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.