The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
Homily for Evensong
The Feast of +Martin:Tours
© 2016 Frank B Crumbaugh III
In the second lesson for this evening Office, we hear Jesus setting a pretty low bar for Kingdom-inheriting behavior. We easily infer from Jesus’ standard that making a kid a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is Kingdom-inheriting work…” for inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto Me.” That sets us back, and gives us pause. We expect and perhaps even desire that it be harder than that. We assume that our faithfulness has to be a good deal more strenuous than visiting the sick and the imprisoned, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. And Jesus says, “Nope. I’m good. I feel like you’ve loved Me personally if you do these things.” Jesus encourages us to know that our faithfulness, our Kingdom-inspired and Kingdom-inheriting faithfulness, is found in the lowly and mundane activities of daily living more often than in the strenuous and mighty events of life.
So Woody Allen’s remark becomes theological: “90% of life is just showing up.” Our instantaneous recognition of a big truth borne on few words affirms such aphorisms. “90% of life is just showing up.” Indeed. Thanks, Woody.
On days like Veterans’ Day, we gravitate toward heroic achievements that win medals and inspire others. The truth is far less prosaic and far more mundane; the truth is that a Silver Star winner and a mess steward who peeled potatoes in Korea are both veterans, and they both deserve our genuine thanks. Anyone who’s served for more than about a week will tell you that there are times when military life can bore the fur off of a squirrel. It can be so endlessly routine and repetitive that it makes you crazy. On a day such as Veterans’ Day, we learn again that Kingdom-inheriting faithfulness is mirrored in those we honor- all of them.
On such a day as Veterans’ Day, we frame our observances in the throbbing patriotic impulses we see illustrated on recruiting posters; the larger and more honest reality is that there are only mixed and no pure motives, and everyone enters the service for a different reason….smaller life details clothed in the larger high minded principals of national service. Perhaps it wasn’t even a choice, but rather the terrible anonymity of a draft lottery. Perhaps you did volunteer…. maybe the military provided a way out of an abusive home of origin…maybe it looked like the way to counter the boredom of a late adolescence that seemed to have no future…perhaps you needed to make a statement to yourself…or thwart the aspirations others had for you even when you had few or none for yourself….maybe you joined up to hunt bad guys….or perhaps you joined because you really thought it was about parades and medals…..whatever drew you into military service and however you got there, you “…showed up.” If Woody Allen is right about this- and I think he is- that’s it. That legitimates your service. You were there, and I thank you.
The beautiful iconography of military ribbons teaches much if we pay attention. Now a medals-and-ribbons metaphor may seem arcane, and it runs counter to some of what I have just said, but bear with me and I believe it will become clear.
There are personal decorations and there are campaign medals. A personal decoration is recognition for something you did that was more than what was expected of you, and what you did was observed to be of such exceptional competence or bravery, of sufficient note, that a medal was given to recognize it. So for example, when someone wins the Navy Cross, it is a safe bet that there was active combat, mortal danger involved, and something remarkable was done in spite of that mortal danger. Something big and heroic.
A campaign ribbon recognizes something different. It says that you, with Woody Allen, “showed up.” They’re not nearly as cinematic or sexy as the big medals, and that ol’ National Defense Service Medal pretty much just says you were there. Period.
A lot more campaign ribbons are granted than personal decorations conferred. A lot more people receive the National Defense Service Medal than receive the Navy Cross. The heroic personal decorations are rarer by far, and so of course we hold them in higher esteem. Personal decorations matter greatly; they speak of personal deeds of courage and honor and sacrifice, and they are neither easily won nor lightly conferred. Anyone authorized to wear such honors deserves our profound respect.
The campaign medals, the “I showed up” medals, are humbler. The campaign medals are that first 90% of life about which Woody Allen philosophized; I think the more heroic personal medals are the rest of it- the other 10%. Every person I know who wears one of those last-10%-personal-heroic-decorations would be the first to say, “I just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time;” their gracious humility and demeanor never fails to remind me that none of them started the day meaning to be a hero and win a medal. They started the day of their heroism by getting that first 90% of it done….by showing up….by just being there. Another name for that is faithfulness.
Point is, decorated hero or not, showing up, just being there, is not a prelude to service, it is the first act of service. Heroic deeds proceed from the more humble but utterly essential service of showing up. Those who show up make themselves available for heroism, and they do so because that is their duty. Jesus was not setting a low bar when He spoke as He did. His imperative is clear and simple, and faithfully answering that imperative means being present first of all - showing up.
The lesson for us seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? Those who serve make themselves available for heroic opportunities that may or may not come to them, and their showing up is a highly honorable all by itself. We too must make ourselves available to do things that Jesus Himself would do. Some days that will be huge and much praised and honored. And some days that will be utterly unremarkable and forgotten before nightfall.
Neither military personnel nor Christian persons can do any good if they’re not there, if they don’t show up. I want you to hear this loud and clear, particularly because I know many of you and I know your stories and the self-effacing humility with which you tell them: You showed up and that matters. I know of no one in Church tonight who will have a street or a high school named for them, and you all are worthy of our thanks and our praise. The street and the high school are their own form of praise, and it comes after what I am trying to say to you tonight: thank you. Thank you for showing up. Thank you for embracing even for a few months or years a life of terror and drudgery, of hardship and boredom….so that my life is safe and may be lived without fear. …” for inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto Me.” That’s every person who slept while you watched, and played while you worked, and were comfortable when you weren’t. On behalf of them all and for myself, Thank You. God bless you and God bless this great Republic.
The Rev’d Frank B. Crumbaugh III, BA DivM
11 November 2016
 Matthew 25:40 KJV
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