Monday, May 30, 2016

Remembering Dale Goetz

It's been almost six years.  Some have forgotten, and others have never heard, about Dale Goetz.  This is word-for-word the sermon I gave on September 12, 2010, to the congregation of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Escondido, California.

Two weeks ago tomorrow something happened.  And I have a feeling most of us missed it.  I almost missed it.  Something happened that is of national, spiritual, even historical significance.  Dale Alan Goetz, a captain in the U.S. Army, became the first chaplain killed in action in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Chaplain Goetz died Monday, August 30, in a roadside bomb attack in the Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan.  He was 43.

His funeral was on Thursday, September 9, at Fort Carson, Colorado.  I decided to go.  I wanted to take all of you with me.  I hope that I did in spirit.  Dale was a Baptist.  I'm a Lutheran.  But there is a strong, working, special bond between chaplains regardless of denomination or branch of service.  (I'm a Navy chaplain.)  And we share the same Christ, Word, ministry.

Prussman Chapel was packed, with people, many of them chaplains, standing down the side aisles.  Hundreds more would have come, but you have to remember that this man's entire congregation is still in Afghanistan - without their "pastor."  He was killed only a month into the deployment.

Four other Soldiers died with him (three staff sergeants and a private).  But permit me to say that the chaplain died with them.  It says in Ezekiel 34 that a shepherd is among his sheep.  And it says in John 1 that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  In a similar way, chaplains are found among the men and women of our military - going wherever they go, experiencing whatever they experience.  Even death.

There is really only one difference.  All chaplains are non-combatants.  They carry no weapon - that is to say, no earthly weapon.  They are protected by specially trained assistants.  An Army chaplain assistant named Christopher Stout was killed in July in Afghanistan.

Dale was a husband and father and leaves behind Christina his wife, and three sons, Landon (10), Caleb (8), and Joel (1).  He enjoyed spending time with his boys on their go-cart.  He treasured every moment with family and longed to get back to them soon.  He prayed in a special way for his sons to grow up to be men of God.  Pray for Christina and the boys, and for all families who have lost a parent or child, spouse or sibling.

After completing seminary in 2000 and then serving First Baptist Church in White, South Dakota, Dale became an Army chaplain in 2004.  He soon deployed to Iraq for one year, and served in Okinawa, Japan, from 2006 to 2009.  He loved his Soldiers and wanted to help transform their lives, marriages, and military service.

Chaplain Goetz made known several unique goals.  He was working to reach 300 Soldiers for Christ, and he was hoping to find ten who would later go into the ministry.  He may have died but his goals don't need to.  He prayed for an end to the war, and he prayed - and taught the Soldiers how to pray - for their Taliban enemy.

In Acts 1 Jesus says, "You will be My witnesses to the end of the earth."  Dale expressed his belief that Afghanistan is the end of the earth.

He enjoyed reading theology but was known for keeping it real and practical.  Ephesians 3:14-21, a passage he and his wife shared throughout their life together, was read at the funeral along with John 3:1-16.  "Shall not perish but have eternal life" assures Christina, the boys, Soldiers, and us that on August 30 Dale did not perish.  He lived and died for people to have that knowledge.

The Army chaplain motto is "Pro Deo et Patria," For God and Country.  It means that Dale had a foot - a boot - in two countries, but that now he is safely in heaven with both feet.

Following the funeral service at Fort Carson, we made the long drive in procession to Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.  I learned two things.  First, the only thing louder than a 21-gun salute is taps.  Second, a national cemetery is a great place for a walk and some thinking.  To think about the cost of freedom before deciding how to spend it.

These few thoughts may not sound so much like a "sermon."  That's by design.  The real sermon, the loudest of all, was the life, the love, and the faith of Dale Goetz, the first chaplain killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Sunday, May 22, was Trinity Sunday, and the best illustration of the Trinity, at least of which I am aware, comes from Saint Therese of Lisieux, known as "The Little Flower of Jesus."  She lived only to the age of 24 (1873-97) and yet possessed very advanced spiritual insight.  All the while, her faith remained that of a child.  She referred to her approach as the "Little Way of Spiritual Childhood."

Therese pointed to a toy she had played with as a child.  It was a kaleidoscope.  I remember one of those, and maybe you do too!

"This toy," she said, "aroused my admiration and I used to wonder what could produce so pleasing a phenomenon; when one day, after serious examination, I saw there were simply a few tiny scraps of paper and of wool cut no matter how, and thrown here and there.  I pursued my investigation and discovered three mirrors inside the tube: I had there the key to the problem.

"This was for me the image of a great mystery.  As long as our actions, even the least of them, remain within the focus of Love, the Blessed Trinity, which is figured by the three mirrors, reflects them, and endows them with a wondrous beauty.  Jesus, looking at us through the little lens, that is to say, as it were through Himself, finds all our actions pleasing to Him.  But if we leave the ineffable center of Love, what will He see?  Mere straws...actions sullied and nothing worth."

Many books have been written about the Trinity.  Put them all together and they still would not surpass the understanding shown in these few words of Saint Therese.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Watch Over Your Soul

"...through slander and praise" (2 Cor. 6:8).

This Sunday, May 15, is Pentecost, which has been called the Birthday of the Church.  Pentecost is on the same level as Christmas and Easter: Merry Christmas, Christ is risen, and Come, Holy Spirit!

At Our Redeemer, the congregation I pastor, Confirmation takes place on Pentecost, and this year five of our young people will be confirmed in the Christian faith.  And my custom is to share with them, and the whole congregation, the following story.

A young king was quarrelsome and gave no peace to the wise old king of a neighboring country.  The old king entreated for friendly relations, but in vain.  The young king started a war.  The old king, remembering how many foolish things he himself had done in his youth, and that there is an age from which we cannot expect wisdom, gave orders to his officers to capture his young enemy alive.

So it was done.  He was brought in chains before the victor.  The old man pitied the youngster, but pretended to be very angry with him and sentenced him to death.  The young king begged for his life.  So the old man told him: "I will give you a chance.  Tomorrow you will be given a jug of water, full to the brim.  You must carry it from one end of the main street of the city to the other, without spilling a drop.  If you do not succeed, your life is lost."

The next day the procession started - the prisoner with the jug of water; around him soldiers to guard him; behind him the executioner with his axe, a terrifying reminder that he would be beheaded on the spot if he failed.  The old king had given orders that on one side of the street there should be a mob to boo the prisoner, on the other side a crowd to cheer him.

The prisoner succeeded.  He did not spill a drop.  The old king asked him: "When so many people were mocking you, did you answer them back?"  The young man answered: "I had no time for that.  I had to be careful about my jug."  "But did you thank the ones who cheered you?"  "What business had I with them?  Their acclamation could not help me.  I was concerned with my jug of water."

The old king set him free with this advice: "You have been entrusted with a soul.  You have to bring it back to the Lord whole and clean.  That is the only thing that counts.  If you do not succeed, you perish.  Don't seek the applause of men by cheap victories.  Don't worry if they mock you.  Watch over your soul."

In order to do this, may the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting!  Amen.