Friday, May 24, 2019

Remembering Dale Goetz

It's been almost nine 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.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Commandment Always New

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another" (John 13:34).

Our Lord first spoke these words on the night when He was betrayed, the first Maundy Thursday.  And He speaks them again in this moment.

Question: How long does "new" last?  For example, am I still the "new" pastor of Faith Lutheran?  I was installed in August of last year.  When I put that question to the congregation on Sunday, most felt that I'm not still the "new" pastor.

How long does "new" last when it comes to your phone, car, clothes and shoes?  Today's new music won't be for long.  The same with that new movie.

How long does "new" last?  With most things in life the answer is: Not very.  Today's new is tomorrow's old.

Enter the words of the crucified-risen Jesus: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."

Question: Why does He call it a "new" commandment?  Answer: Because it never gets old.  This commandment is almost two thousand  It's always new.  It's eternally new.  Because when God calls something "new," it stays new.  And makes everything around it new too!

Let us take everything we believe about the love, forgiveness, and servant-heart of Christ, and be that way toward each other.

And let us rejoice that in a world and experience where things only get old, one thing is always new!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Fourth Commandment

A nutshell of this past Sunday's Adult Bible Class.

"Honor your father and your mother."

In a way, the Fourth Commandment is the First Commandment, because it is the first commandment of the Second Table (commandments four through ten).  Paul writes, "This is the first commandment with a promise, 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land'" (Eph. 6:2-3).  And so to children I would say:

What does the Holy Bible say?
Your parents honor and obey;
This is the first command for you,
The most important thing to do;
Then safe and sound you'll always be!
God keeps His promise faithfully.

And to parents:

O father, mother, listen well,
And Scripture will the secret tell:
To keep them from a bitter heart,
Instruct your children from the start
In the Commandments and the Creed
And in the Prayer for ev'ry need.

Now according to the Small Catechism, the Fourth Commandment means this: "We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them."  The word "Honor" is used by God only here in the Ten Commandments.  He applies it to parents, and not even to Himself!  And its meaning is captured in four verbs: serve, obey, love, cherish.  Ask yourself, Have I prized my parents as the most precious treasure on earth and revered them as second only to God?

The Catechism adds "other authorities."  Who are these?  Answers include my teacher, supervisor, pastor, those who represent the government, my elders, the aged, and I would also include veterans.

But most of all, parents (grandparents too, and guardians).

And a word to our youth.  Do not buy the lie that your parents are against you.  Because no one on earth loves you more, wants more for you, or would sacrifice more for you than your parents.  It's true!

If you want to be cool, truly cool, and a true Christian, and safe and sound, Honor your father and your mother...all your days.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Going Overboard for Christ

"...and he threw himself into the sea" (John 21:7).

"Peter waits for nothing more,
Plunges in to swim ashore" (hymn).

If John is called "That disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:7), then Peter should be called "That disciple who loved Jesus."  Not that John didn't do that too, and the others.  But we may learn from Peter.

The Lord Jesus had risen, and for the third time reveals Himself to the disciples, this time by the Sea of Tiberias, which is the Sea of Galilee.  When John perceives that the man on the shore is the Lord, Peter acts.  And he acts out of love.

In swimming, the world record for 100 meters is 46.91 seconds.  But my guess is that the real record is held by Peter.

We know that Jesus appeared to Peter on Easter Sunday.  This appearance to Peter alone is mentioned twice (Luke 24:34 and 1 Cor. 15:5).  Could it be that Jesus did this in order to absolve Peter of his triple denial?  Anyway, we know that Jesus forgave Peter.  And he who is forgiven much, loves much (cf. Luke 7:47).

And so I repeat, he acts out of love - much love.

To Peter, Christ and His love and forgiveness are worth going overboard.  They move him to go overboard.

Putting the Lord Jesus first in your life, putting His Word first in your life, even when that means standing out and suffering for it - isn't that going a little overboard?

Yes, it is!  And we learn to do that from Peter!

Let us be like John who knew that he was loved by Jesus.  And let us be like Peter who was moved by this love to love the Lord in return - and to go overboard for Christ!