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Lessons from Gettysburg 1 (Commitment Day, 2017-1119)

. 8 min read

18-19
Nov 2017, Christ Mountain Top, Commitment Sunday
Call
to Worship,
Psalm 100
Children,
Matthew 8.5-13
Message,
2 Chronicles 20.1-9, 13-18, 20-23
Mission
Moment, Crystal-Sheila-Sheri testimony
For the hymn:
The
tune for this hymn began in camp meetings and then got some new marching lyrics
for the Union: “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave.” Julia Ward
Howe was inspired to write new lines to the tune, which also spread through the
Union Army and are still sung today. Howe was a successful and published author
whose husband aspired to success as a novelist. Jealous of her success, he beat
her and forbade her from writing. This hymn is not only a Union marching song
and a church hymn. It is also the triumph of a battered woman, a reminder that
the violence and evils we face take many different forms, many of them far too
close to home.
For the posterboard testimonies:
Father
William Corby describes the march north to Gettysburg, 16-18 miles a day,
sometimes beginning before dawn and finishing around 11 pm. He remarked that
“many … [were] dropping dead from sunstroke” (Brinsfield, 35). Then, he wrote
about what he was thankful for!
Late
in the evening the marching of a tired army is a sight. Even those mounted
officers frequently dismount and walk to avoid falling from the horses. Many,
many times I had to do so. How men live through this is a mystery. But a kind
Providence pressed many of us onward and preserved us, and for this…few of us
render the thanks which God has a right to expect (Brinsfield, 37).
We
all have a story to tell, if we pay attention to it, that is all about God’s
grace. As Joan plays, persons will come forward with posterboard testimonies,
some holding the testimony they have written and some holding the testimony of
someone else. Read them, rejoice, and consider how God has touched your life as
well.

