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How Do We Know Love?

April 22, 2015

Cemetery 3

I remember the first time I visited the American Cemetery near Cambridge, England (the above picture was taken in 2005 during my second tour in England with the Air Force). It was 1994 and I was on a mission. A very dear friend of my families, and the Vice-Moderator of Twin Cities Area Presbytery who presided at my Ordination in 1987, had been stationed in England during WWII. Bob Dymacek was a quiet man and leader. He was an elder in the church where I grew up and a leader in our Scout Troop. Little did we know when we were at Scout Camp with Bob that he had a very different camping experience when he was a young man.

Bob had followed my ministry career with interest and when I received orders for my first tour in England, he wrote to me and asked me a favor. He asked me to look up three members of his B-24 Liberator crew. They were buried back home in the US eventually, but initially they had been buried in England where their markers remain to this day. I looked them up and took three pictures to send back to Bob. It was a rather somber moment for this young Chaplain, Captain. The moment was made even more significant when I came across the grave of a Chaplain, Captain from the US Army Air Corps. It was a sobering reminder to this padre that the cost of war was steep and that it knew no bounds.

I have both heard and experienced stories of selfless sacrifice on the battlefield and even at home station through the years. Bob told me a story about a B-24 that didn’t make it home. The pilot did everything he could to nurse his injured bomber back to Hethel Field. When it was safely over England, he ordered the crew to bail out of the injured aircraft while he attempted to land the bomber. He didn’t land successfully… and when the smoke and flames rose up from the crash, the crew who had been ordered to bail out knew that their pilot had saved their lives at the expense of his.

Shortly before my arrival at RAF Croughton in England, there had been another selfless act of bravery on the part of the crew of an F-111E. When their aircraft became disabled, Capt. Jerry Lindh (the pilot) and Maj. David “Mike” McGuire (the navigator), decided to ride the aircraft in and attempt to land on the airfield. They could have ejected, but that would have likely meant that the aircraft would have crashed into the villages of Upper Heyford and North Aston. Their aircraft almost cleared the fence around the airfield and the approach lights. The aircraft hit the approach lights and and crashed. Both Airmen died on impact. I remember driving around the flightline and through the village a number of times during my time at nearby RAF Croughton. The two small flags flying at the base of the landing lights and the memorial by the fence and in the churchyard were a reminder of the decision two men made. Even though Control told them to eject, they decided they couldn’t because of the potential massive loss of life in either of the villages if the plane crashed outside of the base.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) These words immediately follow Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you.” (15:12) This ties into the reading from 1 John for this Sunday, the Fourth Sunday after Easter. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

Comparisons are often made between John 15:13 and the selfless sacrifices made on the battlefield. There are other such instances in non-battlefield settings as well. But none of them compare to the love which was shown on a cross outside of Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago. It is to that selfless love and sacrifice that I look as I seek to live my life as a Christ follower. And, in many cases such as the ones I have mentioned, families have made note that the reason their loved one likely chose to die that others might live was a result of the faith they had.

“And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” (1 John 3:23-24) While I deeply admire and respect the warriors whom I have mentioned in this blog and the countless others who have displayed selfless courage and sacrifice on behalf of others, they are not the ultimate example for me. In their actions, I see a reflection of the sort of love Jesus was talking about. I see a reflection of the sort of love which Jesus lived.

Dear reader, in a world so filled with hatred and vitriol, where so-called people of faith throw barbs and bombs at each other in the name of their religion (be they christian, muslim, or jew… all are equally guilty of this hatred), don’t we need another example? Don’t we need a better way? Love of God and Love of Neighbor can be found in the holy writings of all three faiths. And from my perspective as a Christ follower, what I see in this world as so-called christians (yes, lower case is intentional) figuratively and literally crucify one another breaks my heart. Jesus calls us to love one another as He loves us. And He also calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

Will you join me in being an example of that love? It may mean you lay down your reputation… your status… perhaps even your life…. That is the only way that we can show the love of Christ to a world so greatly in need of redeeming love. May God help us to love as Christ loves.

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