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The Power of a Word

May 26, 2016


On Sunday, November 13th 2005, I was honored to officiate at the Remembrance Sunday service in the Dickleburgh Parish Church of All Saints. Dickleburgh parish was near the US Army Air Corps installation RAF Thorpe-Abbotts which was the home of the 100th Bomb Group (Heavy) which flew B-17 Flying Fortresses. The 100th Air Refueling Wing which flew KC-135 Stratotanker took it’s lineage from the 100th Bomb Group and we had a very special relationship with the WW2 flyers and the former base. The 100th Air Refueling Wing was stationed at RAF Mildenhall where was where I was the Wing Chaplain from 2005-2008.

Remembrance Sunday falls on the Sunday closest to November 11th which in the UK is called Rembrance Day unlike the US where it is called Veteran’s Day. Commemorating the ending of World War One, on this day they honor the living and the dead of all conflicts. As I think about the various services I have conducted through the years in November and in May, I think about the power of a word… or a set of words.

In 1985, on April 15th, I stood before my seminary professor Robert Strobel who was a Chaplain, Colonel in the USAF Reserves and took my first oath of commissioning.

I, Michael Alec Moore, having been appointed a Chaplain Candidate, Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force Reserve, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the office upon which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Little did I know what that series of words would draw me to do in life. It has been 31 years since I swore that oath, 26 years since I put on the uniform full time in 1990, and 5 years since I hung the uniform up for the last time. Among the many memories that I have, this particular memory came back to me as I shared some stories about a dear friend and mentor of mine from Scouts, Church, and my hometown. Bob was a quiet, hard working fellow who loved Scouting, the Church, and his Scouts. What we didn’t know when we were growing up was that Bob was a navigator on the B-24 Liberator and flew out of RAF Hethel Field in Norfolk, England during WW2. After I was in seminary and commissioned, he told me stories about England, the war, and going to London to see plays in the West End with his Operations Officer, Lt Col Jimmy Stewart. Two men, from completely different backgrounds were bound together by a common oath and duty.

I thought a lot about Bob during my two tours in England and those whom he served with. During my first tour in England in the mid 90’s I visited the American Cemetery in Cambridge in order to find and take pictures of some of his buddies who never returned from their combat missions. During my second tour, I actually was able to visit RAF Hethel and take pictures and wander the same ground that Bob had some sixty years before.

Again, the power of a word. This weekend is Memorial Day here in the US and I have been both remembering my own experiences in uniform and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I have moved on successfully from my time in uniform and while I have many memories (some pleasant, some funny, some sad, some tragic) of that time, my life has gone on. Much like Bob’s life went on after he returned from Europe to go to work for the George A. Hormel Company in Nebraska and then Minnesota. Yet times like this cause me to reflect on my own past and the histories of those who served with me, before me, or continue to serve after I put away the uniform. All of us are tied together by a word… an oath (of commissioning or enlistment)… by experiences.

So Padre, where is this leading? Well, besides the fact that it is Memorial Day weekend and I am in a reflective mood, it also has something to do with the Gospel reading for this Second Sunday after Pentecost. In Luke 7:1-10, Jesus enters into Capernaum with his disciples. He had been teaching, preaching, and generally messing with the Pharisees. As he entered Capernaum, a centurion heard that Jesus was in town. This centurion had a slave whom he valued highly who was close to death. A centurion would not exactly be the first choice of companions for a first century Radical Jewish Rabbi. And why would this man, who was a Roman commander of at least 100 troops in occupied Israel want anything to do with one of these upstarts who caused him constant pain and grief.

Well, this particular centurion was respected by the local Jewish elders. They came to Jesus and said: “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” (Luke 7:4-5) Wow! A centurion who built a synagogue for the local Jewish community! So this guy evidently was special. Yet despite his special status in the community, he didn’t want to impose on Jesus and didn’t feel worthy to have Jesus actually come under his roof. Instead, as a man who knew the power of a word as a military leader, he asked… “But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” (Luke 7:7b) Interestingly enough, the unknown centurion’s words would become a part of the communion liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church. “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. But only say the word, and I shall be healed.”

But only say the word, and I shall be healed… But only speak the word, and my servant shall be healed… The power of a word! I remember hearing stories when I was a child about how someone’s word was their bond. No need for contracts or lawyers, you could trust this person’s word. Their word was their bond. The centurion knew the power of his own word as a leader. He also knew the power of his word in a community where he was an outsider and yet trusted by the locals. He gave them his word and a synagogue was built.

Loads of words are tossed about today via various venues such as Social Media, the Internet, the Print and Television media, etc. All you have to do is watch a politician speak out of both sides of their mouth, catering to the whims of the specific audience they are in front of at the time, to see the worthlessness of their words. Hatred, Bigotry, Fear-mongering, and the like are spewed like what comes out of a break in a sewer line. How different from the request of a leader of the Empire who said, I am not worthy but I know the power of your word to heal. Only say the word, and my servant will be healed! This I believe!

What was Jesus’ response to the centurion? “When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.'” (Luke 7:9)

Words that affirm and confirm… When I was in seventh grade, I first felt a tugging in my heart to consider ministry as a vocation. When I told my buddies outside of the church after a Scout meeting one day, they reacted as you would expect… they laughed and said, “You? A minister? Riiiiight!” Would I expect anything else from my friends with whom I shared a common love of potty humor and bodily function jokes? Not likely. But their words deflated any thought I might have had for ministry. Years later, when I received my call to ministry (again, I guess), I told my pastor (Bob Morgan) and my mentor Bob Dymacek, who you have already heard about earlier in this blog. Did they laugh? Nope. Their words were of affirmation and confirmation. Incidentally, some of the buddies who were with me on that afternoon in Scouts years before didn’t laugh when I told them what I was going to be doing. They said it made sense. They were encouraging. A complete difference in words and that made a huge impact on me.

Yes, dear reader, there is power in a word. The power to heal… to forgive… to condemn… to disenfranchise… to destroy… to kill! How will you use your words? I ask you to join with me in being a people who’s words offer hope… restoration… forgiveness… love… grace… mercy… peace! Will you join me?

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