Message:
So,
here we are on Commitment Sunday, offering ourselves in discipleship, choosing
to follow Jesus and embrace spiritual practices that transform our lives,
personally, and transform the world as well. The last two weeks we talked about
spirituality from Matthew 6 – Jesus’ vision of a comprehensive spirituality
that connects us to God, is not at all about us, has a clear focus on the
goodness of God in our lives, and practices an extravagant generosity. Today,
and next week, I’m offering lessons from Gettysburg, the largest and most
militarily significant battle ever fought on the continent.
      Over 7,000 died, over 33,000 were wounded,
over 10,000 were captured or missing. If the wounded were laid out shoulder to
shoulder, they would stretch out over six miles. Huge heaps of amputated limbs
were buried together. Stretcher bearers followed the second line into battle.
      Chaplain Betts fell off his horse,
unconscious from the exhaustion. Doctor Stewart died at Gettysburg because of
the exhaustion. After the war, 20,000 veterans died in asylums. One chaplain
stepped in front of a train. One chaplain jumped off a steamboat.
      It is a battle, a great battle in a long
war, with all the trauma and violence that go with that. And, yes, we do find significant
lessons for our discipleship today, particularly from the work of the chaplains
at the battle. We talk about our discipleship as the Life of Worship, Community
of Friends, and Purpose of Mission. In our ministry guide, you will find a list
of spiritual practices under each of those three categories, with room for you
to create your own custom response. Those summary pages are also in your
worship programs today. They include everything from prayer over meals to
giving up a grudge, from writing thank-you notes to growing in your giving,
from serving on a Habitat for Humanity team to serving on the care team.
Some
stories, then some practices:
Private
William Dame, Richmond Howitzers, Longstreet’s Corps, wrote:
Every
evening, about sunset, whenever it was at all possible, we would keep up our
custom, and such of us as could get together, wherever we might be, should gather for prayer…. Sometimes a few of
the fellows would gather in prayer, while the rest of us fought the guns.
Several times…we met under fire…we
held that prayer hour every day at sunset during the entire campaign
(Brinsfield, 16).
Father
William Corby was a graduate of Notre Dame and a parish priest in South Bend
who volunteered as a chaplain to accompany Notre Dame students. He gave up the
incredible opportunity to become the Vice President of the new university in
order to pursue his call. He served with the 88th New York Infantry,
Irish Brigade. After the war he served as president of Notre Dame and
provincial general of the Congregation of Holy Cross. His statue is the only
statue of a chaplain erected on an American battlefield.
      On July 2nd, the “bloodiest
day,” when Union General Sickles’ Third Corps was being overrun in the Peach
Orchard, a division of the Second Corps was ordered to attack the Confederates.
With the roar of battle in the background, Father Corby had a few precious
moments before they entered the fray. He stood on a large rock, addressed the
men, and offered general absolution as the soldiers knelt: “Our Lord Jesus
Christ absolves you, and I, by his authority, absolve you of all bonds [of
sin].”
      Corby, in his memoirs, wrote, “That
general absolution was intended for all…not only for our brigade, but for all,
North and South, who were susceptible of it and who were about to appear before
their Judge” (Brinsfield, 82-83).
      Notice that Father Corby included his
enemies in the gift of absolution.
On
that long march to Gettysburg, Chaplain Joseph Twichell was called upon to pray
and counsel with a young soldier about to be executed for desertion. He wrote
home to his mother,
Trembling
I went, not daring to decline. I took hold of his manacled hands, looked in the
face, declared myself a friend, and immediately began to seek out his spiritual
condition and wants…. He said he had tried, earnestly tried, to commit his soul
to Christ . . . but had not the Assurance of hope that he longed for…. I prayed
for divine guidance…. He drank in all that I said about our blessed Lord –
prayed as they only pray whose death is at hand, … “I wish I could see and feel Jesus” (A Chaplain’s Story, 240-241).
Friendship
was a gift of the best chaplains. Chaplain William R. Eastman, a friend of
Twichell and in a neighboring regiment, wrote,
In
one word, the significance of the chaplaincy was this: that the government
offered to each regiment one man to be a friend to every man…. This man was to
make a business of kindness (Brinsfield, 8).
On
the night of July 3, after the final Confederate attack was repulsed but before
the army withdrew, Eastman took canteens out to the Wheatfield to look for
wounded soldiers. An artillery round went off nearby, the horse shield and
tumbled onto Eastman pinning his leg. He was able to pull his leg out, but
could not walk. What to do? He grabbed the canteens and rolled from one soldier
to another to offer a drink. Some time later, a couple Union soldiers found
him, improvised a stretcher, and Eastman had them carry him around the
battlefield to give water and offer prayer. Finally, others arrived to tend the
wounded and Eastman went to the field hospital himself (Brinsfield, 128).
These
stories are powerful testimony to spiritual practices that sustain our souls
and transform our world, even in the midst of the greatest horrors we can face.
      Life
of Worship:
A set time for daily prayer. Private William Dame believed that
their sunset prayers is a major reason that their unit survived the war with
relatively few casualties. No one can guarantee that particular outcome. There
were many prayers going up on those battlefields. Nevertheless, we do know that
prayer changes us and connects us with God. Whatever your practice of prayer,
give consideration to its expansion.
      Spend two minutes a day thanking God.
Father Corby reminds us how often we overlook the most basic mercies of God
that are present in even the most dire circumstances. Abraham Lincoln
proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November a National Day of Thanksgiving in
1863, after the Union triumphed in both Vicksburg and Gettysburg (Brinsfield,
156-157).
      Practice Sabbath. Father William Corby,
and other chaplains, understood the importance of gathering for worship, even
when the calendar was unpredictable. One Confederate chaplain stepped out of
the treeline to face his unit and lead them in prayer only to realize that he
was now a highly visible target for Union artillery. He ran back to the line
and led their prayers there.
      One of the interesting dimensions of the
battle story is that leadership lacked depth and rest. After days of lengthy
marches, soldiers were considered “rested.” Generals went without food and
sleep for days. One of the Sabbath practices we list is to get a good night’s
sleep at least once a week.
Community of Friends: Chaplains
Twichell and Eastman routinely spoke about friendship. Chaplains provided
leadership in care of the wounded and dying, both of friend and foe. Private
Dame and his unit gathered every evening as a small group for prayer. Soldiers of
all stripes were routinely maintaining community, and processing their combat
stress, with family back home with that old fashioned technology, the
hand-written letter.
      We list a number of practices that build
community: thank-you notes, the care team, small groups. (Actually, we have a
couple groups, in addition to Sunday School and Covenant, that you could choose
to join.)
      We also include the practice of
reconciliation – gossip free days, release of grudges, taking the initiative to
apologize. You may have heard me speak about how this practice has released me,
given me freedom. One of the most remarkable reconciliation stories of the
battle of Gettysburg is Father Corby’s absolution. He included his enemies in
that gift. The career military officers of the Civil War knew each other, had
been friends at West Point and colleagues in the Mexican-American war. Now,
they were trying to kill each other, and apologize when the guns were silent.
Confederate General Armistead, who survived Pickett’s charge to die two days
later in a Union field hospital, sent a message to his friend, Union General
Hancock: “Tell General Hancock for me that I have done him and you all an
injury which I shall regret the longest day I live.” His personal effects were
given to Hancock along with this message (Brinsfield, 150). The ugliest battles
are always found between friends, among brothers and sisters. And the gift of
absolution, the practice of reconciliation, is absolutely essential.
Purpose of Mission: We
list the practice of social justice – bringing canteens of water to the wounded
and weary, even if we have to roll on our side to get there. We list growing in
the grace of giving. Thousands gave their very lives. (I do want to emphasize
that we are not asking our guests to make a commitment to give back to God
financially through Christ Church. This is only one of the practices before us,
and the practice of generosity is extraordinarily important. We, however, want
our guests to be guests.)
      We list inviting friends to join us in
worship. Over and over in the stories of the chaplains, there is a
consciousness that what they are doing matters for eternity. Those receiving
absolution included many who were going to appear before their Judge in only a
few minutes. Whether it was prior to the execution of a deserter or the death
of a wounded soldier in a field hospital, the chaplains were keenly aware that
their work was to introduce men to Jesus. “Do you have peace with God?”
This
is a reminder that the most important commitment you can make on this
Commitment Day is to give yourself to Jesus without reserve and to pray with
all your heart for the “Assurance of hope” that our Lord provides. You may have
been a church-goer your whole life, and realize suddenly that there is
something essential missing. You may be on a long journey back to faith.
Whatever your story, “now is the day of Salvation” (2 Corinthians 6.2).
      Joan is going to play through the hymn a
couple times and give us time to consider our personal commitment. Then, we
will begin to sing. You are invited to come forward to bring your commitment
and place it in the basket. You are invited to stand or kneel at the altar to
give yourself to Jesus or to renew that commitment.
Resources:
Brinsfield,
Summon Only the Brave!
Class
notes
Twichell,
A Chaplain’s Story