I participated in a chapel service today, Veterans Day in the United States, that focused on prayer for our nation. Here is a synopsis of my comments and prayer today at Harding School of Theology:
As we pray for our Nation today, we pray in the social context of a national holiday that honors military veterans. Those who have not served seem to struggle when discussing Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Memorial Day honors those who died; Veterans Day honors those who came back alive. While indeed there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend, if a nation’s army fails to survive the conflict, the nation may cease to exist. The veterans of the Revolutionary War built a nation. The veterans of the Civil War rebuilt that nation. We honor veterans who served, who suffered, who endured. Veterans worship in our congregations; churches across the country recognized them this past Sunday. One man at the congregation where I worship worn a Purple Heart medal pin on his lapel; he was wounded in combat in Vietnam. A man I met at another congregation still cannot discuss his service in WW II; his memories are too painful. Veterans, even severely wounded ones, often return with great resilience and resolve. Chaplain John Stevens returned from World War II to become President of what is now Abilene Christian University. A pilot who lost both her legs when her plane was shot down in Iraq was reelected to Congress last week. A former prisoner-of-war in Vietnam has served as a Senator for Arizona for many years and ran for President in 2008. A Navy officer who received the Silver Star medal for diving into a river and rescuing another sailor serves as Secretary of State. Many veterans return with scars – They stand on street corners asking for help or sit in mental health clinics; they are frustrated because they cannot do what they once did. Some returned to civilian life, and found it difficult to find work. Others returned to houses left empty by an unfaithful spouse or were told not to come home. Some, who wanted to continue to serve, were told their services were no longer needed. All these veterans need our prayers; some need determined and aggressive assistance. Veterans need skilled listening ears; most need opportunity to work and to serve. Some employers, and churches are among them, hesitate to hire veterans, especially still-serving reservists. Part of honoring veterans is giving opportunity for them to speak and to work. Veterans are great resources, even when they still need to heal themselves. We begin to honor them today by praying for them, for their families, and for their work. They, perhaps I need to say “we,” are not always easy to love, but Jesus did not seek to serve the easy to love, and did not call us to do so. We begin by saying “Thank you,” to those who served.
The following prayer for veterans draws on thoughts within Psalm 144:
O Lord our Rock, We praise your name. You train our hands for war, yet are our loving God, who breaks down barriers through your Son and blesses peace-makers. We ask your blessings as veterans of war reintegrate with their families and return to jobs in the civilian sector. Heal their emotional and physical wounds; increase their resilience. Help them to forgive and grant others the capacity to forgive them. We pray that leaders of nations will pursue policies that will protect the vulnerable and reward integrity in business practices. We pray too that they will strengthen the networks of caregivers that help veterans and their families. In Jesus’ name, Amen.