SERMON St. Martin of Tours Matthew 25: 34-40
Today we commemorate St. Martin of Tours, who was buried on this day in 397. Martin Luther was named after St. Martin of Tours, for he was baptized on this day in 1483.
St. Martin was the son of a Roman Legionary. He grew up in Hungary to a pagan family, but by the age of 10 he heard the gospel and decided on his own to become a catechumen –a person who would spend several years learning about the Christian faith before being baptized. When he was 15 years old, because his father was a soldier, St. Martin was drafted into the Roman army. He was remembered as an excellent soldier and was popular among those with whom he served.
“One winter night, when he was stationed in Amiens, France, Martin saw a poor, old beggar at the city gate, shivering in the cold with nothing but the shirt on his back. Having nothing else to give him, Martin drew his sword and cut his own cavalryman’s cloak (part of his own uniform) in two, and gave half to the man to wrap himself in. The next morning, Martin dreamed of Christ in heaven wearing his half-cloak and saying, ‘Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.’”
After this powerful spiritual experience, Martin decided to take the next step in his spiritual life and be baptized as a Christian. After his baptism, Martin felt that he could no longer kill. As he was likely a member of the Emperor’s body guard and willingness to kill was in his job description, he left the army when he was around 20 years old. Martin lived a hermit’s life, and set up a hut outside the city of Poitiers where others joined him in his mission to live out the gospel. He established the first French monastery, which became a hub of charitable and missionary work in the city. In 371, the people of Tours insisted that Martin become their next Bishop. He eventually agreed, but led a most unusual life as Bishop. Rather than enjoying all of the privileges and trappings of prestige that usually accompanied the office, Martin lived in a cave two miles from the city. His office space for the work of the diocese was a hut nearby his cave. Because of his humble lifestyle and approachable personality, Martin succeeded in spreading the gospel to the rural areas of Gaul, where many other bishops had failed. He travelled all over the region, sharing the Christian faith with the peasants and tribespeople and setting up centers of Christian life to support these new Christians in their faith formation. St. Martin is remembered as a gentle, peace-loving man who lived out his faith by living out our scripture from Matthew 25, “Truly I tell you, as you did to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Today marks 100 years since the Treaty of Paris was signed, ushering in a temporary peace. It’s been 100 years since the “war to end all wars” came to an official end. The horrors of World War I killed 11 million service members, and 11 million civilians. When our ancestors signed that treaty, they really believed that our world would never see such horrors again. But sadly, the “war to end all wars” was only the beginning. Over the last 100 years our world has invented more and more horrible ways to kill one another. Millions upon millions of innocent people, beloved by God, were murdered in the Holocaust, and the world responded with another “war to end all wars.” If ever there was a justified war, it was the fight against the evil of the Holocaust. Even Dietrich Bonhoffer, an avowed Lutheran pacifist, joined the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler for the greater good of the world. Following World War II, we Christians have debated amongst ourselves the justice of every war that has emerged since. Our Christian faith teaches us not to kill and to love our enemies, and also Jesus tells us there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
We have debated about what constitutes a just war, and what our Christian participation in war should be. But, what is absolutely not up for debate is our moral obligation to care for our Veterans who have served in these numerous wars of the last century. Our Veterans have laid down their lives and their physical and mental health for the sake of our world and our society. Our Veterans have returned from these wars scarred by the horrors they witnessed, physically maimed, poisoned slowly by chemicals of war, and suffering traumatic brain injury and PTSD. Our Veterans need our support and care to address their distinctive physical and emotional needs, so that they can live their best lives once returning home. Yet, in our country today 20 Veterans a day die by suicide. Three times as many Veterans have died by suicide since returning from Vietnam as died during combat. And an estimated 40,000 Veterans are homeless on any given night in America. These are the costs of war that are spoken of far too infrequently.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Jesus calls us as his disciples to provide loving service to all of the most vulnerable members of our society. To live out a Christian life is to care for and provide for those in the most difficult, most dangerous situations: the hungry, the homeless, the outcast, the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned. Jesus tells us that as we provide for those in our society who are experiencing the most difficult struggles, so we provide for our Lord himself. Every human, made in the image of God, is part of Christ’s family. Every person is loved by God and every person’s struggle is seen by God. Our mission as the church is to share that amazing good news with those who most need to hear it and feel it.
Too often over the last 100 years, our veterans have not been cared for in the loving way that God intends. Those who laid their lives and health down in loving service to their neighbors have returned home from war to face many of these same difficult and dangerous situations. As Christians, our responsibility is to care for our Veterans as we would provide care to Christ himself. Perhaps today Jesus might add to this list, “for I was homeless and you took me downtown to Mr. Sandy’s Veteran’s Helping Hands homeless shelter or helped me find an apartment. I was unemployed and you took a chance and hired me. I was in the hospital and you supported my family until I came home. I was hungry, and you paid for my groceries. I was in psychiatric distress and you helped me get a doctor’s appointment, you told me I could call you anytime I needed to talk, you put me in touch with the Veteran’s Suicide Helpline, you helped me check myself into the hospital. I was overwhelmed by the mountains of paperwork I had to fill out to apply for benefits, and you sat down with me and helped me fill out the forms required…. Truly, as you provided for the needs of these Veterans who are members of my family, you provided for me.”