Sunday, May 27, 2007


John 15:13 in the Authorized King James translation reads, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Memorial Day always brings me back to this verse. The Lord Himself telling us about the very best a human being can do for a fellow human being: Willingly sacrifice oneself for the benefit of another.

I keep ruminating on what Jesus is really saying. If you take it in its context, He is setting the standard for both love of God and love of man. He speaks to both in the verse just before and the one after. But I keep coming back to the standard itself. Self-abnegation is the apex of all relationships—to God, to family, to friends, to strangers. Self-giving love is the most profound dimension of any relationship.

Which in turn brings me back to Memorial Day. No matter what you think of the war—or war in general—there is no way around it: What our men and women in uniform do for us is an exquisite expression of this high standard for love.

And I literally mean exquisite. The American Heritage Dictionary has the definition of exquisite as:

1. Characterized by intricate and beautiful design or execution: an exquisite chalice.
2. Of such beauty or delicacy as to arouse intense delight: an exquisite sunset.
3. Excellent; flawless: plays the piano with exquisite technique.
4. Acutely perceptive or discriminating: "Blind dolphins have been known to survive in the wild, guided by exquisite acoustic images of their prey" (Kenneth Browser).
5. Intense; keen: suffered exquisite pain.
6. Obsolete: Ingeniously devised or thought out.

Yes, I meant to include that last one, number 7. While it may be outdated, it still applies.
I just watched a television news magazine’s story following the Iowa National Guard deployed in Iraq. Every single Guard member appeared to have very carefully made his or her decision to serve their country and fellow Americans by placing their own lives at risk.

And it’s not just placing their lives at risk. There’s another form of self-abnegation—self-sacrifice—that every member of the military exhibits exquisitely, even if they’re never placed in harm’s way. Certain church traditions call this “white martyrdom.” White martyrdom is distinct from the shedding of blood (red martyrdom). It denotes the willful, voluntary setting aside of creature comforts and other benefits for the sake of others.

I would argue this concept of martyrdom makes every person who signs up for military service a true “martyr.” Military service means, at the very least, surrendering independence. You no longer make the decisions about where you’ll serve, how much you’ll accept for pay, what you will wear or to whom you will submit. I’m independent enough to think of all this as a particularly painful form of suffering!

And no one who’s been in the service needs to be told that serving by definition means you’re living less than civilians. From the rules to the gruel, you’re not getting what’s available on the outside!

All this to say we have our men and women in uniform to thank for giving us living, breathing illustrations of what Jesus Christ taught about love.

Love, as Jesus defined it in John 15, is not abstracted, unrealistic, and unattainable.
In fact, quite to the contrary, the love God calls us to is very real; it’s very practical; and it’s very doable. Just take a glimpse at the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have denied themselves for the sake of the rest of us-- you'll find them today wearing brown, white, green, blue and black.

With that in mind, this Memorial Day I pay tribute to my dad, Hank Schenck, who loved exquistely in uniform.

And I pay tribute to my dad’s older brother, Captain Robert L. Schenck, for whom I am proudly named, who died in exquisite love of country during the Korean conflict.

And I pay tribute to the countless others who today and through the decades and centuries, illustrate what it is that God expects of us. They loved their nation, their fellow citizens and the human race exquisitely!

Today, we remember . . .

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