in many parts of the world, we remember struggles that have safeguarded the dignity of every human being. And while you’re at it, give thanks for St. Martin, soldier and saint, who shows that any one of us can meet Jesus any old time.
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